"How to Classify a Reptile" by Rebecca Schumejda

At the reptile show, I am reminded of him,

the first guy who made me orgasm. 

As the presenter drapes a yellow Burmese Python

around his shoulders, I think about how my ex showed up

at my doorstep unannounced over a decade after he said

that I was like his Volvo, comfortable and dependable,

but not worth going back to once he’d driven a sports car. 

Yes, he really said that and I said nothing, nothing at all.

Instead I cried every time I saw his new girlfriend,

his beautiful blonde Ferrari, everywhere I went around campus:

in the food court, at the library, throwing bread to the fish

that swam in the gunky water, playing the bongos outside the art studios,

and smoking clove cigarettes outside the Humanities Building.


While the presenter flips the python over so we can see

the snake’s claws, proof of evolutionary progress,

I think about how I let my ex in, how he sat at my kitchen table

while I peeled and sliced an apple for his daughter

and gave her a glass of milk with a red and white striped straw.

I listened as he told me his sob story about his custody battle,

about not having a job, living in his mother’s cramped apartment

that didn’t even have a bathtub. He even had to wear his bathing suit

to take showers with his daughter. Then he asked me if I had a tub.

I listened and poured him coffee. I made peanut butter and jelly

sandwiches for them while balancing my own infant daughter on my hip.

I did not offer up news about myself, I did not offer up our tub.


I listen as the presenter introduces Ally, a seven-month-old alligator

that the police took away from some guy who was keeping it

as a pet in his bathtub. This happens too much, the presenter says,

then goes on to say that a male can end up weighing up to

eight hundred pounds.  He walks around the room to give the kids

a closer look. He explains how, like a submarine,

even when submerged under water, the alligator’s periscope like eyes

allow them to hunt for prey and I look away as Ally blinks at me

and think about how before leaving that day, my ex asked me for

gas money, and without hesitation, I reached into my pocket book

and gave him all that I had: a ten, a five and three ones. 

*previously published in rattle

*forthcoming in our one-way street (nyq books, 2017)