In the Loveland Aquarium

by Sam Niven

School children shrill the air.
Muddy sneakers trample
clerical carpet, confronting sleek
nature with graveled world.

But the two-toed sloth,
algae browning like mistletoe
on her upside-down back,
confronts nothing. She nods
through the leaves. Her branches tilt
into waltz, bend as she clings,
as she climbs, each movement reaching
between height & camouflage.

Everyone else—drag-queen butterflies,
velvet-caped stingrays—cavorts
to smooth hands & freckled noses
clapped against laminated glass.

While the sloth snoozes the long morning
shadows. The ground—her only deadline—
so far away. She carries nothing but interlude
in her unyielding spiral grip,
in her casual blinking. Her yearnings
for Pink Lady apples & butternut squashes
will hold until noon.
They will hold forever, if she likes.

Her decaf eyes consider me
far too pale a branch to doze upon.
Weeks from now, I will think of her
damp, silken nose & doglike hair
parted down her long stomach—but she
never learned her neighbors’ names,
or memorized the smell
of the cologned bodies who feed her.
She only learned half the cat-cow pose.
She will not remember me
when her front claws resettle
into the familiar notches of her Cecropia branch.