Field Guide to Gentleness

by Charlotte Matthews

A man sits the last four years
outside the gorilla cage watching
the eldest male swing between
branches of pale, uprooted trees.

The gorilla sits with his back
to the man who sits with his back
to me, every day on his folding chair,
every day the roar of tourist voices

reverberating off cinder walls,
every day his friend behind bars.
When the ape dies in early summer,
and the man stops coming to the zoo,

he explains for the radio:
Now I am the one in the cage.
How he is able to wake
each morning when even the trees

are holding their breath
remains a secret I will never know.
Like all great loves,
this one ends in death.

Author of two full length collections, Still Enough to Be Dreaming and Green Stars (both Iris Press), CHARLOTTE MATTHEWS’ Whistle What Can’t Be Said is forthcoming from Unicorn Press. Recently her work has appeared in such journals as American Poetry Review, The Mississippi Review, The Virginia Quarterly Review, and Ecotone. Her honors include fellowships from The Chatauqua Institute, The Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, and The Virginia Center for Creative Arts. Currently she teaches writing in The Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies Program at The University of Virginia.