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  • Artis Natura

The Polar Bear Exhibit


When the bear was alive,

seagulls nipped the fingertips of children

and the throng pressed itself paperthin

against the rail.

But it just sat there

on the concrete slab

snout resting on the granite-hard crust,

eyes closed,

damp fur the colour of urine.

The sun cooked a half-eaten fish,

head still attached

to the ladder of ribs.

At the underwater window,

children whined and pounded the plexiglass,

scoured the chlorined blue

for any kind of spectacle,

Where’s the bear? I want to see the bear!

Then a bear would swim up to the glass

and the children screamed

and everyone stood back to gaze

at this monster, the swimming mammoth.

White fur swayed like seaweed,

paws churned the water,

muscle, bone, claw,

black eyes looked through

the beautiful murk

straight at them.

Now the habitat is deserted,

screened from the rest of the park

by sections of metal fence

that do not join.

Leaves fill the contours of concrete,

moss amasses in shadows

while the plaque remains,

Polar Bears Presented

Stanley Park Zoo

June 1962.

At the bottom of what was once

the pool lies

an old mattress, sunken

like a mouth without teeth.