Joanie Mackowski’s The Zoo

Back in the day–when I was earning an MFA from the University of Washington–I knew Joanie Mackowski. She was clearly a rising star even then and I have kept my eye on her. This book, The Zoo (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2002), won the 2000 Associated Writing Program Award in Poetry. I have a signed copy (from Joannie’s book launch at Open Books), and I admit to not merely having read it all the way through several times, but to having used the poems as models in my one-bad-poem process (2005-2010).

I love Joanie’s poems. They are crammed with scientific detail, with color and with and remarkable riffs of sound. To hear her reading her own work and discussing Sylvia Plath’s, visit this site. Meanwhile, here is the first poem of The Zoo, a book I am happy to recommend to you.


Two wandering across the porcelain
Siberia, one alone on the windowsill,

four across the ceiling’s senseless field
of pale yellow, one negotiating folds

in a towel: tiny, bronze-colored, antennae
“strongly elbowed,” crawling over Antony

and Cleopatra, face down, unsurprised,
one dead in the mountainous bar of soap.

Sub-family Formicinae (a single
segment behind the thorax), the sickle

moons of their abdomens, one trapped in bubbles
(I soak in the tub); with no clear purpose

they come in by the baseboard, do not bite,
crush bloodless beneath a finger. Peterson’s

calls them “social creatures,” yet what grim
society: identical pilgrims,

seed-like, brittle, pausing on the path
only three seconds to touch another’s

face, some hoisting the papery carcasses
of their dead in their jaws, which open and close

like the clasp of a necklace. “Mating occurs
in flight”–what better way? Weightless, reckless

rapture: the winged queen and her mate, quantum
passion spiraling beneath the tamarisk,

and then the queen sheds her wings, adjusts
the pearl-like larvae in their cribs of sand:

more anvil-headed, creeping attentions
to follow cracks in the tile, the lip of the tub,

and one starting across the mirror now, doubled.