Plastic Pandas

by Wendy Ellis

they sell little plastic pandas at the zoo
in a deep, clear plastic container
and there are so many of them
they are practically free

they are nearly featureless,
like they were dipped first in white paint
and then in black
an indifference that rendered them weirdly identical
but smudged and unrecognizable

like their eyes were being slowly erased
their differences smeared away
like they were an idea of a panda
not even a good toy of a panda

there were so many plastic pandas,
the container was refilled by upending
a copper-stapled paperboard box into it
and if one fell to the floor, it was easily overlooked
and if one was stolen, it was barely noted

I stole one and slipped it
like a totem into my pocket, kept my hand over it
and strolled back into the zoo
later it went through the washer & dryer in the pocket of my jeans
and when I found it again, the paint was gone
no one would know it was meant to be a panda
and I wished I had taken more than one.