Rafaella Del Bourgo, Gazelle in the Berlin Zoo, 1966


Gazelle in the Berlin Zoo, 1966
by Rafaella Del Bourgo

I return to the gazelle, press up against the bars
and she comes to me.
My hand slips through, strokes the curving horn,
bony socket of the eye.
As long as I murmur into her ear,
she will stay as close as the fence allows.

Upon arrival in Berlin, address from an agency in hand,
I knocked at an apartment door, showed the paper
to somebody’s grandmother who nodded and asked,
Sprechen Sie Deutsch?
I shook my head. Do you speak English?
Nein. A silent moment passed.
She shrugged, drew me in to apples and cloves.

I toured the city, returning each evening to the zoo.
Last night, in Frau Schneider’s warm rooms,
we shared spice cookies and tea,
the puzzle of broken language.
Later, in the back of a wardrobe,
I found a woolen SS uniform;
assumed it had belonged
to her husband who had died many years before.

I imagined a barbed wire enclosure, curdled snow,
a woman dripping rags,
the urine-yellow star.

In her dirt compound, the gazelle is fed and sheltered,
but she was meant to fly across the grasslands
with a great herd,
outrunning the cheetah
for as long as she could.

She chews on my hair; I hear a muffled sound.
I wonder what she knows about forgiveness.

First published Poppyseed Kolache, summer 2010.

IMAGE: Gazelles by Franz Marc (1913). While living in Berlin, German artist Franz Marc (1880-1916) spent countless hours at the Berlin Zoo studying and sketching the forms of animals from every conceivable angle.  He said, “…instinct has never failed to guide me . . . especially the instinct which led me away from man’s awareness of life and towards that of a ‘pure’ animal . . . an animal’s unadulterated awareness of life made me respond with everything that was good.”

NOTE: The Berlin Zoological Garden is the oldest and best-known zoo in Germany. Opened in 1844, it covers 86.5 acres and is located in Berlin‘s Tiergarten. With about 1,380 different species and over 20,200 animals, the zoo presents one of the most comprehensive collections of species in the world.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rafaella Del Bourgo’s writing has appeared in Puerto Del Sol, Rattle, Oberon, Nimrod, and The Bitter Oleander. She has won many awards including the League of Minnesota Poets Prize in 2009. In 2010, she won the Alan Ginsberg Poetry Award. She was also the 2010 winner of the Grandmother Earth Poetry Award.  In 2012 she won the Paumanok Poetry Award.  In 2013 she was the recipient of the Northern Colorado Writers first prize for poetry and in 2014, the New Millennium Prize for Poetry.  In 2017 she won the Mudfish Poetry Prize and was nominated for the third time for a Pushcart Prize.  Her chapbook Inexplicable Business: Poems Domestic and Wild was published by Finishing Line Press.  She lives in Berkeley with her husband and cat.

2 thoughts on “Rafaella Del Bourgo, Gazelle in the Berlin Zoo, 1966

  1. Raffi….fabulous and disturbing poem. Did you write this recently about that time, or were you writing way back in the 60’s? hugs, polly


  2. Raffi ,What a moving and haunting poem– a provocative closeted Nazi remnant, an old lady, a story married to the gentleness of a nuzzling sweet gazelle. And I love the painting (love all German Expressionists.


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