The Plunge

I lean over the splintering fence
looking for Bessy. A cigar smolders
in my fingers. I know she
likes the smell, so I use it as bait.
Sometimes after I’ve been smoking
she asks me for my shirt.

I see her head bobbing around
her old barn. I get shy and turn
to leave, but she says, Hey
Giacomo, how’s it hanging. I put
on a smile, turn back and say,
What you doin’. As usual
somehow she fills me with
pleasure. She gestures toward
her old barn and says, I’m building
a new hut for my hippo. And I say,
If you mean your old barn, it’s
already built, it’s right there.
She says, Or wait, I mean I’m
winterizing it. He needs to be cozy.

I say, I’ve been living here all this time
and I didn’t know you had a hippo.
As the word hippo comes out,
I see him, a hippo in Bessy’s pond
drifting smooth and slow along
the perimeter, propelling himself
somehow like a mechanical toy,
his mouth wide open, letting food
gather in his jaw. The word happy
comes to mind. Happier than
either me or Bessy could ever be,
as he feels the force of water
against his face, and the little pond
plants and animals wiggle in his mouth.

What’s his name, I say. That’s
Hippy, she says. I say, I always
wondered what the smell was.
She says, Once Hippy gets into
your system, in your mind fully,
you hardly even notice. I say, Can
I pet him. She says, I wouldn’t try.
He doesn’t like to be touched.
When I touch him, he jumps away
and snarls at me and bares his teeth.
Bessy shows me her teeth. She says,
but he’s a good boy. I say, Well,
I sure would like to meet him
someday. Do you want my shirt?
Bessy says, Well it looks
like he’d like to meet you, too.

She’s looking behind me,
gesturing with her head, and I turn
around and there he is, Hippy
the hippo looking at me. He’s
bigger than I imagine. He takes up
my entire field of vision. His mouth
is open and I can see a few fish
jumping around and some kudzu
snarled in his teeth. Bessy takes
my hand. This is our chance.

John Sieracki

John Sieracki’s work appears in 34th Parallel, Incessant Pipe, jubilat, Lost Pilots Lit, Meat for Tea, New Ohio Review, Variant Literature, Windfall Room, and elsewhere. He is a member of the CRVPT (Connecticut River Valley Poets Theatre), and he received his MFA from UMass Amherst. He raises money for Holyoke Community College.