Selected Monsters

Steven Heighton

for Barbara Gowdy

In Florence, circa 1460, Cosimo de’ Medici enclosed a mixed group of animals in a pen and invited Pope Pius II to attend the spectacle, which was meant to determine which beast was the most ferocious: the lion, the fighting bull, the bloodhound, the gorilla, or perhaps the giraffe – an animal then known in Europe as a Camelopard.

‘Holiness, with these monsters in close quarters
we’re sure to have a brawl.’ But the new Caesars
lacked some Roman secret – razors

in the stable straw, or a bonus
bout of starvation, glass goads in the anus
or a goon squad of trainers

who knew how to crack a good whip.
So this static, comic crèche – this flop –
a Peaceable Kingdom with cud-chewing bull, ape

absently wanking, lion asleep, bloodhound’s
limbs twitching in some wet dream of a hind’s
stotting fetlocks, and the giraffe, free of wounds,

hunched by the fence, its trembling yellow ass
not enough to coax an assault. Pius
cleared his throat. ‘The Florence heat, I suppose,’

he yawned. ‘I’ve seen sportier feats
at a Synod. When’s supper?’ Trailing hoots
and loutcalls, the mob drained out at the exits,

the boxseats emptied, the media crews
taxied elsewhere, till finally Cosimo’s
bloodpit was a high-shelved archive of human refuse –

handbills, tickets, peanut shells, all set to motion
by a new wind, as if performing for that pen
of blinking inmates, who remained there . . . still remain

in the blinding empirical lens of the sun
and uranium rainfall, centuries on.
‘At eight.
Expect exotic cuts. And excellent wine.’