A Quarterly Journal of Contemporary English Language Haibun
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June 2005, vol 1 no 1

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Thomas Carroll Heffernan, Japan

The Silverback

He slides sideways in bare feet on bare concrete, a glide ending at least twenty feet from where he began, and then, hardly stopping, he launches his return.

All the while he is passing in front of the big window wall. All the while while facing the glass, he is looking somewhere. Somewhere above and beyond people who stand watching.

There are two, this early Sunday morning. The gates have just opened at the Hirakawa Zoo, two visitors stand watching the silverback. I am one. The other looks a priest, he wears a Roman collar.

The silverback is standing in a big white sterile room---concrete floor, three walls, ceiling, the fourth wall a huge supermarket-size plate glass window. He stands looking at, looking through, the window. His eyes seem set deep in his head; it is strange to think him contemplative, there, in his huge body. Huge and magnificent. Soon after I moved to Kagoshima, I heard about him, about how he sometimes skates, as people here say, when he is in the mood.

He half turns, sets his feet, and skates. Does he do it to entertain? Entertain himself? Or onlookers? To show his skill? Maybe many reasons. Maybe to relieve boredom. Few humans could endure a life like his, alone, no companion, no anything, in a literal void, without going mad. Then comes to mind Langdon Gilkey's memoir, his story of the Trappist monk, fellow prisoner in a camp in World War II, being sentenced to solitary confinement. To make an example, the Japanese commander delivered the sentence in front of the inmates, whose laughter puzzled him. The silverback, I begin to think a kind of saint. I saw a blackback gorilla once at the North Carolina State Zoo in Asheboro. A like thought, about the long-suffering, the endurance, the holiness, of animals, had come to mind then too.

A small white plastic bowl is the only other thing I notice in the big white space. He is skating in big sweeps, wider and faster. Is he glowering? Is the expression on his face ferocity or simple concentration? Is it something else?

As it almost never does, the name of Freud pops into my mind. Had he been right when he said that human infants feel a sense of achievement moving their bowels, that they think the product valuable and gift-worthy? In the cage are bits of scat the silverback has made, small roundish balls of hard dung. I see it hit the window. I hear the thump.

the silverback
behind glass--
I cannot catch his eye



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