A Peacock Sweeping

Meredith Wattison

 

The boy; the boy tap dances and somersaults for the duration of the early morning, two-hour tour. It is as though he has swallowed lightning for breakfast. He experiences everything sevenfold. ‘Oh! Look at that!’ Striped lemurs huddle around a sun lamp, wrap their arms, legs and tails around each other. A digesting knot of African wild dogs sleeps around a tree. Biblical coil-horned goats stand on their silky beards. There’s a Jericho reference. ‘Feel this tree! So smooth!’, as he brushes past me, kicking up his heels, half-turning, arms ascendant. He gets emotional. ‘There’s blood on the camel!’ The camel has caught itself on the cyclone fencing. It is part hosed-cement nativity; its nimbus evaporating. Its eyes bucolic; fudge-brown. Its shut nostrils miraculous. There is an estimated one-million feral camels in Australia. We learn the camel is one of the most efficient animals; it makes very little shit. This cheers him. My intention was to gaze at giraffes in silence. There is no silence. He adheres to me. The nervous giraffes distrust his animation, glide away, tongue at the trees. He asks why. We speak to the rhinoceros. I like its sooking, prehensile top lip, the short fringe of hair, like eyelashes, that edge its flicking ears; the bulk of it, the tender pink inside its mulching mouth. He likes its steaming rhino shit. The boy’s mother has mastered a detached indifference as some on the tour outwardly tire of him. She too was emotional about the camel. The boy as parrot, her parrot, is intensely interested and speaks gently to the apes he wants to photograph. He asks them to sing; they will not, they do not ape. He sings. They do not play the game. He asks them to look at him, to lift their chins; they do this. ‘Thank you’, he says. He is given a voucher from a staffer for doing/saying this. The hippopotamus sleeps standing with its face in the mud. The hippopotamus, annually, is the most responsible animal in regards to human deaths. They do not like to be disturbed in the water. Our volunteer guide is wonderfully patient with the boy. She involves him in a presentation about the scrub turkey; she is impressed by this bird, admires its tenacity. The boy is amazed by how deeply the male buries the eggs in a mounded earth nest; and the ventilation, and all the variations of, needed to create both sexes; and the bird’s over-estimation of its size regarding predators. He terrorizes the meerkats with his enthusiasm. He wakes the nocturnals. Agrees to put down the stick. There are stories of missing primates and sedative-laced, pink-iced donuts being left in high, strategic places. The zoo is yet to open. The boy is yet to catch breath. I will queue to feed the giraffes at ten-fifteen. Their sweet civility; a slimy purple tongue pulling my fingers into a rough mouth sates me. A peacock sweeps the café floor and suddenly spans, pulses and thrums, and just as suddenly goes back to sweeping. The boy takes off his hat. It is musical theatre.

 

Meredith Wattison, born 1963, a poet and essayist, her 6 books of poetry are Psyche’s Circus (Poetry Australia, 1989), Judith’s Do (Penguin Australia, 1996), Fishwife (Five Islands Press, 2001), The Nihilist Line (Five Islands Press, 2003), Basket of Sunlight (Puncher & Wattmann, 2007) and terra bravura (Puncher & Wattmann, 2015), shortlisted for the 2016 Kenneth Slessor Poetry Prize. Her recent essays have appeared in Cordite, Rabbit and Plumwood Mountain.

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