“How to Classify a Reptile” by Rebecca Schumeida

Rebecca Schumejda


At the reptile show, I am reminded of him,
the first guy who made me orgasm.
As the presenter drapes a yellow Burmese Python
around his shoulders, I think about how my ex showed up
at my doorstep unannounced over a decade after he said
that I was like his Volvo, comfortable and dependable,
but not worth going back to once he’d driven a sports car.
Yes, he really said that and I said nothing, nothing at all.
Instead I cried every time I saw his new girlfriend,
his beautiful blond Ferrari, everywhere I went around campus:
in the food court, at the library, throwing bread to the fish
that swam in the Gunks, playing the bongos outside the art studios,
and smoking clove cigarettes outside the Humanities Building.

While the presenter flips the python over so we can see
the snake’s claws, proof of evolutionary progress,
I think about how I let my ex in, how he sat at my kitchen table
while I peeled and sliced an apple for his daughter
and gave her a glass of milk with a red and white striped straw.
I listened as he told me his sob story about his custody battle,
about not having a job, living in his mother’s cramped apartment
that didn’t even have a bathtub. He even had to wear his bathing suit
to take showers with his daughter. He even asked me if I had a tub.
I listened and poured him coffee. I made peanut butter and jelly
sandwiches for them while balancing my own infant daughter on my hip.
I did not offer up news about myself, I did not offer up our tub.

I listen as the presenter introduces Ally, a seven-month-old alligator
that the police took away from some guy who was keeping it
as a pet in his bathtub. This happens too much, the presenter says,
then goes on to say that a male can end up weighing up to
eight hundred pounds. He walks around the room to give the kids
a closer look. He explains how, like a submarine,
even when submerged under water, the alligator’s periscope-like eyes
allow them to hunt for prey and I look away as Ally blinks at me
and think about how before leaving that day, my ex asked me for
gas money, and without hesitation, I reached into my pocket book
and gave him all that I had: a ten, a five and three ones.

from Rattle #37, Summer 2012

Rebecca Schumejda: “When I was in seventh grade, my English teacher asked the class to write poems and I eagerly complied. A few days later, my parents were called into a meeting at the school where my teacher, the principal, the vice-principal, and the social worker discussed how my assignment was unacceptable and how they were worried about my mental state. After reading the poem, my father sat there for what seemed like forever before he looked right at me and said, ‘This is a great poem, Rebecca!’ Then he looked at the teacher and said, ‘Don’t ask your students to write poetry if you don’t want to hear their truths.’ My father, a hardworking roofer, has always been my inspiration.” (web)

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