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The Animals Are Leaving






One by one, like guests at a late party

They shake our hands and step into the dark:

Arabian ostrich; Long-eared kit fox; Mysterious starling.


One by one, like sheep counted to close our eyes,

They leap the fence and disappear into the woods:

Atlas bear; Passenger pigeon; North Island laughing owl;

Great auk; Dodo; Eastern wapiti; Badlands bighorn sheep.


One by one, like grade school friends,

They move away and fade out of memory:

Portuguese ibex; Blue buck; Auroch; Oregon bison;

Spanish imperial eagle; Japanese wolf; Hawksbill

Sea turtle; Cape lion; Heath hen; Raiatea thrush.


One by one, like children at a fire drill, they march outside,

And keep marching, though teachers cry, “Come back!”

Waved albatross; White-bearded spider monkey;

Pygmy chimpanzee; Australian night parrot;

Turquoise parakeet; Indian cheetah; Korean tiger;

Eastern harbor seal; Ceylon elephant; Great Indian rhinoceros.


One by one, like actors in a play that ran for years

And wowed the world, they link their hands and bow

Before the curtain falls.




Source: The poem first appeared in Kansas Quarterly was reprinted in Amplified Dog, published by Red Hen Press, 2006.

Charles Harper Webb is the author of numerous poetry collections, including Reading the Water, Liver, Tulip Farms and Leper Colonies, Hot Popsicles and Amplified Dog. He is professor of English at California State University, Long Beach and directs the school’s MFA in creative writing program.

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