Harp & Altar
Jason Michael Bacasa
from There Was Electricity

Lynn Crawford

Elise Harris

Norman Lock
from Pieces for Small Orchestra

Eugene Marten

Miranda Mellis

Norman Lock

A lack of animals has stalled the progress of our zoo! Elephants, though large, are by themselves inadequate to constitute it with similitude. The people will not come for peanuts and pachyderm alone! The Engineer insists he can fabricate a facsimile of any animal, bird, or fish we wish. (He has a box of schematic diagrams, as well as dance steps by Astaire on paper patterns with which he hopes to acquire savoir-faire.) “There must be space inside, however, for a mechanism that can be wound up by a key.” He rejects transistors as inelegant. “But the elephants are real!” shouts the Zoologist. “Our menagerie must not be marred by incongruity!” The General is impressed by his intransigence and avers, “Too many have forsaken principles in favor of a life of artifice and sloth.” We forgive the General his remark because of the absinthe he is drinking, a habit acquired in a youth misspent on the Continent with poets, rogues, and others living by their wits. The Taxidermist volunteers to stuff the elephants with mattresses. He has already done much in the case of swans with feather-dusters that is admirable. “There will be no offal to pick up,” he says, “once they’re dead.” (As if dung were our only concern!) “What is wanted is monkeys!” rasps the Zoologist brandishing Introduction to the Primates by Daris Swindler as if it were a club. We scold him for his savagery as we swivel on our barstools to listen to his discourse: “The shaggy red orangutan, Pongo pygmaeus of Sumatra, will give the most delight. Orangutans are arboreal—according to Swindler, who has been among them. So we will have reason to look up once more, now that the sky is no longer with us.” “But there are no trees!” grumbles the Prime Minister, who used to punt on a river underneath them when the world was everywhere in leaf and rivers rich with fish. The orchestra wakes long enough to play Brahms’ lullaby, which affects us like a soporific, i.e., we fall—each and every one—to sleep, including the Funambulist, who balances on her wire by an instinct stronger than unconsciousness. While we doze, a troop of shaggy red orangutans materializes from thin air, or so it seems; and with them is no other than Daris Swindler arrived from Borneo and the Wild Men there. He wears a watch-cap and bell-bottomed sailor’s pants because he was one (a sailor, not a pair of pants!) before the study of man’s interaction with the simian absorbed him. The Cigarette Girl minces forward with a lacquered tray of smokes. Everything moves so slowly while we are mired in this dream! Daris takes a Camel and dilates on a favorite theme: the venery of Homo sylvestris—orangutan, which word is Malay for forest man. “According to seventeenth-century Dutch physician and anatomist Nicholaas Tulp, orangs are as amorous as the Satyrs of the ancient world.” So says Daris, quoting the original. Our dreaming selves are polyglot! The General is delighted. “But what,” the P.M. asks, “will become of our zoological specimens when we wake and, furthermore, whose dream this time has enthralled us? The answer involves a pin jabbed into the limbs of the musicians one by one until—having reached the Bassoonist—we swim up into consciousness with an appetite for sardine sandwiches. Who can fathom the devious paths of desire? “Look!” the General shouts. “Swindler and his evolutionary gang are gone! Here’s a cone of ash that fell from his Camel, and here and here and here is dung!” We retire to the Metaphysicians’ Room to debate the (in-)substantiality of figures in a dream (including orangutans)—what weight, if any, they may have; what life for them when they return to where we found them while we slept.