Serving House: A Journal of Literary Arts
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SHJ Issue 14
Spring 2016

Buttons in the Zoo

by Peter Krumbach

People have lost their passion for buttons, 
Sid Lilly, the manager says. 
The boardroom in a basement, 
empty palettes stacked in the corner. 
The last button factory in town. 
I smell the mold of another week, 
pretend to write in my yellow pad, looking 
at the crystal eggs of Sid’s glasses. 
He doesn’t know that when I disappear 
in the afternoons and the staff assumes 
I’m in the field negotiating prices 
of antlers, hooves, and horns for our line 
of exotic buttonry, I am, in fact, 
in the south wing of the Zoo, 
sipping black Chinese tea
in the rhesus monkey pavilion, 
conversing with my little friend Troy. 
He descends like sweet water through 
the fur-polished branches, perches 
himself in front of me and pins 
the hypnotic gaze on my chest, 
as if stunned that I emerged again 
in the hot stink of his prison. 
I initiate the talk, he gestures 
that nothing has changed, 
motions to my head, indicating 
that I’m not that bright. 
You told me that last week, I say, 
and we laugh, Troy’s mouth open 
in a pretty O crowned by the umlaut 
of his nostrils. He flashes 
the usual request for the five-dollar bill 
that waits folded in my shirt pocket. 
As I slip it to him through the bars, 
his lenses scope the room for witnesses, 
then the soft tiny fingers 
absorb the banknote with aplomb. 
Now the flat face, delicate and precise, 
leans toward me. I can see the fuzz 
around the ears, my silhouette in the moisture 
of his eyes, the pink of his tongue. 
I cup my hand, raise it to the fine whiskers, 
and from his mouth into my palm, drops a leaf 
shaped like a button. 


SHJ Issue 14
Spring 2016

Peter Krumbach

grew up in the 1950s in what used to be Czechoslovakia. Shortly after graduating with a degree in photography, he left the country, and in 1981 arrived in New York. He worked in commercial art, and later as a translator and broadcaster. He currently lives in San Diego, California.

“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose
is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury