Here is a poem I drafted when I was on my study tour of Germany:
Tigers awe children everywhere,
always, they never fail. Families on
display in front of such dominion,
sinew under fur begging to be stroked.
A thousand year Reich, he claimed.
Without regret it is not so, but these
are under threat. A three-year old
retreats in tears before the teeth.
History condemns, admires, laments Potsdam.
Across the way, haughty giraffes contemplate
the crowds, the clamour; and in their pool
polar bears titanic a plastic ice-cream container.
When I was a boy my grandfather gave me a big black and white photo book called Great Zoos of the World. Berlin Zoo came first. When I was in Berlin most of my time was spent in education visits. But on the Saturday I was taken to Potsdam. In the morning I was shown over Frederick the Great’s summer palace with its beautiful grounds. The afternoon was spent at the home of the Kaiser's son where at the end of the war the Allied leaders, Stalin, Truman, and Churchill who halfway through was replaced by Atlee, divvied up Europe, an event historians have debated ever since. On the boat trip back to Berlin we passed an idyllic villa where my guide said the final solution had been signed.
The following day was a rest day for me. My hotel was not far from the zoo. So I went. It was smaller and more dowdy than I expected. Seeing pandas was a bonus. One memory stood out - a magnificent male tiger just through the glass. The animal turned and yawned, it’s teeth only a few feet away. The young lad beside me burst into tears and fled. There was a display pointing out that tigers were an endangered species.
That night in the hotel I sat down and began to write this poem. My ignition point was the endangered species. But gradually the latent power of the animal and the historical circumstances of the city took over my writing and it became a part political poem. At the back of my mind there was the thought that the haughty aristocrats who did nothing to stop the rise of Hitler were partly responsible for the carnage he unleashed. The giraffes seemed a fitting image.
The tiger merely yawned before resuming his pose. But in their pool two polar bears toyed with an empty ice cream container someone had foolishly thrown into their pond. The power and the strength of these animals was striking. We are also animal. Lovely tiger can be a deadly killer.
Back home I polished the poem. The film Titanic had been released. I used the word in the final line as a verb, it seemed to sum up human folly. The poem was at rest.
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