Desert Reservation


I'd heard so much good
about this place,
how the animals were cared for
in special exhibits. But

when I arrived I saw even
prairie dogs had gone crazy in
the viewing pits; Javelina had no mud to
squat in, to cool down; Otter was
exposed on every side, even in his den.
Wolf paced like a mustang,
tongue lolling and crazy-eyed,
unable to see anyone who looked like
he did–only Deer, dozing opposite in
a chainlink pen.

Signs explain
the animals are good because
they kill animals who like oats
or corn too much.

Skunk has sprayed himself out,
with people rapping on his glass
box. Badger's gone to sleep
under a red light and children ask
if he's dead in there (dreaming of dead
silence). And
Cougar stares like a clubbed fish
into one steel corner all morning, figuring.

Only Coyote doesn't seem to care, asleep under a
creosote bush, waiting it out.

Even the birds are walled up here,
held steady in chicken-wire cages for
the staring, for souvenir photos.
And this, on the bars for Eagle:

      The bald eagle was
      taken as a fledgling
      from a nest in New
      Mexico by an
      Indian. He planned on
      pulling feathers for cer-
      emonial headdresses
      every year. The
      federal government seized
      the bird and turned
      it over to the
      Desert Reserve
      for safekeeping.


Bear walks in his own
pee, smells concrete
and his own shit all day long.
He wipes his nose on the wall,
trying to kill it.

At night when management is gone,
only the night watch left,
the animals begin keening: now
voices of Wood Duck and
Turtle, of Kit Fox and everyone else,
Bear too, lift up like the bellowing
of stars and kick the walls.

14 miles away, in Tucson, are movie houses,
cold beers and roads out of town,
but they say animals know how to pass the time
well enough. And after a few beers
they'll be just like Indians–
get drunk, fall down and spoil it all.


Barry Lopez, Desert Reservation, Copper Canyon Press, 1980.