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Some of What You’ll Find in our Spring Issue No. 112

Screen Shot 2018-04-18 at 3.00.50 PMWe strive to fill each issue of ZYZZYVA with a dynamic and challenging blend of contemporary fiction, poetry, and non-fiction. Here’s a sampling of some of the writing in Issue No. 112, which you can get today with a subscription to ZYZZYVA:

An interview with Man Booker Prize-winning author PAUL BEATTY: I think the real reason I set The Sellout there [in Dickens] is that there’s this weird neighborhood in L.A…There are a lot of weird neighborhoods in L.A. [Laughs] This one is called Richland Farms. It’s a small little section of Compton. My sister teaches there, and when we were little my mom used to drive us to––I don’t even know if they still have it––to the Watts Parades, which were like a celebration of the Watts Riots. Not a celebration of the riots, but…I guess a celebration of surviving the riots? You’d go through there and occasionally you’d go down these streets and you would see black people on horseback, just riding down the street. It’s something that stayed in my head…So one day my sister was telling me that her students come to class with milk that they’ve bought from their next-door neighbor’s cows––like the neighbors milk the cows and sell the kids the milk for fifty cents. So it’s this weird section of Compton that’s zoned for livestock and stuff like that. It’s just something I’ve always been thinking about and no one knows about it.

Ugly and Bitter and Strong, an essay by SUZANNE RIVECCA: What struck me about the people at the center of these stories––Wooolson, the relic-destroying classical scholar, the Academy suicides––was how uncomfortable they made everyone else, and how swiftly and neatly their breakdowns were classified, and thereby negated. They were crazy. They had diseased brains. They were destined for this end. And I knew that Italy did not break them; it merely threw their brokenness into profound and excruciating relief. But I didn’t want to believe that they had all merely succumbed, as fated, to some inborn flaw in their synaptic composition. I wanted to believe that there was something Woolson had left undone, something the Academy ghosts had left undone: something they averted their eyes from, and ran from. Something they could have confronted and survived.

Barbara From Florida, a short story by MADDY RASKULINECZ: Eric and Casey had a lot of advice for Alison about being a pizza boy. Mostly the advice was about getting robbed, which was an inevitability. They told her not to put the topper on top of the car and to always park directly in front of the customer’s house. They disagreed over keeping a gun in the car. Case and Malcom had guns and Eric did not. It was against the rules of the pizza store, Miles the manager had told her. The pizza boys agreed he had mentioned it specifically because it was specifically a very logical idea. They agreed it was best to have a fake wallet with a fake driver’s license and fake credit cards in it. Eric and Casey and Malcom were younger than Alison, younger than twenty-one, and all had fake IDs for many of the things they liked to do. Casey offered to get Alison a fake ID and Alison accepted…The fake ID that Casey brought her said she was Georgina, from Georgia.

Read these pieces in full by subscribing to ZYZZYVA, or just ordering Issue No. 112.

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National Poetry Month: ‘Surge Channel’ by Suzanne Roszak

April represents National Poetry Month, intended as a way to spread awareness and appreciation of poetry in the United States. To celebrate, each Wednesday we will be taking a deep dive into both ZYZZYVA’s recent and distant past to share some choice selections. To begin the month, we present Suzanne Roszak’s poem “Surge Channel” from ZYZZYVA No. 102, Winter 2014:

Surge Channel

I imagined sea-bathers, wanting to stand
above them unbuckled in the wind,
my pores soaking up the smooth violence,
and dive. But the water was more stabbing
than they led me to expect. So instead,
smaller swimmers in brighter colors
lapped me at the edge of the surf, dashing
in and out as I stood toe-deep, dying
as inefficiently and persistently
as possible. Somewhere not far away,
someone teenage-sounding was rapping
triumphantly about butts. Implied expletives
echoed against the cliffs. There was
something impossible in it: less the vivid
disregard for romance or the female brain
than the confidence in how we all
respond to extremes. Barring some
phenomenal shift in temperament, I knew
I’d tuck my feet away from the wet rock.
I knew about surge channels, how
the sea plants double over to save themselves
while the oysters slam their faces together
against the air. I had no idea of
drowning that day or ever, a necklace
of jellies tight around my throat – had
no love or urchins or salted weeds,
a braid of slime flapping and twisting
to drag this body under.

Suzanne Roszak received her MFA in poetry from The University of California, Irvine and her PhD in comparative literature from Yale University. Suzanne has taught creative writing at UC Irvine and literature and composition at Cal State San Bernardino, UC Riverside, and other universities. Her poems have appeared in Crab Orchard Review, Ecotone, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Poetry Northwest, Redivider, Third Coast, Verse Daily, and others.

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‘Pack Time’ by Christina Olson: ZYZZYVA No. 111, Winter Issue

16209170178_243c5812f2_zChristina Olson is the author, most recently, of the poetry collection Terminal Human Velocity (Stillhouse Press) and Before I Came Home Naked (Ankylosaurus Press). She teaches creative writing at Georgia Southern University. Two of Olson’s poems are featured in ZYZZYVA No. 111. Presented here in its entirety is the poem “Pack Time”:

In late May, the men succumbed to winter madness, shaving their heads and posing amid great hilarity while Hurley immortalized the moment with a photograph.
—from Endurance: Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Expedition

Who can blame them—their ship sunk
in pack ice. The dark days looping
like a tape reel. The sled dogs snoozing
away in their dogloos. White noise.
Lentils and seal meat. In the Southern
hemisphere, summer is winter. One
morning, Hurley photographs ice
flowers and captions them as pink
carnations. The difference between
metaphor and madness is just five
letters. And a month is a false way
to mark time, a way to claim it
like a parcel of land. Nature the only
marker: pop of crocus, peel of sunburn.
On land, we flip a calendar page
like a badge, like a finger: we’ve survived
another thirty days. When the sun
never rises, men must make their own
calendars. They shave each other’s heads,
grinning with razors. They run hands
over each other’s pates, gleaming
in the lamplight. Their scalp skins
so white, like the ice. Like skulls.

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‘Still Life with Cacography’ by Dean Rader: ZYZZYVA No. 111, Winter Issue

 

Still Life with CacographyDean Rader is a professor of English at the University of San Francisco. His most recent poetry collections are “Self-Portrait as Wikipedia Entry” (Copper Canyon Press) and “Suture” (Black Lawrence), written with Simone Muench. You can see him in conversation with other ZYZZYVA contributors tomorrow at East Bay Booksellers. Two of Rader’s poems are featured in ZYZZYVA No. 111. Presented here in its entirety is the poem “Still Life with Cacography”:

“If some of those wonderful people had guns strapped right here— right to their waist or right to their ankle—and one of the people in that room happened to have it and goes ‘boom, boom,’ you know, that would have been a beautiful sight folks.”

—Donald Trump, four days after the Orlando Pulse shooting

We are in the car. My son Henry, who is four, asks, Dad how do you spell fart? I answer: H-E-N-R-Y.

To which he screams No! And before I can say anything else it’s
Dad Dad Dad what does hkjurotha spell, and I, having played this game before,

know better than to say that isn’t a word, so I say hook joo rotha, and he laughs, and then, Dad Dad what does ggtdxererererererhenruururur spell?

And he pauses for a second when I say ice cream, and he laughs even harder, and I want to believe he knows I’m teasing, and so when he says

Dad Dad Dad what does 4thy9998rgbvvvvvvvvv17 ortyhggggavin spell? Without pausing I say the name of his most loved stuffed animal,

and this goes on for many minutes, many miles, and later, I am listening to something else and have forgotten the game, the trees, the houses.

The bikers blur by like sentences we have jettisoned, which is why
he is confused when I answer nothing to his question of what the string

of letters and numbers he has placed together might signify, for he believes that every possible combination of letters makes a word, and I begin to think how

lovely that would be if the nearly in nite number of alphabetical arrangements had a corresponding word, like ifvzmoohj for “seeing the moon in the afternoon”

and wtiuklp for “Judy’s face after lemonade” or bnvaremc for “the distance between Cork and Limerick by wagon,” a different word for a different

day of his life, a word for every time I lose him at a park or in the store, a word for the uneaten grape on his plate, for the green monster

in his dream, the word for what it feels like when you are four and do not know the word for what you have lost. And I ask him

how you spell the word for when you talk to your dad and he
does not answer, and he says I don’t know, and I say how do you spell

the word when you call to your dad and he does not come, and there
is something again on the radio, and he says Dad how do you spell bam?

And then, Dad how do you spell pechew pechew pechew pechew?

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‘Understanding, Misunderstanding, and then Sitting Down to Write’ by Andrew Tonkovich: ZYZZYVA, No. 111

Andrew TonkovichAndrew Tonkovich is the co-editor of the anthology “Orange County: A Literary Field Guide,” published by Heyday, and editor of the Santa Monica Review. To ring in the new year, we’re presenting in its entirety his essay “Understanding, Misunderstanding, and then Sitting Down to Write” from ZYZZYVA No. 111

The following is an edited version of the closing talk given at the Community of Writers Workshop at Squaw Valley in July, 2017.

 “I live in terror of not being misunderstood.” —Oscar Wilde

I’m proud of at least the title of this talk, and the epigraph. If the rest of it falls at, I may revisit each, encouraging you to imagine that there was, early on, some weak hope or unlikely promise of revelation, insight, affirmation, encouragement. The title—which represents, alas, perhaps .002 percent of the actual lecture—offers elements that a title should, including action verbs, gerunds, some gentle wordplay, and direction, instruction, or expectation.

As further caveat or invitation, those who know me or can easily identify a living, breathing near-cartoon stereotype when they see one (the socialist-anarchist, peace-and-justice, pro-labor, anti-racist, anti-fascist, eco-feminist, vegetarian, hippie-punk, readerly-writerly, literary type) will be unsurprised that I take this opportunity to speak not only to writing but adopt a position, perhaps present a manifesto, rant or polemic (what we on the Left used to call an analysis) of how these might be understood just now. Although I expect buy-in on the title, I’ll understand if you argue with, reject, or ignore the balance of my spiel. All good, as the young folks say, notwithstanding the obviously difficult circumstances of life-art-politics, which are not all good, and why would we expect otherwise, in reality or in its fictional or nonfictional responses from or engagement by writers?

I have something urgent to share, however calmly delivered as a pep talk, congratulation, bon voyage into the everyday oblivion of writing, back home, alone, and away from the airy and elevated psycho-topography of generous workshop encouragement and stunning natural beauty. This tradition of mild provocation as send-off has been practiced by favorite writers with big ideas, Peter Mathiesssen to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and each has undermined—as I will—formal expectations or, yes, tried to go those expectations one better. Indeed, that’s one of two options for the writer, and it’s pretty much my big and perhaps only observation and advice this morning. So, if you’d rather get up now for more coffee, care instead to stroll this indeed gorgeous, rugged alpine site for about seventeen more minutes, if you generally prefer trailers to the movie or, better yet, if you are off to organize a powerful grassroots direct-action campaign to take down a criminal political regime, here’s the takeaway:

As writers we can either produce a startling reiteration of a terrific story we’ve read before and somehow improve on it, or we can respond to, answer, undermine, and challenge other writers’ true and recognizable methods and strategies, and as a result produce strange, difficult, new ones. Both options are difficult, brave, require reading and hard work, sitting at the keyboard, but are worthwhile in their own ways, and might be considered in a helpful title, which I offer here, as promised.

Keep on reading!

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‘The Corps of Discovery’ by Kristopher Jansma: ZYZZYVA No. 111, Winter Issue

The Corps of DiscoveryKristopher Jansma is the author of the novel “Why We Came to the City,” published by Viking. His story “Chumship” appeared in ZYZZYVA No. 105. Presented here is an excerpt from his story “The Corps of Discovery,” which you can read in its entirety in ZYZZYVA No. 111:  

We had a long way to go—this was the last comment my father made as we left Natalie’s house and eased westbound onto the interstate. He’d been over the route with me several times. St. Louis to Portland was just over two thousand miles. Six states, thirty hours. We’d stop in Nebraska that night, make it to Utah by the following day, and complete the trip late Sunday. All that time and distance stretching out on the other side of the y-spotted windshield was as real to me as the weight of my sister’s remaining things, stacked neatly in the truck behind us.

My father scratched at his beard as we drove out toward the edge of the city. I picked a blister forming at the base of my index finger. I was supposed to be back home in the Bronx, planning lessons. By early Monday morning, I’d be teaching eighth graders about Lewis and Clark, those explorers who, two hundred years ago, had set out not far from where we now drove. Following the Missouri River across a newly purchased Louisiana in search of a Northwest Passage to the Pacific.

“I-70 turns into I-29, then I-80,” my father said. “It’s almost a straight shot, really.”

Through the scratched window I looked out into the dark country for the green glint of mile markers. One every tenth, ticking down the distance. My father had taught me about these back when I’d first learned to drive, before GPS. Even now he would not turn on the location setting on his phone. Was there any reason for T-Mobile to know where he was every minute of the day? He was this type of father. Who’d delicately unfolded a broad white aaa map across the U-Haul’s hood before leaving Natalie’s. Even though we were traveling in “almost” a straight line. But we had to be ready for accidents—other people’s accidents. People were not to be trusted. Or, rather, they could only be trusted to be ill-prepared and unreliable.

Didn’t I remember the white Escalade, back on our trip to visit colleges? He’d bring this up soon. He did every time. How it had flipped as it tried to pass us at a hundred miles per hour. Like a great whale in the air ahead of us. If my father hadn’t been quick, it would have hit us.

And what about that old VW bus that had fishtailed right in front of the motor home we’d owned, back before Natalie had even been born? I’d been three, and could barely remember the RV, let alone the “hippie bus”—but I did remember it. Or I had grown up hearing the story so many times that it became the same thing.

I waited for my father to begin retelling these stories, but he was quiet.

Dry brown trees, cold and narrow, slipped by one after the other. I huddled inside the old army jacket that I’d found in Natalie’s closet. It had been mine before she’d stolen it. Now I guessed it was mine again. Heat spread slowly from the vents. Outside, in ashes of green, mile-tenths went by and went by and went by.

* * *

My father bought the Powerball tickets at an unusually festive rest stop in Kansas City. The whole place was decorated with chili pepper lights and sombreros. My father made no comment about this and neither did I. We hadn’t spoken in an hour and a half. We’d just driven along, rubbing sore hands and stretching sore backs. I had inherited the same extra vertebrae that had him at the chiropractor all the time when I was younger. He always used to tell me how sorry he was about that. He used to warn me that it would start to really give me hell when I got older. But not this time. Just listening to Natalie’s furniture shifting in the back of the truck. Smelling air freshener and listening to the radio.

“It’s actually just ‘Eagles’… not ‘The Eagles,’” my father would say when they came on the radio. Always like it was new information. Never with any awareness of having said it every time before, just as he routinely commented that the song most people called “Teenage Wasteland” was really titled “Baba O’Reilly,” as if he hadn’t told me at age twelve.

But not this time. It worried me. It worried me because I knew that we were both very capable of continuing this silence all the way to Oregon. The silence inside my father was the same one I heard inside myself. And I can only guess that it was the one Natalie heard, and that my grandfather heard. He’d passed away when I was seven, when my father was twenty- seven, the same age I was that winter.

Then he did speak, though not to me.

Order your copy of Issue No. 111.

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‘What If My Mother’ by Victoria Chang: ZYZZYVA No. 111, Winter Issue

What If My Mother
Victoria Chang is the author of four books of poems, the most recent being “Barbie Chang,” published by Copper Canyon Press in November. Two of her poems are featured in ZYZZYVA No. 111. Presented here in its entirety is the poem “What If My Mother”: 

What if my mother never protested
was never pro

anything never probed beyond
the small yard where

the bees lived with their constant
buzzing what if my

mother matched the bees in their
compliant striped

dresses minding their own business
afraid to wander too

far from the work that paid honey
afraid to wander too far

from the one queen they served
but maybe the bees

are not just working maybe the
bees make all that

noise because they are hiding things
because they don’t like

where they live are really livid not
timid not just little

serfs in striped furs maybe the bees
are not protégés to

one dictator but actually protesting
maybe the bees are

meeting each night in secret chambers
about the queen and

trying to make change to overthrow
her because she eats

all the royal jelly what if all I do is
have parties what if

I don’t do anything let others do
everything like my

mother who came to this country at
20 afraid to do

anything because she was finally free
what if we all do

nothing drink tea while filling our
notebooks like the

secretary bird with its long neck and
pen-like feathers fill the

sky with ideas ideations of ideas full of
ideology full of idiocy

that no one even reads one day the
moon will turn off

with a click like a light switch someone
pulls in a prison

we won’t be able to see the ideas anymore
our eyes won’t ever

adjust to the lack of light but in our ears
the bees will keep

screaming and we can only imagine
them disappearing

Order your copy of Issue No. 111.

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Giving Thanks: ‘Old Men at Sea’ by Andrew D. Cohen

Old Men at SeaPresented here is an essay we published back in our Spring 2016 Issue that we feel displays a sense of tenderness and empathy appropriate for this Thanksgiving holiday. We hope you’ll enjoy reading “Old Men at Sea” by Andrew D. Cohen in its entirety:

I’m driving my sons, nine and almost six, to their small, alternative private school here in Portland, Oregon, a school we send them to for the same reason we don’t let them watch television or use the computer—to keep back the world and its anguish for a few more years— even though some part of me, I confess, considers the school, the city, the simple lives they live, a bit too precious, too protected, because, well, they’re boys, and, old-fashioned as it sounds, I worry they won’t be tough enough to handle all that anguish when it inevitably comes knocking at their doors. I’m driving them along when Reuben, my younger son, still a baby, really, taut little body, round cheeks, wispy, soft hair, twisting a paper clip he grabbed off the kitchen table before we left, says, “Papa, how do you think the Eskimos took home the whales once they caught them?” and I pause for a moment, trying to figure out what he’s talking about so early in the morning, vaguely recalling a book we read weeks ago, when Ezra, my older son, lean and lanky, worrying as he does that we’ll be late for school, pushes up his glasses, and says, “I think they just towed them to shore with a rope,” which seems like a fair guess, a reasonable theory, until I remember The Old Man and the Sea, a book I loved back in college—for its adventure and excitement, its sheer feat of storytelling—and we’re still ten minutes from school, and my kids love a good story, so I say, “You guys ever heard of Ernest Hemingway?” which, of course, they haven’t, since neither of them has gotten through third grade, though I’m tempted to say something my father, a short-fused and hard-nosed businessman who believed our childhoods were too protected, would snarl: “What do they teach you in that fancy private school of yours anyway?” But I’ve worked much too hard trying to be a different kind of father for these two boys to veer so wildly off course, my high spirits notwithstanding, so I just say, “He was a writer, a great writer,” leaving out the part about his drinking and his lying and his misogyny, his boorishness and his obsession with this idea of manhood, and, of course, his suicide because these boys are too young for all that. Instead I tell them about Santiago, the old sherman from Cuba, and how he’s had terrible luck lately, hasn’t caught a fish in weeks, months maybe, such bad luck people won’t even talk to him. “But he’s tough, doesn’t give up easily—his luck is bound to change—and one morning when it’s still dark out he climbs into his little boat and rows and rows and rows out to the deep waters far off the coast where the big fish swim,” I say, looking in the rearview to see Reuben still pulling at the paper clip, fashioning it into some fabulous creation as he does, and Ezra, no longer worrying, just listening now, staring out the window with that dazey-gaze he gets while listening to the Mariners on the radio (our concession to the outside world), like he’s actually seeing it happen in front of him, everyone settling in, relaxing, even the sun making a rare late-winter appearance.

In this uncertain sea of fatherhood, you could say I’ve caught a good wind.

Continue reading

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‘The Story of a True Artist’ by Dominica Phetteplace: ZYZZYVA No. 105, Winter Issue

I was once a star on YouTube. With my friend Cam, we went by the handle Cam&Lo.

Our videos were all variations of the same theme, which we created together. Most of the screen would show whatever video game he was playing, with his joke commentary. The lower left of the screen contained a box that showed only the top of my head. Just my eyes, rimmed with liquid liner, and my blond hairbow headband atop my black hair. I would make various exaggerated expressions, depending on what was happening with the video game. That was my commentary.

At our peak, we had 800,000 subscribers. Which is a lot, though maybe not quite enough to justify calling myself a star. But I felt like a star. I got fan mail and hate mail. I got recognized at Celebcon, where fans would stop and ask to take selfies with the top half of my head.

My parents never understood what made our work popular and funny and interesting.

“I don’t get it,” they would say. “Can you explain it?”

“Exasperated sigh,” I would say. “If you don’t get it, then my explaining it won’t help. Shakes head.”

But I did have an agent, and that agent helped us get an endorsement deal from Taco Bell.

“It’s very important that the sponsored content you create remains authentic to your audience even while it elevates the brand,” she said on the conference call.

Cam and I agreed even though we knew this already. We agreed even though neither of us would ever be caught dead in a Taco Bell.

The video Cam put together showed him playing Battlefield, only all the bad guy heads had been replaced by Chalupas while the bullets had been replaced by Nachos Belgrande. The top half of my head was where you’d expect it, only my eyes had been replaced by rotating Doritos Locos Tacos that occasionally shot lasers to give Cam an assist. The hilarity was enhanced, as ever, by my hardworking eyebrows.

Actually, it was some of our best work. And we got $5,000 for it. My half was enough to put off foreclosure for another couple of months while my dad continued to look for a job. If we continued to get more deals like that and grow our audience, my parents might not have to work at all, and we could move into a Beverly Hills mansion with a swimming pool. That was the plan.

But after our big Taco Bell deal, Cam announced he was leaving YouTube, thus severing Cam&Lo.

“Sad face. It’s not you,” he said as he brushed his ironic Justin Bieber bangs from his face. “I need to pivot mediums in order to grow as an audience. This disruption will be good for the both of us. Find me on Vine, my handle is CAMCAM.”

Cam and I were artists in several different mediums, not just YouTube. We were best friends and collaborators. One of our installations in progress was the performance of trying to be popular. Like all worthwhile art, this was very difficult to execute, but we were making progress.

We had begun to eat lunch in the courtyard with the others. We went to parties on Friday nights. The ultimate goal was to continue to look down on the popular kids while being popular ourselves. It was going to be so awesome and meta, once finished. Now it was never going to be finished.

Cam ended us in first period.

In second period he was posting his first Vines.

By third period he already had 100,000 followers and counting.

At lunch I wasn’t sure who to eat with, so I went to the courtyard as usual.

“Facepalm,” he said when he saw me.

“Sigh,” I said.

“It’s just that the Popular Kids installation is going to be a solo work from here on out. Also, it’s now called Popular Kid, singular.”

I was too stunned to even say the words “stunned face” out loud, so I just turned and walked away.

“Wait,” he said.

So I stopped and paused a moment before turning around. I truly felt like the act of pausing and turning around would turn everything else around. Cam was wrong and would admit as much as soon as I faced him again and then things could get back to the way they were supposed to be.

“Yes?” I said when I was ready for my apology.

“My lawyer is sending you a contract. Check your email,” he said. Then I stormed off for real.

The contract arrived in fourth period. His lawyer used to be our lawyer. Now his lawyer was asking me to sign over my moral rights to Popular Kids for fifty dollars. Only a monster would ask for so much in exchange for so little, but financial straits being what they were, I took it.

I already knew my next installation would be the most powerful form of revenge I could think of.

The only way you can ever really hurt another artist is to create a work so awesomely brilliant and so similar to your rival’s that you obviate the need for your rival to exist at all. Aiming for suicide-inducing greatness sounds risky and cruel, but Cam was too much of a narcissist to ever self-annihilate. I could only hope to make him feel jealous and unnecessary, pretty much how I felt as I watched his follower count tick up, up, and up.

Of course each of us as humans contains the abyss, but by fifth period I felt like I contained nothing but the abyss.

How could he do this to me?

Order your copy of Issue No. 105.

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‘Good With Boys’ by Kristen Iskandrian: ZYZZYVA No. 109, Spring/Summer Issue

If you wanted a boy’s attention, you had to get it. You had to take it.

After dinner, I kept my eye on Esau. His mother was talking to Ms. Green and the two other parent chaperones. With a few other boys he headed toward Ornithology, which was fortunate, since it was adjacent to the Mineralogy wing, where I wanted to spend my time. I had some money to spend in the gift shop tomorrow and I was definitely going to get a few new polished rocks and minerals for my collection. Some agate, maybe. I did not want to lose sight of the educational purpose of this trip. I knew, deep in my bedrock layer, that Esau Abraham would come and Esau Abraham would go. I knew I had to keep a firm hold on my interests outside of boys. I stood looking at an exhibit containing necklaces of jade, peridot, and pink topaz, right next to the clusters of Mississippi pearls so creamy they seemed edible, and I felt stirred, filled with longing.

My desire for boys and my desire for certain other things—often inexplicable, sometimes beautiful, frequently plain, occasionally attainable, like a tiny plastic fifty-cent notebook charm complete with even tinier pencil, for my charm bracelet; sometimes not, like these exquisite jewels that came from places in the earth that no longer even exist—were knotted together as intricately as a DNA double helix. I wanted and wanted and wanted. I believed, like my great Aunt Jill, that objects had the power to protect me from harm—the harm of loneliness and my own impermanence—and I believed that boys had the same power.

My little voice told me, take what you want. Take what you can. Heal in the long shadows of the taking. My little voice and Aunt Jill’s little voice, maybe, were the same.

I realized I was standing with my hands and forehead pressed to the glass. I heard a few people enter the room and then Esau’s voice, “Adam— wait up!”

“Where are you guys going?” I asked, straightening up.

“Adam wants to go to the dinosaur room, right?” Esau asked. Adam was a shy boy, shyer than Esau, and obsessed with Abraham Lincoln.

“I’m not sure we’re allowed upstairs. I think we’re supposed to stay just on this floor,” I said, unsure of why I was taking the rule-abiding position, especially since I was planning on breaking a few unspoken rules later that night.

Esau looked at Adam. “I could ask my mom,” he said.

“Let’s just go,” I said. Being alone with Esau plus Adam was better than being alone without Esau. And it was fun to take the lead, exciting. “We can pretend we didn’t know.”

The three of us walked quickly to the lighted exit sign. I opened the heavy door to the stairwell and held it for Adam and Esau. I saw Mrs. Abraham craning her neck behind a few kids wandering between Botany and Mineralogy, looking, surely, for her son.

We hurried up a flight of stairs, laughing, which was the sound of our nervous bodies trying to expel their nervousness.

The Vertebrate Paleontology wing was cold and very dimly lit. We fell silent immediately upon entering, tiny insects beneath the impossibly tall ceilings. The air smelled liked stone—no, like bone. For a minute we stood there without moving, just inside the entrance. I felt a tingle in my body like a sustained high note, like I myself was an echo chamber for our collective giddiness. This would be a double trespass, I thought to myself. Once for being a forbidden area, twice for being an ancient era. We were moving through time in two directions, forward and backward. I wanted to be in charge of this moment, of being in this ideal place alone with two boys, like some better version of From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, one of my all-time favorite books. Surely it wasn’t too much to ask, to believe, that here under the spell of these skeletons and this flattering lighting they would both fall in love with me, and that although I would choose Esau, we would all remain friends and vow to undertake future adventures together. What good was a relationship, after all, with nobody around to witness it?

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‘Alfonso’s Shadow Gets Away From Him’ by W.S. Di Piero: ZYZZYVA No. 109, Spring/Summer Issue

I dreamed my shadow left to find
its way alone. It jumped the moon
in a puddle by a curb and leaped
its greasy shadow leaping there.

It climbed a house and curtained down
upon a family of flesh-stalks gathered
by an almond tree, talking politics.
It eavesdropped on the uselessness.

I let it gleefully go as if it were
a thing of the past, its fortunes shot,
or a prayer or hymn or curse I left
in church or at the farmer’s market

where plums and pomegranates shine:
go, my shadow, and unbenison them.
I’m glad to live without you. Fasten not
your drear promise to me again.

Order your copy of Issue No. 109.

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‘Appetite’ by Victoria Patterson: ZYZZYVA No. 109, Spring/Summer Issue

Claire and I met at a party to celebrate the launch of her husband’s second book. My husband and I had moved from Colorado Springs to Los Angeles two years earlier, and an unsophisticated aura surrounded us, having both been raised in conventional middle-class Republican families. There was a certain type at parties like this: intellectual, vocally liberal, slightly bohemian, creative and with good taste, and quietly and mysteriously moneyed. I was watchful and impressed.

My husband, Jeff, taught history at a high school, most of his time consumed by a yearbook commitment he’d been pressured into taking, and I was on maternity leave from a secretarial position, though I’d quit soon to stay home with our newborn son, David. Jeff had heard about the party through a friend who hadn’t shown, and there was no one else we knew.

Displayed on a stand at a table where the book was being sold, Material Promises was more than 700 pages long, the cover a profile photograph of a somber and bearded and younger Richard, fist at his chin. Published by an academic press associated with the private college where he taught, his books were classified as experimental fiction. At that time I admired anyone who’d crossed that impenetrable threshold to publication and I hoped to meet him, though I didn’t yet want to think of myself as ambitious.

Richard sat at the corner of the living room, and I passed David—less than one month old—to Jeff. I made myself walk over. Though Richard gazed in the other direction, an almost imperceptible tug at his mouth led me to believe he knew I was there. I opened my mouth to speak, but in near synchronicity his head went back and his eyes closed and then he touched his eyelids with his fingertips as if in distress, so I retreated.

“Did you talk to him?” Jeff said.

I grimaced, letting him know he was no better at networking than me, and I took back our fussing son.

“Over an hour left,” I whispered, shaking my head no, wide-eyed, as Jeff gestured to the front door. We’d agreed to last at least two hours at the party.

Later I was breastfeeding David on a couch in a private den, his little leg poking out from the blanket that enclosed him at my chest, listening to his mmm-hmm-mmm sound, when I saw Claire studying a small landscape painting near the open door. She wore a simple black dress and absentmindedly fingered her jade choker, her hiccupping daughter facing her chest in a Baby Björn, splotchy legs and arms wobbling with each hiccup. Claire looked closer—and closer still—until it appeared her nose might touch the painting.

I knew she was married to Richard because I’d watched them earlier. She was affected with him and vice versa: they seemed to encourage it like a performance, both using the words “my love” with a condescending edge and an unnerving frequency. (“Pass me my drink, my love.” “Of course, my love. Here you are, my love.” “Thank you, my love.”) She was pale, elegant, and younger than Richard. I wondered how she remained so passionately thin—her figure like a boy’s—when like me she’d recently given birth.

Even before she turned and saw us—with a surprised step back and a smile—I knew she and her daughter would join us at the couch. And she did, unhooking Lily from her carrier and propping her forward on her lap, one hand at Lily’s chest and neck, tapping her back with the other. “Beautiful,” she said, glancing back at the painting. “The rest”—she gave a dismissive hand wave, while still supporting her daughter.

“Isn’t this your house?” I said.

“Oh, hell no,” she said in amusement and then added seriously, “It belongs to a colleague of Richard’s.”

For a long while we silently watched Lily bobble with each hiccup, a bubble of saliva forming at her bottom lip. The only other sound was the rhythmic patting of Claire’s palm against Lily’s back and David’s breastfeeding hum. Then Lily’s hiccups stopped and soon her head drooped in sleep.

Claire placed her at the couch between us, with Lily’s tiny arms and legs splayed. Claire and I shared notes: ages of babies (Lily three weeks older than David), our ages (both of us in our late twenties), and our birthing experiences (still viscerally recent and traumatic).

Then David drifted to sleep, his mouth barely tugging at my nipple, little ticklish nibbles. His leg shook outside the blanket, a convulsive twitch, and then he stilled, his mouth fully releasing my nipple and his leg and body leaden against me.

With both our babies asleep, our conversation became deeper, freighted, based on the profundity and strangeness of new motherhood and our mutual need for companionship. We talked about how we’d been mothered (hers a competitive intellectual Episcopalian, mine an anti-intellectual born-again Christian), and how long buried memories of our childhoods now came unbidden and unwanted. She paraphrased Germaine Greer, saying that once a woman has a child, her capacity for suffering deepens. We agreed that what we felt for our newborns was larger and more passionate than any love affair. Our marriages, our first loves, and our closest familial relationships paled. And how after we’d given birth, we’d both felt an uncanny awareness as if we were, as she phrased it, “at the center of an abyss.”

Purchase your copy of Issue No. 109 here.

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