Maya Jewell Zeller's work has won awards from Crab Orchard Review, New South, and Florida Review, and appears in a number of other literary journals, most recently Cimarron Review and High Desert Journal. She teaches English at Gonzaga University in Spokane, where she lives with her husband and their new baby, Zoey.
At seventeen I worked after school
and most weekends for a local grocery,
and when it was slow I would straighten
the shelves—we called it facing—
which helped me memorize where everything was,
right down to the canned loganberry topping
Eleanor loved for her cheesecakes
or the clam juice or the coriander
or the yellow food coloring I knew could give people
impotence, and really what would be so bad
about that, I was familiar with most of the customers
who came in and frankly it wouldn’t hurt them
to have fewer babies, the way they laughed
at the Mexicans who brought vans on Saturdays
to fill three grocery carts with tortillas, bagged
chilies and metal-clipped tubes of ground beef,
the way they would ask me what I was doing
when I got off, did I want to come out
to their campground where they were fishing
and no, I didn’t, but I’d smile, ring up
their hot dog buns and Coors Lights,
while they grinned at what little skin I had showing
beneath a black apron that said Okie’s and a button shirt
and I wished instead of their eyes it was wind
at my collarbone, thistle-sweet air while I ran
the road toward Altoona, birds
following my legs with their call,
those honest phlox faces lilting in the wet ditch.
The Woman Who Didn't Know How
Her skin was too human too often,
hands too happy to touch the splintered
door of a barn, too easily moved toward
a nettle, too ready to cover her mouth
when she gasped in joy, so she let
the aliens take her when they came.
They moved like question marks toward her
and she dropped the garden tools
to watch their wavy willow-like eyes, slits
of smoke their mouths flung out in nets.
They didn’t make a sound. Instead they held
signs with shimmery words to tell
what they wanted. On board,
they began to teach her restraint,
offering pudding then peeling the lid
to reveal the round torsos of bugs.
She wanted to laugh, but they asked
her to keep the noise down.
She wanted to explore, but they said
it was best if she lay back, rest a while,
it would be a long trip, would she please
just draw them a picture of a horse or a spade,
a packet of seeds they could plant
back wherever they came from. Through
the floor-holes she could see her husband
still sleeping on the lawn.
She had never wanted more badly
to tear through his loneliness,