My Father the Zoo-keeper

All the animals lived in his study,
so when the door was shut
no-one came out to play. Sometimes,
when he was out at work, and
the silence in the house was deadly,
I’d imagine what the animals
got up to while he was away.

The lion would certainly eat the lamb.
Gouts of gore would dirty the blue
floral carpet. The monkeys would swing
from the light fittings, gibbering,
picking lice out of each other’s hair.
Mice would leave pee-stains on the books,
parrots foul the piano keys,
a tiger skulk in the kneehole of the desk,
roaring so loudly I’d wonder why
no-one else in the family heard.
A polar bear would be staring
out the window, bewildered by the rain,
by the green and leafy garden below,
and a giraffe would try to eat the plant
that lived on top of the bookshelves,
knocking the pot down in a crash
of broken shards and spilled soil.
A unicorn would be crying to itself
on the Indian felt rug in front of the fire.

I worried about them.
How would they manage without him?
What would they eat?
Would he banish them because of the mess?

But then he’d come home from work,
trumpeting his cheery way into the study.
He’d crack the whip of his wit, and in a wink
they’d be back safe in their places,
in the books, the pictures, the ornaments,
the fire. And peace would descend
on the zoo behind the study door,
while I waited in the dark hall,
my ear to the crack,
tummy rumbling till feeding time.