Atlanta Zoo, 1999

When mama brought us there, we’d sit in front
of the baboon exhibit, crack jokes
about their inflamed hineys, red
and puckered. Enclosed here and in the wild

baboons do not mate for life. Sis would ask
our mother to translate their grunts, screams,
itches and preenings. Even when no sound came
out their pointed teeth.

They hosted city council meetings. They fell
in love. Bickered over pulped pumpkin. Scolded
children, who’d pounce-cling to their wiry chests
like lockets. We’d stay there for hours, narrating
their enclosed world. Laughing at the changes in pitch.
Stooge-like comedies. Listening to mama’s voice
purled in false belief.

At home, we took to our own cage. Wallpapered
in pinstripes and flowers. Lined with plush dolls.
Downstairs, Mama yelled in another language.
Daddy bellowed back. If I pressed my thumbs tight
against my ears, they sounded inhuman.

We’d translate, Sis and I.

For now, I love you.
Primate. Soulmate.

Julia Watson earned her MFA in Poetry from North Carolina State University. She was a finalist for the 2021 NC State Poetry Contest, the 2021 Joy Bale Boone Poetry Prize, and won the Sassaman Award for Outstanding Creative Writing from Florida State University in 2018. Her works have been published in Panoply: a literary zine, The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, Atlantis Magazine, and forthcoming in The Shore. She lives in Asheville, North Carolina where she plays bass guitar in the band Cardinal Lake.