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.
ARE YOU OF THIS WORLD
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.
I WONDER ABOUT THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN
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.