The Escapologist i.m. Ken Allen, 1971-2000, Bornean Orangutan, San Diego Zoo. This is not a lush rainforest. The forest is gone. This is not Ken Allen the Wall Street trader. Ken Allen is gone. This is not Ken Willingham or Ben Allen the zoo keepers. Ken Allen is gone. This is not Ken Allen the orangutan. The orangutan is gone. I watch from five thousand miles away. You sit in a rope hammock halfway up a metal tree. The picture blurs, shifts, breaks up. Colours crash, become grey, ashen, peel away. Hunched over. The ragged flame of an arm reaches from beneath the sackcloth, holds it aloft like a banner. Hands, pink palmed, long fingers, artistic they told me, pull the cloth over a head, wrap it across a face half-hidden. I glimpse deep-set eyes. The camera without warning zooms in. I’m told I can capture you, send a postcard image, home. A silent click or so I think. Is there a noise, a light? You turn, look at me, seem to sigh. Caught. I wave. A slight movement, a twig of an arm appears, a small hand tugs a thread, frayed edge. White teeth, a grin. Your hand strokes a head gently, I click. Four eyes blink back. I remember how he use to listen, for two years how he listened. Then that last time. How he knew, when the hum was gone. The electric fence turned off, when to go. How he watched and learnt. Knew when a keeper changed a shirt. Knew to undo screws at night, put them back by daylight. And the females brought to him, co-conspirators they became. Taught to use sticks as crowbars, that was not part of the sexual liaison game. Now daughter, granddaughter sit, watch, listen, never miss a trick. This time no loose rocks around to hurl at that irritating school girl behind the glass. No walls to climb, moat to cross. Adopt a keeper maybe that’s the key to our 97% shared DNA and animality. He’ll soon learn to swing from ropes, forget ringtones, TV, the remote.
Marion Oxley is originally from Manchester but has lived in the Calder Valley for many years. Her poems have been published in a variety of poetry magazines and anthologies. She was recently shortlisted for the Cheltenham Festival’s ‘Wild’ Poetry Competition and the Erbacce Poetry Prize.