In the latest issue:

Botanic Macaroni

Steven Shapin

What made the Vikings tick?

Tom Shippey

In the Lab

Rupert Beale

Will there be a Brexit deal?

Anand Menon

Short Cuts: Under New Management

Rory Scothorne


Bridget Alsdorf

Sarah Moss

Blake Morrison

Poem: ‘Country Music’

Ange Mlinko

On the Trail of Garibaldi

Tim Parks

Art Lessons

Peter Campbell

You’ll like it when you get there

Tom Crewe

Early Kermode

Stefan Collini

‘The Vanishing Half’

Joanna Biggs

At the Movies: ‘The Truth’

Michael Wood

The Suitcase: Part Two

Frances Stonor Saunders

Poem: ‘Siri U’

Jorie Graham

Diary: Getting into Esports

John Lanchester

Selected MonstersSteven Heighton
Vol. 30 No. 13 · 3 July 2008

Selected Monsters

Steven Heighton

265 words

for Barbara Gowdy

In Florence, circa 1460, Cosimo de’ Medici enclosed a mixed group of animals in a pen and invited Pope Pius II to attend the spectacle, which was meant to determine which beast was the most ferocious: the lion, the fighting bull, the bloodhound, the gorilla, or perhaps the giraffe – an animal then known in Europe as a Camelopard.

‘Holiness, with these monsters in close quarters
we’re sure to have a brawl.’ But the new Caesars
lacked some Roman secret – razors

in the stable straw, or a bonus
bout of starvation, glass goads in the anus
or a goon squad of trainers

who knew how to crack a good whip.
So this static, comic crèche – this flop –
a Peaceable Kingdom with cud-chewing bull, ape

absently wanking, lion asleep, bloodhound’s
limbs twitching in some wet dream of a hind’s
stotting fetlocks, and the giraffe, free of wounds,

hunched by the fence, its trembling yellow ass
not enough to coax an assault. Pius
cleared his throat. ‘The Florence heat, I suppose,’

he yawned. ‘I’ve seen sportier feats
at a Synod. When’s supper?’ Trailing hoots
and loutcalls, the mob drained out at the exits,

the boxseats emptied, the media crews
taxied elsewhere, till finally Cosimo’s
bloodpit was a high-shelved archive of human refuse –

handbills, tickets, peanut shells, all set to motion
by a new wind, as if performing for that pen
of blinking inmates, who remained there . . . still remain

in the blinding empirical lens of the sun
and uranium rainfall, centuries on.
‘At eight.
Expect exotic cuts. And excellent wine.’

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

Please include name, address, and a telephone number.

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Read More

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.

Newsletter Preferences