Sun Bear

yesterday at the Oakland zoo

I was walking alone for a moment

past the enclosure holding the sun bear

also known as beruang madu

it looked at me without interest

it has powerful jaws and truly loves honey

it sleeps in a high hammock

its claws look made out of wood

and if it dreams at all it is of Malaysia

home of its enemy the clouded leopard

a gorgeous arboreal

hunting and eating machine

whose coat resembles a python

now it is night and the zoo is closed

some animals are sleeping

the nocturnals moving in their cages

getting ready to hunt nothing

I don’t know why but I feel sure

something has woken the sun bear

it is awake in the dark

maybe it is my spirit animal

I am reading about the early snow

that has fallen on the Northeast

all the power shutting down

the weather going insane

the animals cannot help us

they go on moving without love

though we look into their eyes and feel

sure we see it there and maybe

we are right nothing

can replace animal love

not even complicated human love

we sometimes choose to allow

ourselves to be chosen by

despite what everyone knows

the problem is

in order to love anything

but an animal you cannot allow

yourself to believe in those things

that are if we don’t stop them

going to destroy us

Dive in
  1. What is happening in this poem?
  2. What do you learn about sun bears in this poem?
  3. Compare the fact that the bear looks at the speaker “without interest” to the level of attention the speaker gives the caged bear, imagining him even after he has left the zoo. What does this contrast suggest about our relationship with the natural world?
  4. The poem moves from thinking about the bear to the news to the limitations of love itself. What is the speaker saying at the end?
  5. There is no punctuation in this poem and so it moves in a very associative and interesting way from one thought into another, sometimes shifting unexpectedly as the line breaks indicate turns more than a break in thought. If you were going to recite this poem, where would you place the pauses?
  6. Write a poem about either an animal that you have seen in captivity (if you can go visit a zoo and study an animal there that is ideal), or take notes while observing any animal that you can and write a poem using your notes.

Useful Links


Matthew Zapruder talks about his role as poetry editor at the New York Times Magazine:


A Rare Glimpse of the Elusive Sun Bear:


Read our micro-interview with Matthew Zapruder:

Dive In written by
Bibliographical info

Matthew Zapruder, “Sun Bear” from Sun Bear. Copyright © 2014 by Matthew Zapruder. Used by permission of Copper Canyon Press,

Source: Sun Bear (House of Anansi Press, 2014)

Start here: