Genres Archives

Poetry

ZYZZYVA poetry.

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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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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‘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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Testaments to Our Will to Live: ‘Objects From a Borrowed Confession’ by Julie Carr

Objects from a Borrowed ConfessionSomewhere along the way, confessional poetry developed a bad rap. Perhaps it was the result of ubiquity: by 2003, every other turn of the radio dial delivered a soul-baring lyric to one’s ears (“On the way home this car hears my confessions,” went a lyric from a band literally called Dashboard Confessional), and college freshman creative writing classes were inundated with impressionable students expressing their angst through pen and paper. (You may have sat next to one, you may have been one yourself.) These days, mediums such as Facebook, Tumblr, and, well, Medium allow us to broadcast our inner lives to close friends and complete strangers alike—these digital walls can talk.

Considering the way modern technology has made the act of confession an almost thoughtless and arbitrary pastime, academic circles may have felt they had no choice but to turn their noses up at this ever-growing portion of the poetry world. But it’s a corner that clearly has long fascinated celebrated poet and author Julie Carr: “I wanted to think about what the Language Poets and the Conceptual Poets had against ‘confession,’ but I also wanted to see why confession was so important to our broader culture,” she writes in the Author Statement of her newest book, Objects From a Borrowed Confession (Ahsahta Press; 149 pages), a collection of pieces that tackle the notion of confession from a unique angle. “I wanted to explore that impulse and the attraction we have to one another’s secrets…I wanted to understand what the act of confession has to do with intimacy, empathy, and subjectivity.”

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Three Poems for Inauguration Day: ‘I Used to Be Much Much Darker’ by Francisco X. Alarcón

I used to be
much much darker
dark as la tierra
recién llovida
& dark was all
I ever wanted:
dark tropical
mountains
dark daring
eyes
dark tender lips
& I would sing
dark
dream dark
talk only dark

happiness
was to spend
whole
afternoons
tirado como foca
bajo el sol
“you’re already
so dark
muy prieto
too indio!”
some would lash
at my happy
darkness but
I could only
smile back

now I’m not as
dark as I once was
quizás sean
los años
maybe I’m too
far up north
not enough sun
not enough time
but anyway
up here “dark”
is only for
the ashes:
the stuff lonely nights
are made of.

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Three Poems for Inauguration Day: ‘Snake’ by Sherman Alexie

Driving home, I ran over a bull snake
and tore it into three pieces.

I didn’t mean to kill the thing.
I’d thought it was the thin shadow

of a telephone pole stretched across the road.
I realized it was a snake

only after I’d run it over
Thump, thump—

that’s the percussion
of car tires and snakes.

After I ran it over, I stopped,
left the car idling,

and walked back
to the three pieces of snake.

In death-shock, the head and tail
thrashed separately

against the pavement
that had been its warm rock.

The middle piece, strange
and disconnected, did not move.

I said a prayer
to the Snake God,

and wondered if such a god exists.
That’s theology.

If the Snake God does exist,
then it is likely the same

as every other god—
unreachable.

I didn’t want the snake’s body to be insulted
by other cars and their drivers,

so I dragged the tail off the road to the west
and the head off the road to the east.

I could not touch the middle piece,
because it was flattened and gory.

Satisfied that I’d shown the snake
enough respect, I drove away.

But two miles up the road, I turned
around, and traveled back.

I don’t know if there is a Snake Heaven,
but I didn’t want the snake to suffer because of my doubts.

If the snake’s three pieces arrived separately in Heaven,
would any of them be able to find the others?

I dragged the tail and middle
across the road and laid them beside the head,

because snake + snake + snake = snake,
because any trinity can be holy.

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Three Poems for Inauguration Day: ‘Justice Without Passion’ by Jane Hirshfield

My neighbor’s son, learning piano
moves his fingers through the passages
a single note at a time, each lasting an equal interval,
each of them loud, distinct,
deliberate as a camel’s walk through sand.
For him now, all is dispassion, a simple putting in place;
and so, giving equal weight to each mark in his folded-back book,
bending his head towards the difficult task,
he is like a soldier or a saint: blank-faced, and given wholly
to an obedience he does not need to understand.
He is even-handed, I think to myself,
and so, just. But in what we think of as music
there is no justice, nor in the evasive beauty of this boy,
glimpsed through his window across the lawn,
nor in what he will become, years from now, whatever he will become.
For now though, it is the same to him:
right note or wrong, he plays only for playing’s sake
through the late afternoon, through stumbling and error,
through children’s songs, Brahms, long-rehearsed, steady progressions,
as he learns the ancient laws—that human action is judgment,
each note struggling with the rest.
That justice lacking passion fails, betrays.

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‘Letter to Galway From Tahoe’ by Heather Altfeld: ZYZZYVA No. 105, Winter Issue

Dearest Galway, I hardly got to know you, but when I am sad
I write to my poets, as Hugo did, although his poets, generally speaking,
still required postage, and here you are months dead.
Still, for all we know down here, the dead like mail as much as the living,
and maybe you wait each day on a freshly painted porch for a delivery
just before heading out to a café to read the first crop of poems
from the place you now reside, the first of your newly made things,
no doubt bringing the dead as beautifully as you brought us
to the last hiding places of their tears. Because what I did know of you
was how generous you were with your time, I feel I can talk to you from here,
that you would be willing to press the shell of your hand to your ear
for a few minutes to listen.
Do you remember when you sat with my Lucy,
who came to you with her notebook? You were her first poet.
She was nine, and wanted to hear the Oatmeal poem again,
so you wrote a bit of it in her journal and took her hand and bent down to whisper
something in her ear which she still has never told me, she said it was your secret.
She is here elfing muffins before daybreak, a vision of elfinhood, cheerful and dreamy,
half the time pretending she doesn’t know me. Now she has her own important secrets.
I turn to you because I think you were one of the ones a little like me,

for whom terror and beauty were like the green languages of birds
we longed to interpret, and felt, if we could not do so,
that we had failed. I feel as though our ears heard sadness
just a little more strongly over the din,
that we saw it as our job to know it a little better, to bear it, to sing it,
to make some kind of walking peace with it.
Galway, I feel as though I were born to a race of grievers.
The first time it rose up in me, I was five, lying on my Snoopy sleeping bag,
reading the ending of Charlotte’s Web over and over, so that Charlotte died,
over and over, so I could keep crying—
it was the first time I had learned I could call up such sadness in myself,
and it seemed to be endless, a wrenching, fulfilling bottomlessness.
It turns out I was never much good at anything else.
My parents begged me to be a doctor.
At least in all of the ways that they did not know me,
they saw my aptitude for hearing pain.
Long ago they held my small body up to the light
and saw each of the bones and muscles in my hands glowing a magical pink,
and they wanted to count me among the other fine-coated ones, and say,
That’s our girl! She can find what ails you and fix it!
They wanted to tell others that I could read stitches right to left like Torah,
they wanted me to build a home of the shiny coins I would earn
charting the last breath of a patient.
But the first time I saw a corpse
and watched them wash her frozen body in a ritual bathing,
and saw how completely the body shuts in the end—
the kidneys frozen,
the heart frozen,
the bony arms frozen,
the pinky toe just defrosting under the hard light,
it reminded me all too much of the frailty I will endure sooner or later in my life
the way when I saw you last, your hands revealed how very delicate you had become,
how much more delicate you could become.
One doctor said he had seen a field of bedsores express sorrow
more deeply than any words or songs he had ever heard.
Bedsores. I was not born with this sort of fortitude.
It was not the address pinned to my blouse at birth.
So I went onward, searching everywhere for something I could do,
some way into the world that did not ooze or weep, and found myself
trying to be an anthropologist. Here, I was one distance removed from grief,
one valley away from the body direct; it was my job to chronicle
the days and griefs of others. I could learn the lost language of Yahi,
walk the footsteps of the Olduvai gorge to see how the others had walked before us.
I could study the Gisaro of the Kaluli in New Guinea,
whose ceremonies of sorrow chase human sadness into the bodies of birds
who lift and depart through the forest on their wings.
But this was even worse, tender sleeper, than medicine;

no surgery could save any of it, the annihilation so much more complete.
Did you know from the beginning that poetry was going to be your home?
Poetry is what was left when every other made thing failed me.
Grief, I am still learning, is everywhere, from sonnets to bedsores
from the Krakovian crypts to the nests of the Kahuli
it is in the doddering dirge of the Truckee that has become so sleepy this year
that it seems to have forgotten its velocity to live.
What rhyme can I make that will call the snow to flurry out of the sky for us?
What word will call the world to fill buckets with our tears
we can carry to the edge of the river and fling them in?
What sonnet will bring the butter-blond days of my children’s childhood back
so they can lie against me again one last time, damp with sleep?
How did you learn to describe the face of your love
in her most primordial gesture of desire
without the poem turning on you and finding its way to her grave?
I feel more impotent than I have ever felt in my life.
How can I learn to make a little spot for grief, here,
right next to me, right inside the poem
the way you so often did, where it won’t really bother anyone,
a place where grief can just sit by my side, looking at the passersby?
What was your way out of the Book of Nightmares?
How did you make it back to the Book of Meadows,
where the larks sang and the beetles turned their green backs to the sun?

Get your copy of ZYZZYVA No. 105!

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Everything Contained in a Small Moment: ‘Saint Friend’ by Carl Adamshick

Saint FriendSaint Friend (64 pages; McSweeney’s Poetry Series), the newest collection by Carl Adamshick, is massive, not in length, as the collection clocks in at well under 70 pages, but in quality. The poems Adamshick presents us with are expansive thought projects. Even the shorter poems occupy a space that is difficult to comprehend—yet they are so readable, like all the poems here. The fact that Adamshick can write with such variance, that he can be in tune with society and with the incredible poets of the past and present, makes his work impressive and enjoyable.

In the opening poem of the collection, “Layover,” the speaker is in an airport musing as “They keep paging Kenneth Koch.” He follows up with a beautiful existential thought that sprouts throughout the lengthy poem: “Someone should let the announcer know / he is dead, that there is no city he can go to, / that no one is expecting him.” It seems so simple; of course Kenneth Koch has nowhere to go. But Adamshick continues his line of thought: “I want to be paged once a day in an airport / somewhere on this earth, so people / will think I am just running late or lost.” The fear of mortality is perhaps the most relatable theme a poet can tap (that and love, which Adamshick touches on, too), but here the poet examines the anxiety surrounding our legacy, our curiosity about what people will say when we are gone.

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Labor Poem No. 10, Emilio Fonseca Construction I

The flagstones or stepping stones, one mushy tire.
The house. The loaded wheelbarrow, you almost
have to. If you slow, the flagstones, the dirt
path. The slope on which, the slopping concrete.
Or it pushes you. To run, handles, and strain.
The house sits. To get momentum, you almost.
Two wood handles, one mushy tire, the stepping
stones over the dirt. The slopping, the stately
stucco house that pays. Or it pushes you
back down. The wheelbarrow loaded with wet,
the two wood. Almost have to run. The dirt
path, the slope on which, the flagstones or stepping
stones. To get momentum. One mushy, two
wood, the slopping. The house that pays. And strain.

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Adventures in Language School

Rome: such a great city for walking unless
You are hit by a car, as I was tonight, though it was only
A tiny car. The cretino driver had my language progress
In mind as I practiced my idioms and gestures,
Like what they call “holding the umbrella”
(don’t ask, think about it). The driver’s eyes
Told me I had a long way to go if I wished to
Score a point about livestock and his love life.
Still, a sorrowful ghostly city like Rome is good
For dying if it came to that, so many spaces
For monuments, someday maybe one of Me in Language
School, in full command of the imperfect subjunctive,
Which is called the Congiuntivo Imperfetto,
Which sounds like a coffee or pasta but is not.
Later this night a girl in a piazza swathed in moonlight,
Unlit cigarette in her fingertips, asks in her English,
“Have you a fire for me?” Sometimes even Italian fails.
You won’t believe how much you use the Congiuntivo
Imperfetto during foreplay, painting a ceiling, or when hit
By a car. Night times I spent in the Piazza dell’
Orologio—orologio means clock—sweepingly
Subjunctive and imperfect, and studied the big clock
On the tower, the one with missing hands,
And appreciated anew Italians’ conceptions of love
And death and why they were always late.
I am the oldest student in the class by a factor of two.
Also the only male, by a factor of no idea. The Russians
Have atrocious accents but their grammar and miniskirts
Are exceptional, especially with the subjunctive mood.
The goal is to think in Italian, to speak without
Thinking, so I am halfway home. Maybe it was my toga
That turned the teacher against me. I ask her to go
With me to the Coliseum, where everyone soon dies,
As I will, which is why I first came to Rome.
The most beautiful girl in school is from Algiers.
Her black eyes demand I re-examine my whole life.
Oh, the things I could tell you about language school
Would fill a book, a little grammar exercise book
Specializing in the imperfect subjunctive, required
Every minute in Rome especially while sitting next
To a gorgeous sweet Algerian girl named Sisi,
Which in Italian sounds like si, si, yes, yes.
That’s why, if I have to live, Rome is not so bad,
It’s such a sad city, with the best art over my head,
Cars so small that afterward I run back to language school.

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the inexorable law of Survival of the Fittest is proved

take it with you and give yourself a fair chance

ball bearing, long wearing, hair trigger

improvements cease to stand out against the background of “No Shortcomings”

a necessity for emphasizing

the fullest possible pleasure in the field, and the maximum game in your bag

no necessary operation takes the hands from writing position

prevents fumbling and delay

a key for every character

it speaks with a directness and force

which leaves no room for doubt as to its meaning

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