The Animals

James Moore

It was probably meant to be
a lesson about responsibility—
how to care 
for something dependent
on you. In the kindergarten
we had hamsters,
mice, half a dozen fish;
an ark of approved animals
that we traded off daily
to feed. Each one was named
in crayon placard
placed before the cage. I suspect
it was also a lesson about death—
a certain kind of death—
how later, one girl’s grandpa died
and we were quiet, imagining
the shoebox.
The day they were slaughtered,
skulls crushed, squished
into books, the fire
escape left cracked open,
the teacher wouldn’t let us in.
Wouldn’t tell us anything at all—
we milled outside, buzzed
with an ambient fear.
The officers who arrived
were kind. They humored
our awe, took fingerprints,
took us to a cell, took pity 
and chipped in, they bought us
new hamsters, new mice,
each returned in cages scrubbed clean.
It was probably meant
to be a lesson about order,
how safe we are in the law,
but by day’s end it had become
about taking care, of each other, really,
the tenderness lying in us all.

A week later it happened again.