Welcome to the Zoo, Miss. So-and-So. Come in.
Take your coat off, you’ll be much more comfortable. Yes, that’s it.
He’s got big blinking lizard-eyes, and spotty reptilian skin.
He’s sat in a bookcase, cross-legged like a Caucasian Buddha. Asexual, he’s
Looking at his fan of papers, reviewing my sentence and planning a full-stop before I’ve
His colleague, blocky and square-faced, sits down, silent.
The lizard won’t stop blinking or talking.
Would I like a glass of water?
Would I like a cup of bleach?
Would I like a live eel to chew on?
I’m alright for now, I say, sure to be gracious and humble and thankful. It begins, and I’m
smoother than windless water.
LIZARD: Tell me about Book No.1: Volume No.1.
LIZARD: That was terrible. Tell me about Book No.2: Volume (Irrelevant)
LIZARD: You’re answering the question wrong. No matter. On to Book No. 12.
I think that’s enough for now, Dr. Lizard (Phd.) That’s his colleague speaking.
He’s pig-eyed and beary, an animal-turned-circus-master
Lizard obeys, slinking into his bookcase.
Now, Miss So-and-So. It’s time for some fun.
He prowls to his own bookcase and, with a flourish, pulls off the curtain.
Out falls a woman (Ooooo! A woman!) and she’s a carcass, foul and punctured and
patched with gossamer fish-skin. Moths fly out of her in a clump of wingéd fury. (The
lizard eats them before they can go any further.)
This, Dr. Ringmaster (Phd.) says, is Sappho.
With trembling hands, I reach into the musky lead crumble where her face should be.
She is bloodless, just as I expected. Her ribs have burst into mothballs at somebody else’s
careless touch. There is a scroll of parchment where her liver once was.
Who has done this to her?, I cry. Who?
The Zookeepers are smiling. Their faces are blindingly white now, like masks of eggshell.
We did, Miss So-and-So.
We have a lovely gold bookcase for you.
Will you come in?
Devki Panchmatia was a senior Runner Up in the 2019 Orwell Youth Prize responding to the theme ‘A Fair Society?’. We asked Devki about the inspiration for her poem and what motivates her to write:
What was the inspiration behind your piece?
The piece is loosely based off an experience I had in a similar setting as the speaker in the poem. As a woman of colour, I am heavily interested in the place of women in academic settings, and for me, a ‘fair society’ is one in which women and people of colour are given equal opportunities in education. I wanted to convey the anger, immense discomfort and sense of displacement that myself, and many other women have felt in a highly Male-dominated academic sphere. Sylvia Plath’s ‘The Applicant’ was a key piece of inspiration behind the poem, too.
Why did you pick the form you did?
Free form has always appealed to me since I began studying poetry. A poem written in an unstructured, loose style draws attention to the rigidity and the sense of suffocation my speaker feels.
‘Why I Write’
I write because the written word is far harder to silence than speech.
Advice to fellow young writers
Read as much as you can. Find your style, your voice, and be patient with yourself. We will only get better with time!
A piece of writing/poem/novel/article that has influenced me
Virginia Woolf’s ‘A Room of One’s Own’. It is a reminder that the personal is always political.