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Rita Mae Reese

The Zookeeper’s Daughter Drives to the Store


Almost everywhere today the sun and its rays are merciless,

beating down on houses, shouting up from the pavement,


consummating all of our dark ideas. The heat immobilizes a woman

driving to the grocery, leaving her staring senselessly at a green light,


enraging other drivers who just want to go where they are going – now.

Fingers grip everything too tightly or too loosely today, the way the heart


grips every day, tightly panicked like the bears still inside the zoo, glaring

hopelessly at the sinkhole that has opened but offers no exit. She turns at the


intersection of Herself and Something Else, down a known but unfamiliar street, past a

Jaguar with a flat tire and a fifty-something man in a blue, wrinkled suit on his


knees beside it; his pale hands are awkward with the tire iron, weaker than the chrome

lug nuts—five stubborn stars. Two boys on bicycles quietly watch the sweating


man. Is it possible everything is melting together? Her thighs and the Blue Ridge

Naugahyde seat are becoming one. The day is a Salvador Dalí soup


or a finger painting by a disturbed child. She runs a red light,

parks at the grocery store next to a guy in a Land Rover daydreaming about


quantum field theory. He smiles as if she’s part of an exhibit he approves of.

Right outside the door are some Girl Scouts selling cookies and


she walks past them not buying, turns down the first aisle

to buy tamari sauce and tofu and vegetables, though who wants to eat in this heat –


ubiquitous and unwholesome, rubbing thoughts together in her head, all

vying for dominance, trying to get the tongue and mouth to free them into the air.


Who wants to shop for the food sitting sullen on the shelves, shrink-wrapped

Xeroxed examples of genetic engineering. She buys irradiated


yellow squash. She would have bought organic but she wasted her money at the

zoo, whispering words of encouragement to the bears when she was alone with them.



The Alchemist’s Daughter Learns to Masturbate


After school, I assembled the plastic parts of the Wolfman,

gave him a stand to anchor him outside of my dreams

painted his jacket and his lips red,

his teeth a thrilling white—clenched against my name.


Next, I assembled myself from parts of the dead

each part with its own will, barely under my control.

I grunted ones and zeros through the village and feared fire.


In the poetry section of the public library,

I found a cross—ornate and cheap—resting

by the window with a few emaciated volumes.


I slept with it clutched in my right hand, my arms crossed

against my chest, exposing my long white neck

to the shadows of night in my bedroom

while the cape descended again and again,

giving my throat the warmth of purpose with his long sharp teeth.


Rita Mae Reese has been named a Martha Meier Renk Fellow at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. She won the Dean’s Prize in creative writing at Florida State University and two of her poems won 2001/2002 Associated Writing Program Intro Journals Project awards. In 2002, she was a finalist for the Ruth Lilly Fellowship for Poetry. Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart and has appeared or is forthcoming in Wild Sweet Notes II:  More West Virginia Poetry, Poetry from Sojourner, The Florida Review, River Styx, Shenandoah, Mid-American Review, and Apalachee Review.

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