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Remember the fun of somersaults, the thrill
of rolling head-over-heels down a grassy slope?
I did it once, landing at my father’s feet along
a zoo path by the caged chimps.

These days we don’t roll down hills for fun,
although sometimes it feels like we’re in
a zoo—or part of a visiting circus, dangling
by our knees from the trapeze bar, swinging
back and forth while the audience gasps.

The patient with lung disease is flipped
face-down to ease the pressure on the lungs,
allowing more oxygen to reach the alveoli,
the tiniest air sacs. The nurses call it proning.

As our roles in  this new topsy-turvy world play
out, we know less than before which side is up,
where we are, what day it is, and even whether
we can ever find a way back.

At that long-ago zoo, my father became
a chimpanzee, grunting and gesturing at Jocko
who answered him in kind, even flinging scat
through the bars. That’s what happens when
social animals are caged. That’s what happens.


Penny Harter lives and writes in the southern New Jersey shore area. Her recent books include A Prayer the Body Makes (Kelsay Books, 2020), The Resonance Around Us (2013); Recycling Starlight; One Bowl (a prize-winning e-book), and The Night Marsh. Widely published in journals and anthologies, she has won fellowships from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, two residencies from Virginia Center for the Creative Arts (VCCA), and awards from the Dodge Foundation and Poetry Society of America. Also, a poem of hers was featured on American Life in Poetry.

© 2020, Penny Harter

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