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  • Mark Blickley & Donna Bassin

So Zoo Me: Mark Blickley & Donna Bassin

This is, as Mark explains, "text based art ekphrasis story, 'So Zoo Me,' done in collaboration with Donna Bassin's Bronx Zoo photograph."

Mark Blickley is a proud member of the Dramatists Guild and PEN American Center as well as the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation Scholarship Award for Drama. He is the author of Sacred Misfits (Red Hen Press), Weathered Reports: Trump Surrogate Quotes from the Underground (Moira Books) and the forthcoming text based art chapbook, Dream Streams (Clare Songbirds Publishing). His video Speaking in Bootongue was selected to the London Experimental Film Festival. He is a 2018 Audie Award Finalist for his contribution to the original audio book, Nevertheless We Persisted.

Donna Bassin is a New York based fine art photographer, filmmaker, author, and clinical psychologist. Her award-winning documentary, Leave No Soldier, was screened at various film festivals in the Tri-State area. Her latest film, The Mourning After, was winner of a 20017 Gradiva award.


So Zoo Me

by Mark Blickley

I didn’t want to go on this Bronx Zoo outing. I’ve lived nearly 67 years without ever visiting. Never had any interest watching poor trapped souls ache for the freedom of their visitors. When the Seniors Housing Commission organized this trip for my building I ignored it, as I have every year. Why I jumped on the chartered bus right before it took off this morning was a mystery to me. But now the mystery is solved.

Thank you, Joey, for guiding me to that bus seat. God forgive me. I know the church says it’s blasphemous to believe in a soul’s rebirth into another body, but I’m seeing and feeling reincarnation. The moment I stepped into this Gorilla House our eyes locked and I knew it was you, Joey. You haven’t turned your gaze from me for a single second.

Figures you’d come back as a silverback gorilla--it’s the silver anniversary of your departure—25 years ago you left me so suddenly. Father Donnelly said you were called home, but I told him he was a liar. Your home was with me. God forgive me.

A day hasn’t passed since then without my missing your touch. I loved teasing you about your hairy back. I’ve noticed at the Seniors swimming pool that most bald men have hairy backs. You would act so offended when I called you my Big Ape because of your back hair, but I know you loved it. Here’s a secret, Joey. I always called you my Big Ape whenever I desired intimacy with you and you always responded. Just like today!

Each morning I’ve awoken since you left I never minded getting a day older because I knew it meant I was getting a day closer to the time when I could return to you. I’ve been so impatient. Despite it being a mortal sin, I tried joining you dozens of years ago. I once stuck my head in the oven and began sniffing gas, but I turned it off when I realized I couldn’t be certain that you would be in Hell waiting for me. You did enough good during your life to have made it to Heaven, so I decided not to take the chance of being routed to Hell, being separated from you for eternity.

Is adultery a mortal sin, Joey? After you died, I found out you were banging Millie Brandenberger from apartment 5E. But I forgive you because I know she was lonely and you always had a jones for large breasts. I figured it was some kind of distorted Mommy thing, so you’re more to be pitied than ostracized. Nobody’s perfect, Joey. And that includes me.

A few years after your death I was convinced by my friend Sonia—whom I know you never liked—to try dating. I didn’t want to go out with another man because it felt like I would be cheating on you even though I know it’s crazy to think that way. Sonia was keen to introduce me to her cousin, Ricardo. Before my first date with him she asked me if I shaved. I told her I always removed my armpit hair. Sonia laughed and said men these days prefer that a woman shave her private area. I thought that was disgusting. I asked if her cousin was a pedophile because I would only go out with a man interested in meeting a real woman and not some knock off little girl.

I did meet Ricardo and we went out dancing. I found him very sweet and attractive. After five dates with him I realized how much I missed physical intimacy. Before my next date with him I bought a Lady Remington razor and shaved down there hoping to make myself more appealing to him. When I looked at myself in the mirror before taking a shower I felt nauseous and totally exposed in such an unnatural way. It reminded me of what you told me when you were a boy taking judo lessons and how you felt after you took your first after class communal shower. Everyone else seemed circumcised, so you believed that you were the unnatural freak.

I refused to see Ricardo again until after my pubic hair grew back but by that time he had found another woman and I decided I was too old to date at age 44. What upset me so much about shaving was I remember how much you loved and admired what you called my “luxurious bush.” You always teased me about how much fun it was exploring my lush forest in order to discover its hidden treasure. So now you live in an artificial bush enclosure, Joey. Are you enjoying it?

Have you wondered why I switched my beautiful engagement ring to my right hand before reaching out to you today? When I noticed you would sometimes move your wedding band to your right hand, I asked why you did that. You said it was because you’re left-handed and it was more comfortable when you wrote up all your claims examiner reports. But there’s a thing called the internet now, Joey, and when I looked up on the computer why people switch wedding ring hands it said it was a code that meant although the ring wearer was married, it signaled to others that he or she was open to cheating on their partner.

The sign on your cage says Silverbacks live with a harem—one male and multiple females. I changed ring hands because I want those monkey sluts in there with you to know I’m available if you still want me. I know it’s stupid to feel jealous right now. Was Millie the only one? Did you feel caged with me, Joey?

I heard a woman whisper to her friend that silverbacks have the smallest genitals of all the apes and are extremely jealous. That sounded so much like my Joey. I adored your jealousy because it proved how much you love me. I think the reason I’ve missed you so much these past 25 years is that you were always such a mystery to me.

I’m scared to leave this monkey house, Joey, and afraid to come back. When I leave will your eyes follow me to the exit? What happens if I decide to return? What if I come back to visit you and you completely ignore me? Would that mean that everything I’m feeling and know to be true right now is a lie? Should I take that chance, Joey? Is this the work of a loving God who understands my sorrow or Satan teasing my lonely desperation? Do I risk losing this joy by being selfish and demand you pay this same attention to me a second time, or should I just be content with this loving encounter?

Farewell and thank you so much, Joey. This has been such an exhilarating experience for me. When I leave your gorilla exhibit and push open the door, for the first and only time in my life I’m going to walk out in public feeling like an Alpha Female!


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The image of Quasimodo is by French artist Louis Steinheil, which appeared in  the 1844 edition of Victor Hugo's "Notre-Dame de Paris" published by Perrotin of Paris.


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