Genres Archives

Poetry

ZYZZYVA poetry.

Self Portrait as Wikipedia Entry

Dean Rader was born in Stockton, California during the Summer of Love. His sorrow is his own. He believes in star-sting and misnomer; he carries a toy whistle in his pocket. American by nationality, he was conceived in a Fiat near the Place du Châtelet. If asked, Rader will lie and say he doesn’t remember it, but his lazy eyes and hunched back give him away. His left pinky finger, broken from basketball, has never healed, which he attributes to the caesura of distance and longing. His heart, the size of a normal man’s heart, has been used as a model for a forensic mannequin. As a young boy, he once carried a small package to the river, but it was the wrong address. If asked to describe the river, he quotes van Heisenstadt (“die grenzen des wasser nicht vom errinerung”). Rader is not the little cricket. He is not a scissors for lefty. His soul, the size of a tiny condom, slides quickly onto time’s blind spot. In 2004, he was asked about time’s blind spot but responded only that “time, like a bandage, is always already wound and unwound.” Once, as a student in college, he grew a third sideburn. Darkness, his maquette, darkness, his morning coffee. Rader’s father studied to be a mortician; his mother was a therapist and, not surprisingly, Rader pursued both. His head, matted with crude sketches of benches, nipples, and flower petals is roughly the size of the Place du Châtelet. Strong at math from an early age, he helped develop what has come to be known as the Osaka Postulate, which proves that the square root of asyndeton is equal to the inshpere of trespass, skin-spark, and elegy. As for his own spiritual beliefs, Rader is silent, though one of his recent poems, entitled “The Last Day of 34” suggests an influence of Simone Weil (“community is work. // For all I know, God may be in both. / For all you know, God may be both) and Luigi Sacramone (“We want so much. // We only believe / in what we ask for”). Considered neither the lip blister nor the noodle wrenc, Rader has emerged, at least somewhat, as the repetitio rerum. In more recent work, he denies this (though indirectly) citing instead his commitment to interlocutory boundaries (bornage) through what he calls the “phatic interstice.” At present his voice, the pitch and timbre of a young girl’s, asks only for Tang. Consumed by his charity work with the NGO Our Uncle of Instrumentality, he has stopped writing entirely. When questioned about this at a 2007 fundraiser, Rader quipped, “Let my words say what I cannot.” Since then, a fragment of an unpublished poem attributed to Rader has started appearing on the Internet:

Line up and line out
says the moonwhittle.
Loss is the ring on our finger, the bright gem
compassing every step as we drop down.
Believe in what you know and you’ll go blind.

Experts doubt its authenticity.

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Savior Gal

There once was a baby born in a shoe, wedge, open toe open heel, Florida
balmy breezes, monsoons, then a single wide white trashed trailer, inauspicious
plastic laundry basket her manger in that backwater Bethlehem.

She grew out of place fast, had the twins, bought a rip-off Gucci bag
in Times Square, raised her kids in its deep pockets, leather and fringe,
no bondage buckles, ‘til they were grown and unemployable. They slept days,
trolled the nasty nights, kept their St. Christopher medals, she’d given, hidden.

She couldn’t find her post trauma Viet vet in the dark in the handbag,
but she threw him a PBJ every day. He left no crumbs. She’d had a baker’s
dozen boyfriends—leather, jeans, cigarette-burned tweeds. Done,
she got her testosterone fix from football nation and the bottom drawer,
but when Mr. Goodwrench got his gadget up her what’s it, she tossed
that rotating spinning vibrating chrome-plate piece of unholy.

She began blond, then blond on blond became a gray-root halo.
Something about her…They come to the diner because they want
to be near her, slinging hash, waitressing—old men “Hel-lo, Mr. Universe,”
women “Sunday got ya sweetie? Have biscuits. Two buck miracles.”

She brings home tips, puts them in the coin purse, curls up
around it, sleeps in heavenly peace (repeat) sleeps in heavenly peace.

She dreams—She’s on an empty city street, she knows if she waits long enough
the circus will come to town, and it does, clowns tumble out, and one clown
helps her find the joke, and she dies laughing,

and she speeds Wherever, in a big white truck like Daddy did—windshield
swipes, hound, chains, painted flames—wearing this cute black T, “Live fast
die pretty,” Garden of Eden tattooed on her inner thigh, no serpent this time
only apples amen.

Elizabeth Robinson is a retired elementary school teacher who lives in Phoenix, Oregon. “Savior Gal” is one of her two poems in ZYZZYVA’s Fall issue.

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On the Subject of Truth (with a Captital T): Q&A with Troy Jollimore

Troy Jollimore

In ordinary conversation, the terms “poet” and “philosopher” tend to be applied arbitrarily to people with artistic and intellectual capabilities. But in the case of author and philosophy professor Troy Jollimore, they’re not hyperbolic descriptions but hard facts.

Jollimore rose to literary prominence in 2006 when the National Book Critics Circle named his first book of poems, Tom Thomson in Purgatory, the recipient of one of its annual awards. Since then, his second poetry collection, At Lake Scugog, has appeared, and his poems have been published in Ploughshares, The New Yorker, and other journals. Concerned with both the hypothetical and the actual, the real and the surreal, Jollimore’s work skirts a multiplicity of suggestive meanings. At times lighthearted but never tongue-in-cheek, his pieces often achieve nuance and complexity without sacrificing coherence. Two of his most recent poems, “Death by Landscape” and “Second Wind,” appear in the Fall 2011 issue of ZYZZYVA.

Currently a professor of philosophy at California State University, Chico, Jollimore received the university’s Outstanding Professor award for 2009-2010, and, in addition to his poetic projects, has authored philosophical articles and books. His most recent book is his monograph Love’s Vision (Princeton University Press). Today, he continues to publish a number of reviews in periodicals nationwide, including the San Francisco Chronicle, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and others.

Recently, he corresponded with ZYZZYVA about his intellectual and artistic processes, the decline of the humanities in higher education, and the notion of truth in poetry and philosophy.

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O SHIRTWALKERS!

Can you surrey? Can you picnic?
Surrey down to a stoned soul picnic…
And from the sky come the Lord and the lightning.

-from the song “Stoned Soul Picnic” by The 5th Dimension

They hit the streets, those
Single gents spilling out of the cleaners
All partnered up & promenodding
Escorting their dainties.

O You Shirtwalkers!
Drop her, she’s just a thin wire of feigned domesticity
Nothing but a clothes hanger.
The press and starch of your city life
Is blanding your manly.

Don’t you see me passing?
I want to slap my hands against your plackets &
Pop your buttons one-by-one.
Bite my canines down onto your stays &
Pull them full out of your collar.
(I promise you’ll not go floppy.)
I want to spill myself all over your chest like the reddest marinara.

You Over-Laundered Shirtwalkers!
Don’t you crave a whiff of underarm piqued?
It’s nature you’ve forgotten.
Can you surrey?
Can you picnic?

Don’t you know I want to be your little chicken pot pie?

 

Jeannette Allée is a Seattle poet and writer. Her work has appeared in The Best American Poetry series, Iowa Review, Field, and The Believer. “O SHIRTWALKERS!” is one of her two poems published in ZYZZYVA‘s Fall issue.

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Starting Over

I can’t not keep coming back
to this place that’s not a place,
its pepper trees, olive trees, lilac,
narcissus, jasmine, here with me
and mock orange and eucalyptus
and working words that fill in others,
an earthquake-enlivened rose bush,
pollarded plane trees and sycamores,
and cypress flat-topped by sea wind.
Here are Interstate concrete,
desert dust, hardpan,
here are cobblestones
and woven bricky streets,
Death Valley’s salt flats,
here are red granite domes
that cool at night and groan.
They are here. The imagination
rushes toward the world
in fear of forgetting anything:
witness and invent, it says,
and stay in motion in every
invented place. It tells me,
here you are the nothing
that is this place,
and all places are you,
none of them yours to keep.

 

W. S. Di Piero, who lives in San Francisco, is a poet, translator, and essayist. His latest works include the essay collections When Can I See You Again? (Pressed Water) and City Dog (Northwestern University Press). His forthcoming book of poems is Nitro Nights (Copper Canyon). “Starting Over” is one of his three poems published in ZYZZYVA‘s Fall issue.

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Second Wind

The white of the ocean’s foam-froth is said
to contain all colors, while the sea’s green-blue depths
are composed of the colors our ancestors could
not bear. Or could not bear to let go:
the story varies with the source.
And the shadow that lies on the sea is cast

by no flying or orbiting thing, but by
the ocean floor where it blocks the light
from the sun at the heart of the earth. These things,
however they might terrify, are nonetheless
true. I will hold you through the shivers
and terrors. I will kiss the unholy curve
of your neck. I will try to take your mind

off the shadow. It is the shape of a tree.
There is the brusque sound of the branches as they
caress the wind. Its black silhouette
against the calamitous sunset. The darkness
that lives at its core. What the leaves know
and do not tell the roots. And what the roots know.

 

Troy Jollimore‘s first book of poems, Tom Thomson in Purgatory, won the National Book Critics Circle award for poetry in 2006. He is an associate professor at California State University, Chico. His most recent book of poems is At Lake Scugog (Princeton University Press). “Second Wind” is one of his two poems published in ZYZZYVA‘s Fall issue.

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Houdini at 40

Handcuffed and head down in the tank
two and a half minutes behind
the black velvet curtain, deadbolts
across the opening and nothing
but the sound of water filling my ears, I discover
myself on the verge of a possible mistake.  This is to say

I meant for Anatole to leave me bound this time round;
the longer the lapping occurs in my head,
the closer I come to the governance of happiness.  I am truly
singing in here, not drowning but singing, and if only you

could hear me strumming in this little ocean
of sleep, you would know this is my real gift; to sleep
through the séance of my life, awakened only
by the cleverest of parlour tricks—waxy eggs sliding
through ear canals and leaden pencils
pulled through long fingers.  There is nothing
that disarms me like milk-cans full of pennies

and your heart, nothing that unlocks me
like disremembering the dead who tell heaven
through blue flame, nothing secretly more disheartening
than the idea of an afterlife that means I will have to live

on beyond the chains of this one, clasped and traveling
from one watery cylinder to the next, proving myself again
the prince of air.  If cuffed and spun long enough
will I forget how you forgot how to
kiss me that night, how your mouth

is still the dark space my hand slips into before pulling
the blinking yellow canary from the crushed velvet
of a gentleman’s top hat?  If I let the burble of water
that asks to be my breath back into the pockets of lungs,

can I have you back again, telling me over pans of apple betty
skate blades on the frozen Danube

and a girl’s magic is cutting men’s hearts to lace?  Anatole
slips the bolt, unbraids the clank from my hands, the coil
of what I know I can escape from.  I flip myself
rightside up, dripping like a newborn,
ready to pretend I have willed myself alive.

 

Heather Altfeld is a lecturer at California State University, Chico, and the board chair of Blue Oak Charter School. She is at work completing an untitled manuscript of poems. “Houdini at 40” appears in ZYZZYVA‘s Fall issue.

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Between Possibilities: Stephen Dunn’s ‘Here and Now’

Whenever a poet as preeminent as Stephen Dunn releases a new corpus of material, the potential for failure can’t help but manifest itself. Some might fear that the book, having come from an author who has already attained a pinnacle of critical achievement (Dunn won the Pulitzer Prize in 2001 for Different Hours), will turn out to be a footnote compared to the works that preceded it. Still others might stifle an otherwise solid book with narrow expectations or preconceptions. Yet Dunn’s most recent publication, Here and Now (Norton; 112 pages), is anything but stillborn, an object all its own—rather than a repetition of a song everyone has heard before, the collection is a new and surprising symphony altogether, a cornucopia of techniques bearing Dunn’s trademark style and approach. And while they are not innovative in any experimental sense of the term, the poems manage to amplify some less-noticed but integral elements of the writer and professor’s work.

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This Evening From Far Away

The jackals have their sideways reproaches,
the great-aunts their brooches crusted
with emeralds or rubies or paste, the wine

has its slowness, the commuter her haste
but inside each thing is also something other,
strange, counter, shadow of an airplane

inside the raincoat, chessman in the otter,
pirouette in the luncheonette, note
emerging two octaves out of range.

Everlasting is comrade to this moment’s
flash; glance away, it’s another day,
you’ve lost one chance but here’s another,

some cash, a sublet by the water; all
this bother moving place to place, shifting
syntax, anxiety attacks, the fights

and late-night make-ups, disgrace,
mercy in the friend’s face may make rich
recollection lying on the deathbed or

seconds after a head-bonk ends it
and from eternity’s cracked-open lid
that first pet the vet injected

while you held a paw and wept
bounds forth as if from your own chest
to greet you.

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Everything That Happens Can Be Called Aging

I have more love than ever.
Our kids have kids soon to have kids.
I need them. I need everyone
to come over to the house,
sleep on the floor, the couch
in the front room. I need noise,
love, the noise of love,
too many people in too small a place.
I need dancing, the spilling
of drinks, loud pronouncements
over music, verbal sparring,
broken dishes and wealth.
I need it all flying apart.
My friends to slam against me,
to hold me, to say they love me.
I need mornings to ask for favors
and forgiveness. I need to give,
have all my emotions rattled,
my family to be greedy,
to keep coming, to keep asking
and taking. I need no resolution,
just the constant turmoil of living.
Give me the bottom of the river,
all the unadorned, unfinished,
unpraised moments, one
good turn on the luxuriant wheel.

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The Giraffe

When we were angry with each other,
we spoke only to the giraffe.

He bent down as if to drink,
while I rose up to the tree line

where the acacia waited to be stripped
by my tongue. A compromise, then:

admission of redress. In spite
of thirst and thorns, we ate.

Oh the exquisite distances
between mouth and tail!

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Things Lost in Translation

Tell me something I haven’t heard before
How bridges in Paris are rusting bolt by bolt
and rivers are tired of their secrets
How night loves to wash your body

Empty the words from your pockets
rearrange the stars if you have to,
but tell me something untold before

How your desire never sleeps
How your heart shatters like glass
when you break bread with your father

Tell me how you invite transgressions
and slip knots around the waist of afternoon
so twilight never leaves your side

Weave syllables into a net that stretches
from the flea market on the outskirts of this city
all the way to the back alleys of your childhood

then speak to me in your native tongue
so I may grasp things lost in translation
and hold them like saltless tears
or small fires burning in wilderness

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