Literature 11-2-2009

mnLIT presents: Gary Dop

This week's mnLIT winner -- Gary Dop's delightful poem, "Bill Bitner at the Henry Doorly Zoo" -- was selected by poet and writer Joyce Sidman.


Bill Bitner at the Henry Doorly Zoo

The rhino likes to hide off to the left, behind
the brown sign and the Africa brush,
but I know where to wait

so I alone can see the beast push
its whale’s eye and hairy victrola ears
toward the water. I won’t drink my water

till he drinks. It’s a battle of will — Rhino
and Bill Bitner. One time I drank
a gallon of milk and threw up

on some college guys.
They said I was too stupid
to drink the whole thing.

At the first digging of hooves in dirt, I hold
my ears out with my hands, and my tired eyes
get wide. My rash tingles,

pushes me toward the fence,
toward the tip of grey horn
which sticks out into the space

between leaves. I giggle to the fence,
that head’s like a Volkswagen bug, so big,
so big
. People stay away

from the angle I’ve found. They don’t know
what I know. I call Mother from the pay phone
by the orangutans. I sweat and stammer till

I say, Momma I got to pet a rhino, and she doesn’t
believe me when I describe the prickly skin
and the lonely eyes. I hang up and walk

wild through the gift shop
toward the exit, and stop only to put back
a stuffed dog knocked on the ground.


Juror comments: Poet Joyce Sidman selected Dop’s poem for the 2009 cycle of mnLIT; she writes: “I am immediately drawn to the awkwardness of this poem — the piling up of sensory detail, the challenge of each stanza. (What’s going on? Who exactly is Bill Bitner? A child?  A child-man? Why is he making this pact with a rhino?) After several re-readings, I am still a bit off-kilter, but also still delighted. Bill has gotten under my skin, in much the same way Zimmer gets under my skin in Paul Zimmer’s ‘Zimmer’ poems. This poem creates its own logic, in which the child-speaker forms a visceral bond with a huge, dangerous beast (‘I won’t drink my water /  till he drinks’, ‘my rash tingles’, ‘tip of grey horn /  which sticks out into the space’), and dares the beast to come closer. Of course, Momma doesn’t believe he touched a rhino! Momma’s world is that of the tame stuffed dog, which our hero knocks askew in his wild exit from the gift shop. I sense there will be more ‘Bill Bitner’ poems.”

About his writing, Gary Dop says: “Prose that attempts to define the experience of poetry is like standing on your tiptoes to experience the minimal gravity of the moon-poetry is a moonwalk, and this little statement is me standing, calf muscle’s cramping, on my toes. This afternoon, I read from Wendell Berry’s A Timbered Choir and was reminded of what matters — poetry returns me to what matters.”

About the poet: Gary Dop — poet, playwright, professor, and comic — lives in Minneapolis with his wife and three young daughters.  His poems have appeared recently or are forthcoming in North American Review, New Letters, Poetry Northwest, New York Quarterly, Rattle, Agni and the Poetry Foundation’s American Life in Poetry, among others.  Dop directs the Taproot Reading Series in Minneapolis’ Elliot Park Neighborhood.

______________________________________________________ is a joint project of the Walker Art Center and the McKnight Foundation

Membership on is FREE. Find step-by-step instructions for how to join and how to use the free resources available on the site. If you need assistance, contact Will Lager at Any Minnesota resident is eligible to participate in’s mnLIT competitions for poetry and fiction; there are no entry fees, and writers at all levels of skill and experience are welcome to enter work for consideration by a revolving panel of established authors and publishing professionals in mnLIT’s blind adjudication process.