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Letter From the Editor – Fall Issue 113

ZYZZYVA Volume 34, #2, Fall 2018The following is the Letter From the Editor as it appears in ZYZZYVA’s Fall Issue No. 113, our special issue focusing on the Environment & Conservation: 

Only in nature have I had experiences that could be described as spiritual. This may surprise anyone who knows of my longstanding lack of interest in camping, or, on the other hand, confidants who have witnessed the inverse of inspiration: times when I’ve been undone with distress over the plight of animals, plants, and ecosystems. Beyond all that, though, have been the private moments when, hiking or traveling, observing animals at peace in their natural habitat or taking in a vista, I’ve felt something like grace, something like awe, wash over me in a way that is both overwhelming and, somehow, steadying. In such moments, there is both a sense of stillness and unrelenting change; a sense of the breadth of life stretching in every direction (and through time), far beyond my own perception—a visceral sense of what is greater than me. And at the same time I have a more than usually concrete sense of my own being, of my feet on the actual ground, of my self as a physical creature (not just a mind endlessly busying itself). It’s as pragmatic as a sense of perspective sharply reasserting itself, and as ethereal as a daydream. There’s no accounting for such moments, and at times I’ve felt there’s no expressing them, either. And like so many phenomena on this little planet in this enormous universe, those moments have been real—whether or not anyone else can corroborate or appreciate them.

The ethos of this special issue assumes only that we can all agree on two things: first, that the environment is changing at an alarming rate (with Antarctic ice now melting at triple the rate observed ten years ago, and greenhouse gas emissions surging globally); and, second, that this is a matter of increasingly urgent concern, demanding action. Myriad questions and divergent opinions may follow from that shared ground. Some may never feel that care for the natural world is an ethical imperative, but will be mobilized by the likely devastating consequences for human beings—particularly the most vulnerable. We must make plenty of room in this movement for different views if we’re going to make progress. The hope must be to elevate the issue above partisanship just enough so we can have the necessary, generative disagreements and make the necessary compromises that may result in change, both local and global. Right now, in this country, we are stymied.

Concerns over the implications and applications of Artificial Intelligence (AI) are linked to questions about our relationship with the natural world, too, and should remind us, in case there has been some confusion, that our own minds are not computers; we, too, are animals, and irrevocably part of the natural world (not simply a force that acts upon it yet remains outside of it). Perhaps the underlying lesson is simply a cautionary tale about how difficult it is for humans to appreciate other kinds of intelligence and consciousness. Historically, we tend to perceive nonhuman intelligence as radically inferior—which says more about our powerful bias than it does about the creatures with which we share the planet. To hold ourselves separate from and somehow above our environment is a posture that frees us from the burden of worrying about catastrophe, but it is a failure of ethics and of the imagination that is destined to have dire consequences.

For this issue we sought out work that approaches the environment (and human interactions with it) from a wide variety of perspectives, but always as something more than a setting for human drama. Environment is treated here as a dynamic part of the drama, part of ethics, part of spirituality. Similarly, on the shadow side, when we think about social injustice, systemic violence, the exercise of power—the environment is ever-present, part of the drama. The environment, from parks to wilderness—and our (mis)apprehension of it all—is tangled up in every thorny moral issue, if we could only see it.

Perhaps most poignantly, in this month of very public suicides, for those who see us at or near a tipping point from which there can be no return, the environment poses this question: how do we continue, and continue to try, in the face of despair? One answer, perhaps the only answer, is that we simply must.

And there is room for hope, too. The works collected here remind us that our understanding of the environment has transformed before, and can change again. That local legislation can result in important changes with global implications, and with tangible results. That storytelling and the creative imagination have a role to play in advocacy; that such art can perhaps move the needle more effectively than argument. That we are guilty of terrible violence to ourselves and one another, but also capable, with tremendous effort, of improvement. That the end of this story is not yet written, that it is ours to decide and to tell.

In this way, this issue hopes to frame a less partisan but no less urgent approach to concerns of the environment—an approach disinterested in wearing the label “environmentalist,” and focused instead, as Obi Kaufmann proposes, on conservation and restoration. We’re hoping to do our part to lean into the creaking motion (already in gear, but working against so much lethargy when there is not a moment to spare), to make complete this paradigm shift in how we see our relationship to the environment, and to divorce ourselves from clichés of tree-huggers vs. capitalists—clichés that sneeringly diminish all of us.

Once the perspective has shifted and the picture has sharpened, the question won’t be whether to act, but how.

Yours,

L.

You can read the issue in its entirety by subscribing to ZYZZYVA or ordering a copy of Issue 113 today. 

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A Selection of the Writing You’ll Find in our Spring Issue No. 112

No. 1112 ExcerptsHere’s a sampling of some of the writing in Issue No. 112, which you can get today with a subscription to ZYZZYVA:

San Francisco Loved Us Once, an essay by JOSHUA MOHR: We stampeded to this magnificent speck known as San Francisco because we were too queer, too punk, too arty. We were the wrong color or born with the wrong genitalia. We were too fat or too tattooed or too sick or our own family simply despised us. Other places, we were easy targets. We were gristle trapped in a bully’s teeth. So we flocked here because it called to us, San Francisco summoning, saying, “All are welcome. All are loved.” And we basked in that affection. And we found ourselves. Granted, that San Francisco is now dead, dismantled in the name of Tech. Our surrogate mother has pushed pushed us away, allowing only the wealthiest into her arms. The whitest. No black or brown skin. No artists. A place once synonymous with prodigals and immigrants is now a country club. But for a long time, this place was a sanctuary of misfits. It was my home. I moved here when I was seventeen and came of age on its streets.

La Voix Du Sang, a short story by NATALIE SERBER: There’d been an incident. Vince was in custody. They drove in silence, each lost in his or her own version of what had happened to their sweet and eager boy. In Trina’s version things came too easily to Vince. Sure, he did fine in school, was satisfied with his effortless B’s, handsome and athletic enough. Vince loved the drums, weed, and girls. All things his father had loved, still loved. But unlike his father, who rose to every challenge, Vince gave up things he couldn’t master quickly. Their garage was cluttered with his expensive jetsam; lacrosse sticks, an empty aquarium, amps, a guitar. Friends, too, had been tossed aside. Whenever he felt bored or a slip in status, Vince resorted to teasing with a cruel edge. Trina had witnessed it in her own living room. Adept at discovering weakness (perhaps he’d be a politician), he had mocked a good-looking boy, a talented guitar player, calling him Corn Niblet, all with his arm slung around the boy’s shoulder. In Lewis’s version of what had happened, their boy took no risks, surrounded himself with mediocrity. He was the best house in a middling neighborhood. “Breaking and entering?” Trina said.

Casa Nirvana, a short story by OLIVIA PARKES: “Edgar, in God’s name, why? They’ll have you playing Yahtzee, or finger-painting, and say you’re suicidal if you opt out. Even convalescing is a group activity in those places. And you’re fine, we’re fine.” Edgar lowered the paper and shrugged. “I’ve always liked hotels. There comes a time in a man’s life when he would like to see a buffet at breakfast.” His bowl of Fiber One cereal had gone soggy at his elbow. “Every day?” she asked. Edgar nodded, and in six days he was gone. Now, almost a year later, Mitzy wanted to move back down to their old room. It sweltered upstairs in the summer and the nights spent navigating a dark corridor in the abandoned hours, her bladder like a burning drum, had led her to appreciate the luxury of an ensuite bathroom. Alone, however, the house still felt strange to her, and it was easier to sleep if she could pretend it belonged to someone else. Edgar, she knew, would not be coming back, so Mitzy moved back downstairs into the master bedroom and set about converting it.

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

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National Poetry Month: ‘Richer than Anyone in Heaven’ by Jennifer Elise Foerster

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. For the final week of April, we present Jennifer Elise Foerster’s poem “Richer than Anyone in Heaven” from ZYZZYVA No. 95, Fall 2012

Richer than Anyone in HeavenI abandoned my shoes at the corner
of Market & Pine. It was hailing.
We were holding tin pots above our heads.
Collecting the granulated wind
and singing. I don’t care
about my shoes, I said. The city was in ruins.
Pieces of fiberglass glittered in gutters
like particles of space shuttles,
of a shattered moon. We will be richer
than anyone in heaven, I said.
We stole from parlors the dying embers,
gathered the porcelain figurines.
On the fizzled trees, leaves
clanged like spoons.
Our shopping cart squeaked
down the cobblestone street.
Saw-toothed lightning slashed the sky.
Will there be music, you asked,
on the other side?
We listened through wind-vents
for echoes of earthquakes, listened for God
until the radio died. A hawk floated down
like a frayed paper crane,
snagged its claws on the electrical wire.
We crumbled the hands
from statues of saints.
Beneath the cathedrals
were underground trains
and we rode every one of them to its end.
Each station was a burned-out lantern.
I want to go home, you cried
but even the ferries bobbing on the docks
had canceled their passages.
We sat in the dark eating crusts of stale bread.
Come with me, I said.
We stumbled beneath the starless night.
We climbed the vacant streets.
From the crown of the bald,
illuminated hill, the city’s windows
dazzled. A flock of geese
scissored over smoke.
Back home, my television
blinked and snowed.

Jennifer Elise Foerster is the author of Leaving Tulsa (2013) and Bright Raft in the Afterweather (2018), both published by the University of Arizona Press. She is the recipient of a NEA Creative Writing Fellowship (2017), a Lannan Foundation Writing Residency Fellowship (2014), and was a Robert Frost Fellow in Poetry at Breadloaf (2017) and a Wallace Stegner Fellow in Poetry at Stanford (2008-2010). You can find the poem above in ZYZZYVA No. 95, available for purchase in our store

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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: ‘Creation Myth’ by Austen Leah Rosenfeld

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. For the third week of April, we present Austen Leah Rosenfeld’s poem “Creation Myth” from ZYZZYVA No. 107, Fall 2016

Creation MythIn the beginning, there was only darkness.

Not the dark of the prairie at night,
fireflies nestled like hot pearls in the grass.

More like the sense of something
approaching, weaving a black basket in the sky.

Days came and went without epiphany.
Then the world began to materialize.

It was like coming down out
of the clouds in an airplane:
miles of snow-scented wheat,
white-tailed deer and wild turkey.

The people had a feeling
somewhere their lives were already lived.

They heard a narrator
in the cornfield, a voice like a flashlight
in the barn of the future.

Austen Leah Rosenfeld’s poems have appeared in AGNI, Salmagundi, Indiana Review, and other publications. She lives in San Francisco. Two of her poems appear in ZYZZYVA No. 107, available for purchase in our store

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National Poetry Month: ‘Art Wong is Alive and Ill and Struggling in Oakland California’ by Marilyn Chin

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. For this second weak of National Poetry Month, we present Marilyn Chin’s poem “Art Wong is Alive and Ill and Struggling in Oakland California” from ZYZZYVA No. 9, Spring 1987. You can order selected back issues of ZYZZYVA here:

Art Wong is Alive and IllI.
Chi Pai Shih was born
in the Year of the Boar.
And a bore he was;
his footprints dirtied the snow.

Thirty, I painted landscapes;
forty, insects and flowers;
fifty, I turned lazy as mud,
never ventured beyond
West Borrowed Hill.

II.
Oh, nonsense! Art
is a balding painter, humpbacked
as the dwarfed acacia
dying in his father’s chopsuey joint.

His palette is muddy; his thoughts are mud.
He sits crosslegged,
one eye open, the other shut,
a drunken Buddha.

I laugh at the sun; I take in air;
I whistle in sleep, let cicadas within
murmur their filial rapture.
My father’s dream is my dream:
fast cars and California gold.
The singles bar is my watering hole.

III.
And I…I am in love with him.
Never ask why, for youth
always begs the question.
As long as boughs are green,
so is my love green and pure
in this asphalt loneliness.

I let down my long hair;
my hair falls over his shoulders:
thus, we become one. Oh, Willow,
Cousin Willow, don’t weep for me now.
Sanctify this marriage between
the diaspora and the yearning sea.

Marilyn Chin is a prominent Chinese American poet and writer, an activist and feminist, an editor and Professor of English. Her most recent work, Hard Love Province, was a Poetry finalist for the California Book Award. In January 2018, she was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. You can find her poems in several ZYZZYVA back issues, including No. 9, 15, and 22.

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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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