Seven Ways of Looking at a Hippopotamus

by Leah Mueller

  1. The absurdity of being so round, with such an eager mouth. The hippo looks like it’s about to bite into something, but it’s also smiling, like it’s goddamned delighted to be the most ridiculous animal in the room.
  2. Relentlessly positive New Agers see these beasts as noble creatures. Their essays claim that hippos mean confident problem-solving. The hippopotamus can even be your spirit animal, and it would be thrilled. It’s watching you with bulging eyes from just above the waterline, hoping you’ll say yes.
  3. You can’t rhyme anything with hippopotamus. Don’t even try. You can barely spell the word.
  4. You’re barreling down the interstate. A plastic hippo rides in your car well. You keep meaning to glue the hippo’s feet to your dashboard, but that’s only a thought that comes and goes with no real intention. The hippo is too small to solve your problem, so it goes into hiding under your driver’s seat. Months later, it creeps out to see if the coast is clear.
    Nothing has changed. It tumbles into the back and lies on its side, lazy and smiling amongst the bits of paper and stale, abandoned crumbs.
  5. The DOT screwed up and thinks you’re driving without insurance. They wrote you a nasty letter filled with unfounded accusations. You want to tell them you don’t need insurance because you have Hippo Energy. Sad fact is that you do have insurance, but you don’t have Hippo Energy, which is why you must prove to the DOT flunkies that they made a mistake. You might need a bigger hippopotamus.
  6. It would be kinder to bring the plastic hippo inside. Once the hippopotamus is in your living room, it looks even smaller than it did in the car. Its tiny bulk threatens to melt into your walls. You place it on your table beside a candle made from prickly pear-scented wax and an old El Pato Hot Tomato Sauce can. The hippo looks happy, but that’s nothing unusual.
  7. Dusk falls and you light the candle. The hippo flickers in the faint light. You’re glad you finally rescued it. You’re not yet ready for an actual pet, but you could form a decent bond with a plastic one. The hippo likes your table even better than the floor of your car. Its beady eyes glow with contentment. Neither of you have to say a word. You have already told each other everything you need to know.

Leah Mueller is the author of ten prose and poetry books. Her latest, “Land of Eternal Thirst” was released in 2021. Leah’s work appears in Rattle, Midway Journal, Citron Review, The Spectacle, Miracle Monocle, Outlook Springs, Atticus Review, Your Impossible Voice, etc. It has also been featured in trees, shop windows in Scotland, poetry subscription boxes, and literary dispensers throughout the world. Visit her website at