Ecdysis in the reptile house
and the tanks seem too small to let
the snakes twist out of their skins.
Their stomachs roll slowly,
peristalsis globing then drooping
Brave faces almost dog-like friendly,
they must press their necks to the glass
to undress, pull free.
Ecdysis in the greenhouse,
the pupae are lined on planks
like hanging laundry.
The air is sweet-wet like a laundromat’s
and thickens my breath.
The heat bothers a fever,
brings the blood under my face to a simmer.
We creep and dampen.
The butterflies low around us –
the dwarf ones are mudpuddling,
the larger ones like cloth flip and
handkerchief between the
The weeds in me thrive.
The beasts in my brain
sniff the pheromone air and
I stagnate. My thoughts pace and
I claw at my cage.
And you ache at the tank sizes too
but point out to me the animals
which have snuck in here uninvited,
the ones not listed on the information cards:
the maggots which roll in the rotting fruit
of the feed-bowls.
You teach me where to find fresh air,
find gaps between the slats of glass.
You show me that the leaf-cutter ants
have outgrown the greenhouse.
Their colony has swollen.
The zookeepers can’t catch the queen
so the ants file outside,
wear tracks in the grass near the carpark,
climb the roadside birches.
The leaf-bits are hoisted high
Their parade proclaims survival.
They show me where to carry on, how to
thrash paths through the weeds,
leave the greenhouse behind
like a carapace,
like an empty glass shell.
Phoebe Nicholson is a poet and trainee lexicographer who grew up in Minnesota, but is now based in Oxford, England. Her work has appeared in a number of magazines and e-zines, including The Fractured Nuance, The Interpreter’s House, and Words Dance. She also edits the Catweazle Magazine, a quarterly arts magazine currently in its third year, inspired by the long-running Oxford performance night (catweazleclub.com)