Giraffes and The Mystery of Happiness

Many years ago, I took my then-boyfriend to the zoo for his birthday. It wasn’t just the zoo though. It was Roar and Snore, an overnight behind-the-scenes zoo experience. The Sydney skyline twinkled on the other side of the bay. Our evening began with crocodiles and crudites, as we shared a few drinks with the rest of the group who’d also committed their night to glamping in the middle of winter, while zookeepers paraded a series of small reptiles around us.

There was a night safari tour of the nocturnal animals including the big cats but my favourite part of the weekend was the private giraffe feeding, early the next morning before the zoo opened. I lined up, took the carrot the zookeeper gave me, and waited my turn.

I was so excited it was all I could do not to squeal. I have loved giraffes for as long as I can remember; when I was seven, I wrote a story about having a pet giraffe named Joe. As I approached the stall, the giraffe stretched his neck down to where I stood and wound his long purple tongue around the carrot I was holding.

Wait, what? Purple?!

Well, blue-ish purple.

I was 32 when I learned that giraffes have purple tongues (and no-one really knows why), a fact which still brings me exquisite joy today.

And so when a friend shared this poem with me a few years ago, it went immediately into my list of favourites. Bryony Littlefair uses the imagery of a giraffe beautifully and beguilingly as a euphemism for happiness but I also know that true happiness is feeding a giraffe.

GIRAFFE
by Bryony Littlefair

When you feel better from this — and you will — it will be quiet and unremarkable, like walking into the next room. It might sting a little, like warmth leaking into cold-numbed hands. When you feel better, it will be the slow clearing of static from the radio. It will be a film set when the director yells cut! When you feel better, you will take: a plastic spoon for your coffee foam, free chocolates from the gleaming oak reception desk, the bus on sunny days, your own sweet time. When you feel better, it will be like walking barefoot on cool, smooth planks of wood, still damp from last night’s rain. It will be the holy silence when the tap stops dripping. The moment a map finally starts to make sense. When you feel better, you will still suffer, but your sadness will be graspable, roadworthy, have handlebars. When you feel better, you will not always be happy, but when happiness does come, it will be long-legged, sun-dappled: a giraffe.

Published by Popshot and in Bryony Littlefair’s winning entry in the Mslexia Poetry Pamphlet Competition, also titled Giraffe

Music Monday | The Great Gig in the Sky – Pink Floyd

In the control room on the wall just visible above my computer screen is a photo of Graeme. Tomorrow marks the anniversary of the workplace incident in which he suffered fatal injuries. I said no to overtime. There will be a minute of silence at midday and even though I’ve chosen to be at work as much as I could since that day, being there tomorrow is not something I want to handle. Instead, I’ll be with a friend in a cafe, writing, and listening to this.

Vale, Graeme. You are missed.