At the Gorilla Forest, Wildlife Conservation Society, Bronx, NY

By Madeline Artenberg

Three times I wave my right hand
at the female gorilla,
standing before me separated
by a few inches of impenetrable glass.

Each time I wave,
she waits,
as if deciding were I friend or foe,
then picks up her left hand,
palm open, folds it closed,
brown eyes searching mine,
as if she were someone’s grandmother
come here from the Old Country,
couldn’t speak the language,
reaching out to her grandchild.

My name and that odd little word OK
were all my grandmother could say in English.
On our walks to the live poultry market,
neighbors interrupted us every few feet --
I never knew if she were the mayor
or the gossip of our Bensonhurst block.
They hugged my grandmother’s lumpy body;
she filled their palms with slices
of her famous blueberry cheese Danish,
saving some for me.

She would brush her leathery face across my cheek,
kiss me on the forehead for being good,
whisper, sheine maidele.
I didn’t understand,
but the look in her eyes was as sweet as her pastry.

The female gorilla stands before me,
gray hair on her hips,
one arm wrapped tight around two young ones,
the other hand returning my final wave.
I feel her warm brown eyes pulling at me
as I walk away leaving her
pressed to glass.