Kelle Groom ~ Micro-Stories


It’s a zoo with­out obvi­ous cages, the ani­mals run­ning wild. People warned to stay in their cars, keep the win­dows up. But the lions are sleepy – one falls like a sack in the grass. It’s the ante­lope who watch us through the win­dow, dark eyes of the water­buck, black­buck, eland, impala, mou­flon with their spi­ral horns, white-faced gazelles. Names also giv­en to cars & dances – the watusi with a cof­fee stain around his eyes, ten-foot horns, he’s big­ger than a cow, a solo dance of the 1960s.

An ostrich peers into the driver’s side win­dow, & we’re thrilled when he dips his head to peer, tufts of baby’s breath brush­ing the glass. My fam­i­ly jokes with the ani­mals like we do with each oth­er, teas­ing the loopy necks, the big feet, so that I start a low admir­ing of each crea­ture. We’ve paid $150 to dri­ve by the ani­mals, hun­dreds of cars cir­cling giraffes & zebras, the south­ern white rhi­noc­er­os, lla­ma, white-hand­ed gib­bon who shows us how to reach & fly, the ele­phants talk­ing over miles in a fre­quen­cy we’ll nev­er hear.

Chimpanzees sur­round­ed by water because they can’t swim, tiny antelopes hunt­ed almost to death, more abun­dant in cap­tiv­i­ty, we treat you like car­toons, as if an actor’s voice will sprout from the ostrich. On the pad­dle boats, I’m ter­ri­fied because I have no sense of direc­tion, every ani­mal bet­ter suit­ed for this game. So I let the sev­en-year-old chil­dren dri­ve, bang­ing us over & over into a bank they can’t back out of, until they’re cry­ing, legs tired, & a man from anoth­er coun­try takes the wheel, pad­dles us into open water. His wife asks me, What is a pretzel?

While I am at the ice-cream stand, all the elec­tric­i­ty in the park goes out—the fer­ris wheel stops, ice cream melts, every­thing shuts down. Lines of peo­ple head for the park­ing lot. Exiting through the gift shop, I ask for a book on the ani­mals, but they don’t sell those here, though you can buy a mask, go home wear­ing the long, dark face of the wildebeest.


My room­mates had left me in the car on a dark nar­row road. The brake dis­en­gaged, & the car rolled back­wards, out of con­trol. Though I was alone in the car, a man jumped out, land­ing on the swampy medi­an, smart­ing his shoul­der & hip, but smil­ing con­vivial­ly, some­how his fall break­ing the fall of the car.

He’d land­ed next to the night sky that became an old wood­en wall, as I’d imag­ined would be in the herpetologist’s office. There was a plaque on the wall, & when the man land­ed, it shook.

My room­mates were going out, leav­ing me alone with a python. I had thrown hand­fuls of grass between us, hop­ing to slow the python down. He looked a lit­tle sleepy in his lolling way.

I was sleepy too, per­haps ill, but the room­mates had a par­ty to make.

Afraid, I went in search of the her­petol­o­gist who asked, are you of this world? We were in a horse­shoe restau­rant, & he had an office at the mid­point of the U, an old brown door I didn’t want to enter. I was there because of the enor­mous green & white snake, its tent dress like a muumuu, big as a house, swollen with small ani­mals in front of my porch. The last thing I want­ed to see were more snakes.

So we talked near door of the restau­rant, & the more he talked, the more I fell under the spell of his dark eyes, face crin­kling with sci­ence, & I won­dered if I could love a her­petol­o­gist. It was when he learned of the dan­gers of the every­day, that he asked his ques­tion. I don’t remem­ber answer­ing, just his sur­prise that I sur­vived, & the way he looked at my face, a pho­to­graph of who I used to be.



                 after Guillermo Kuitca

the orches­tra under the net & under water:     work­ing & sleep­ing for sev­en years:     sleep­ing beau­ty & the hus­band of sei­ja:     the qui­et peo­ple & peo­ple in cars:     yang ming the actor & yang ming the train car:     a pic­ture of a paint­ing & a paint­ing:     green note­books:     dream shark & white shark:     the seal dying beside me, giants off­shore:     being the sis­ter & being called:     going from house to house & stay­ing home:     inca! hia haw! & booka 6,7,8 (m’s invis­i­ble child­hood friends):     her touch­ing my hair & the mem­o­ry:     the wal mart bag in the dark & your hair:     the moon, any plan­et & a diary:     the light on a bed, over a table, twelve paint­ings in win­dows, these words.


Kelle Groom is the author of I Wore the Ocean in the Shape of a Girl (Simon & Schuster), a Barnes & Noble Discover selec­tion and New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice, and four poet­ry col­lec­tions, most recent­ly Spill. An NEA Fellow in Prose and 2020 Massachusetts Cultural Council Fellow in Nonfiction, Groom’s work appears in AGNI, American Poetry Review, Best American Poetry, The New Yorker, New York Times, Ploughshares, Poetry, and The Southeast Review as a final­ist in the World’s Best Short-Short Story Contest. Groom’s mem­oir-in-essays, How to Live, is forth­com­ing from Tupelo Press in October 2023.