Why I Call Myself an Animal by Anna Kelley

Not much about me is what you’d call
wild except for a part of my right side
that understands animals. I discovered it
as a child during visits to the zoo, while
staring at the neon parrots and catamounts
and fringe-eared oryx and thick-coiled
melon-colored snakes in a giddy daze.
My mother was a chaperone once for
a zoo field trip. She smuggled me away
from the school group to a sunken room
where we watched two polar bears, huge
as hurricanes, swim underwater through blue
tinted glass. One of them turned to her side
as she glided through the water and looked
me in the face. And the part of my right side
that understands animals tensed with wonder.
When I got a little older, I started to mourn
the zoo animals who were eased into glass
boxes out of their various skies and oceans,
but that’s another story. What I’m saying is
that last week I was at roller derby practice
and we were playing a game where Prymal
tried to break through the rest of us—
about fifteen women skating with our hips
locked tight and arms bracing each other.
No one moves like Prymal. I watched to see
how the whistle’s sound set her going faster
than blood from a body. The long strides,
the lowered apostrophes of her shoulders,
her wheels churning like millstones
into the wood floor. She went in head first,
holding her bony hip before her the way
warriors brandish swords, and we broke.
But—there was a second when she shoved
past my legs—our eyes happened to catch
and the part of my right side that understands
animals awoke for the first time in years.
Ever since, I’ve felt a fire in my vestigial
third stomach. So this is what it is to look
through blue glass from the other side
and see your own wild body looking back.
I go to bed hungry. Dream nightly of a beak
that grows across my open mouth. So this
is what I am. So this, then, is what was meant
when they said I was never lost to begin with.

 

 

Anna Kelley is pursuing an MFA in poetry at Syracuse University. She is a reader for Salt Hill. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Cherry Tree, Literary Orphans, Up the Staircase Quarterly, CICADA, Split Lip Magazine, and others.