Why Some Animals are Sexier Than Others: an essay by Sarah Bates


This is not a poem about feelings.

This is an essay about six white rhinoceros. Six white rhinos and the misunderstanding of a mixtape.

This is not a poem about you making me a mixtape.

It’s an essay about the fastest routes to God. Frank Sinatra, the Bronx Zoo, and week old pots of coffee with the light still on. God.

This is not a poem about how sometimes my feelings are wrong. It’s an essay about my father telling me to pay attention to baseball. The extinction of the butterfly and the way men sink. Women dig.

I swallow.

This isn’t a poem about my first Reds game. There will be no attempt to describe strangers and pulled pork and the intimacy of the seventh inning stretch. Not in a poetic way. This is an essay about the meekness of the whooping crane. North America’s tallest bird versus a two hundred pound beaver. Josephine and Pete crushing eggs on purpose.

It’s not a poem about how things go wrong. It’s an essay about wanting to swallow the moon but subtracting it instead. What I’m trying to say is this is not a poem about how I don’t sleep anymore so I eat villanelles instead. It’s an essay about how sometimes I want poetry to die and Pete to live.

Stop asking what this poem is about. If you want to know, build a railroad to the sky that can withstand a herd of grieving buffalo. I’ll be home writing about how the first boy I ever loved isn’t coming back.

This is not a poem about people finding meaning in poems.

Frank Sinatra lost in the Bronx Zoo looking for Josephine.

It’s an essay about the times they don’t.

River otters stuck in Panda Canyon waiting on the red eye to O’Hare.

The first time I saw the Reds play I skipped the fourth inning and two outs in the fifth to make out with a stranger. Six strikes in I asked him his favorite animal but he was too busy sinking to say.

Sometimes when I eat pulled pork I remember me, a stranger, and Winnie the Pooh.

I dig.

This is not a poem about what my father told me when I started writing poems about polar bears. Time Magazine had run a photo of a bear on its cover with the headline “Be Worried. Be Very Worried.” I was worried.

I searched the internet for the nearest bear in white, drove three hours to the Columbus Zoo, skipped the Heart of Africa, and went straight for Polar Frontier.

A sign hung from the handprint covered glass, “Exhibit Closed for the Season.”


This is an essay about how I’m always misunderstanding words.

You in the kitchen sink, lingering scent of Oregon pears and Elmer Fudd, missed trains and church roofs bent smaller, and unfortunately you just don’t feel the same way, but every pipe on the inside of this Amtrak is just carrying mustard seeds to the next place.
How sometimes I ignore the dead-end sign.

“Two Nebraska Hunters Kill the Last of the Pompous Bird.”

I write a postcard to my mother and leave out the bird. Tell her how I can’t remember the last time it rained.

How I’m always letting broke down deep fryers hurt me.

How when my heart bleeds it’s a two hundred pound beaver.

This is an essay about the time I waited in line for two hours to feed a giraffe. To slide through its tongue and tell God.


Sometimes when I bend it’s up the stairs. When I break it’s because I haven’t learned how. To love myself, it takes craters full of Nutella and sun.

Why are some animals sexier than others?

Thomas Jefferson, man of many obsessions, came across a few in the early 1780s. One, mammoths. Two, the hugeness of mammoths. And three, disproving Count-George Louis Leclerc Buffon’s theory that the life of the animal of the New World was smaller, weaker, and less spectacular than that of the Old World.

It became a thing. Franklin pitching in between lightning rods and bifocals. Madison reporting the dimensions of a certain Virginia weasel.

This is not a poem about the distance between the anus and the vulva of a weasel. This is an essay about how maybe my dad was right.

After Buffon wrote a poem or an essay or some old-looking-but-never-wrinkled-scrolled-up document, perhaps a letter, about how there were no panthers in this new America, Jefferson made a pit stop in France, bought a panther skin to give to the Count, and thought how much easier it was to sink than to dig.

In the letter, he thanked Jefferson for the cougar skin.

A year later, Tom was writing flash about a seven-foot-tall moose from Vermont.

I like thinking about kissing more than kissing.

I find out why butterflies are becoming extinct and cry for the first time since that night in February.

I learned to draw by the Duomo, sang alone on the Seine, but I still don’t know how to be friends with a boy.

This poem is not about you. This poem is an essay about the time a train full of African Killer Bees came through Virginia and killed Frank the Billy Goat.

This essay is about my aunt dying and everyone asking about poetry instead.

My aunt, Frank, and Pete. Poetry.

Sometimes my heart bleeds so much I forget to write for an audience.

Sometimes I explain so much no one understands.

How sometimes when I write poems I forget the first boy I ever kissed was a man who dug.
How I usually don’t know what to do with light in the morning so I pretend the creaks and rattles of sun are crying and praying at the same time.

Sometimes when I write poems there is no such thing as parking tickets.

I am sorry to say this is not a poem.

No Hundred Acre Wood, no hope in pompous birds, no misunderstanding in the dead-end sign you posted.

This is just an essay about feelings.

A two hundred pound beaver and a train sunk in the sky.




Sarah Bates studies poetry in the MFA program at Northern Michigan University, where she is also an associate editor for the literary journal Passages North. This is her first published essay.

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