Self Help Q-and-A at Zoo da Maia

What are you struggling against that you can simply release?

The brown bear paces, relentless as a telemarketer. Each time he hits the wall he turns, an Olympic swimmer pushing away in a twist, then dangles one paw over the artificial cliff that drops down to water where there is no egg-stuffed salmon for him to snatch from the current, where there is no current, where the pool is stagnant as tenure. He creates his own draft until his hip bones stand akimbo in his tailwinded coat. This could be taken as persistence, if I wish—

What deep needs do you have that aren’t getting met?

The family of monkeys, jealous of the sea lion applauding with flippers on cue for sardines, makes like Wallendas until the keeper distracts them with peeling heads of lettuce, a pail of apples. I know this pelting is also routine—

How are you living or behaving inauthentically?

A sign warns that the zebras will bite, but they crowd the fence for handouts. They are equine dad bods but for one, who is pregnant; a tattoo of hoofs dents her stripes. I, too, feel on display, pulled taut for all to see—

How are you behaving as a reactor rather than an initiator?

The flamingos shiver on one collective leg. The caimans and alligators fail to find mud. The trichotillomaniac lion picks at his geriatric mane. Also a tropical dweller, I have no other layer of dander, feather, leather, fur—

How are you censoring what you really think or feel because you’re afraid?

At the bird show, the vultures are reluctant as student drivers to wing after carrion placed on platforms, but eventually draw their inverse arc low over the heads of the audience. I protect my uncovered hair, patchy from stress and middle age. I have already seen on the quay what unexpected offerings can plop into a wineglass—

What are you leaving unresolved or unfinished that needs your attention?

The tigers crouch and pant, crouch and pant, though the sun is toothless behind the taint of clouds. They are a “fearful symmetry” when the species from the neighboring exhibit, cautious and inglorious, stumbles into view, launching themselves at the barrier that rebuffs their charge. I trace the glass where it is cracked like desert-taught skin, bracketing the breath of prey—

Poem read by Jen Karetnick

Questions are adapted from “60 Deep Questions to Ask Yourself to Create ‘Aha’ Moments” by Barrie Davenport at “Fearful symmetry” is from William Blake’s “The Tyger.”

The winner of the 2018 Split Rock Review Chapbook Competition for The Crossing Over (May, 2019), Jen Karetnick is also the author of three full-length poetry collections, including The Treasures That Prevail (Whitepoint Press, September 2016), finalist for the 2017 Poetry Society of Virginia Book Prize, and four other poetry chapbooks. Her work appears recently in Amuse-Bouche/Lunch Ticket, Crab Orchard Review, Cutthroat, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Michigan Quarterly Review, The Missouri Review, Valparaiso Poetry Review, Verse Daily, and Waxwing. New work is forthcoming in BARNHOUSE, Cider Press Review, Cigar City Poetry Journal, JAMA, The Hamilton Stone Review, Ovenbird, Salamander, and Whale Road Review. She is co-editor of the daily online literary journal, SWWIM Every Day (@SWWIMmiami). Jen received an MFA in poetry from University of California, Irvine, and an MFA in fiction from University of Miami. She works as a freelance lifestyle journalist and a trade book author. Her fourth cookbook is forthcoming in spring, 2019. Find her on Twitter @Kavetchnik, Facebook @Kavetchnik and @JenKaretnick, and Instagram @JenKaretnick, or see

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