Animal Crackers by Richard de Zoysa

BOMB 40 Summer 1992
040 Summer 1992

“Draw me a lion.”
So I set my pen
to work. Produce a lazy, kindly beast …
Colour it yellow.

“Does it bite?”
“Sometimes,
but only when it’s angry—
if you pull its tail
or say that it is just another cat …”
But for the most part, indolent, biddable,
basking in the sun of ancient pride.

(Outside, the sunlight seems a trifle dulled
and there’s a distant roaring, like a pride
of lions, cross at being awakened
from long, deep sleep).

Then
“Draw me a tiger.”
Vision of a beast
compounded of Jim Corbett yarns
and Blake
stalks through my mind, blazing Nature’s warning,
black bars on gold.

“DRAW!”
You turn and draw the gun
on me, as if to show
that three-years-old understands force majeure
and as you pull the silly plastic trigger
all hell breaks loose; quite suddenly the sky
is full of smoke and orange stripes of flame.

BUT HERE THERE ARE NO TIGERS
HERE THERE ARE ONLY LIONS.

And their jackals
run panting, rabid in the roaring’s wake,
infecting all with madness as they pass
while My Lord
the Elephant sways in his shaded arbour,
wrinkles his ancient brows, and wonders—
if, did he venture out to quell this jungle-tide
of rising flame, he’d burn his tender feet.

“Put down that gun. If you do, and you’re good,
I’ll draw a picture of an elephant.
A curious beast that you must understand … .”

DONT LOOK OUT THE WINDOW—

Just a party down the lane
a bonfire, and some fireworks, and they’re burning—
No, not a tiger—just some silly cat.”
 
                                      Colombo, 25 July, 1983

For Dimitri, when he is old enough to understand.


Author’s note: The lion is the heraldic emblem of the Sinhala or the Lion Race. The principal Tamil terrorist group in the north of Sri Lanka is known as the “Tigers.” The Elephant is the party symbol of the ruling United National Party.

A celebrated actor, dramatist, poet, journalist Richard de Zoysa was well known and much loved in Sri Lanka. He was also a young man, maturing into his prime, when he was murdered in February, 1990.

I. by Sivaramani
Related
The Poet by Lakdasa Wikkramasinha

Poem by Lakdasa Wikkramasinha—for the Sri Lankan Poetry portfolio. 

The Self Is a Fiction: Jenny Xie Interviewed by Mariam Rahmani
Green Cityscape Banner

The poet on the politics of the gaze, the migratory act of reading, the anxiety of bilingualism, and the universality of shame.

Don Mee Choi and Christian Hawkey

Two poets reflect on colonialism, iconoclastic writers, and the political dimensions of translating literature under authoritarianism.

Originally published in

BOMB 40, Summer 1992

Featuring interviews with Reno, Derek Walcott, Neal Jimenez & Eric Stoltz, George Condo, Louis Kahn, Camille Billops, Darius James, Michael Jenkins, and Joe Mantello.

Read the issue
040 Summer 1992