Maya Jewell Zeller: a poem



The Hyena

When I was best friends with a debutante I often ate maids' faces. Leonora didn't know, after the first, and I'm not sure she continued to feel close to me, but I felt I owed it to her to keep the title "friend" in my heart. After all, she taught me French. And she got me going on balls, which I do adore – until the dinner part when everyone dulls to a million points of light and my identity is revealed. I didn't intend to eat maids' faces for so long, but a girl has to get by.

When I left Leonora I hid in the woods, enjoying my own odour and watching the stars. They were glittery and blue, like a coming-out gown, and once I ate the dainty feet I'd saved in the little bag embroidered with fleurs de lys, I used the high heels I'd pulled off my hind paws to spear a few wandering rodents, and munched their bones for sustenance, a proper little picnic. I missed my friend so, but she never came for me. I tried to send word: Leonora, I ate your maid’s face; find me in the forest!— I convinced a bat, that poor fluttering thing, but Leonora hid from the creature, behind a chair. Hid from a bat! The girl who visited me so many times at the zoological garden! Just look what socialising does to a wild creature. Je m’en fiche! That dear bat had to flee out the window when my friend's mother entered, all in a rage. I knew then, as I sat stinking in the garden, I could not return. What if they ate me, or worse, sent me back to the zoo? So the forest it was; I left the gown on a branch and carried on to the next town, filling my little bag with woodland creatures for snacks along the way, enjoying the snap of branches and the stream's sweet lullabies. Indeed, who could live forever among the conventions?

And this: it's not true how they portray us. I rarely scavenge. I wanted so to say this at the balls! – but conversation didn't allow expansion at these formal affairs. I wanted to say all the things: it's not true we laugh, that we're related to canines. This most of all, I want you to know, as Leonora did: we're cat-like. Oh, Leonora and I had this marvelous plan to revolutionise parties and kingdoms... but you know how it goes. Humans: such basic animals. What a mess of shit! Like coming upon a small party of girls, eating cupcakes in a field. If they won't be educated, they must be devoured.

Je m’en fiche! Je m’en fiche! they cry, and I respond, Je suis meilleur qu'un homme! Above, the trees sway and the wind whips at little wisps of clouds, the stuff of poets and Renaissance painters, and those whose faces are eaten by carnivorous mammals. But my how they struggle! Hold still and it’ll all be over!


Maya Jewell Zeller is the author of three collections, most recently the interdisciplinary collaboration (with visual artist Carrie DeBacker) Alchemy For Cells & Other Beasts (Entre Rios Books, 2017). Maya teaches writing for Central Washington University and serves as Poetry Editor for Scablands Books. Find her on Twitter @MayaJZeller.