Terra Incognita

by

Melina Draper is a poet living in Fairbanks, Alaska. Her most recent book is Lugar de Origen–Place of Origin (Oyster River Press), a bilingual book of poetry co-written with Elena Lafert.

“Terra Incognita” is one of her two poems published in ZYZZYVA’s Winter ’11 issue. Both poems take Charles Darwin’s travels through Argentina in the 19th century as their theme. In “Terra,” as Darwin uncovers fossils in a place that “quaffed blood, ingested gristle, guts, and bone,” it’s hard not to think of Los Desaparecidos, the thousands upon thousands of people who “disappeared” during Argentina’s so-called Dirty War of the late ’70s and early ’80s.

[…]

Continue Reading

The Bull

by

Josh DuBose, who lives in North Hollywood, is an actor and and a writer, as well as the owner/operator of a small transcription firm catering to entertainment journalists. His story “The Bull,” published in ZYZZYVA‘s Winter ’11 issue, is his first work to appear in print.

A riff on the Ugly American, “The Bull” details a honeymoon destined to go wrong. Bawdy but thoughtful, the story ultimately goes to a surprising place, playing the narrator’s laugh-out-loud misadventures against a yearning he can’t quite define. The following is an excerpt.

[…]

Continue Reading

The Winning Crowd

by

The recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, an Andrew Carnegie Medal, and PEN Center West Best Book Award, Gary Soto is the author of thirty-five books. His most recent are the e-novel When Dad Came Back (University Press of New England) and the YA story collection Hey 13! (Holiday House).

“The Winning Crowd,” his nonfiction piece in ZYZZYVA‘s Winter 2011 issue, is Soto’s account of attending a 49ers game (pre-Harbaugh era) with a friend, arriving at the stadium dressed “to the nines.” Funny and sinister, the piece could be read as a straight-ahead story of civility and elegance stirring the wrath of slovenly, crude sports fans. (As anybody who attended games at Candlestick Park last season could tell you, there was plenty of uncivil behavior at Niners games.) But it also works as a broader tale of how signs of culture and style can upset the very community you consider yourself part of.  The following is an excerpt.

Soto reads with Faith Gardner and Blossom Plum at 7 p.m. on Thursday, March 8, at Mrs. Dalloway’s Bookstore in Berkeley.

[…]

Continue Reading

Bile

by

Christine Lee Zilka‘s story, “Bile,” appeared in the Fall 2003 issue of ZYZZYVA. Written from the point of view of the youngest of two children living in Pasadena, the story examines the passing of bitterness from one generation to another, as a Korean father bred on battle forces his children to appreciate his harder life growing up through war. Zilka portrays through a first-generation American family how the culture of war —the “ancestral fear” that chases a new age — cannot be properly digested.

“Bile” is framed by the ritualistic tasting of a gall bladder, something the father procured from a trapped bear. The narrator witnesses her brother, Eugene, being forced to lick the bladder, saying, “I can only tell you the before and the after, because I did not watch them feed Eugene the bile.”

[…]

Continue Reading

The Three Sisters

by

Christopher Warden’s story, which ran in the Fall 1989 issue of ZYZZYVA, is perceived in a childlike imagination, where the violent reality of adulthood is rejected in favor of dream, where physical boundaries are first explored and adult consequences (mortality, discipline) seem like the afterlife. “The Three Sisters” is about a nine-year-old boy, a sort of Peter Pan figure, visiting in the night three young sisters who take form with specific folk-like characteristics (enchanted hair, teeth that talk — not to mention the jealously among them). The storytelling here, brief and openhearted, conceives the real world as if in a dream: every object carries the possibility of intensity and drama: “He walked out into the water. There were sandbars going out a long way. The boy pretended they were islands, and he walked from island to island looking for the three sisters.”

[…]

Continue Reading

poem beginning in no and ending in yes

by

Octavio Paz wrote that a poem’s meaning is derived from its form, that every form “produces its own idea, its own vision of the world.” This is interesting, especially, when we consider poems that experiment with layout on the page. Take, for example, the late Lucille Clifton’s piece titled, “poem beginning in no and ending in yes,” originally published in ZYZZYVA’s 1989 summer issue. (Clifton was teaching at the University of California at Santa Cruz at the time.) In the poem, Clifton memorializes 13-year-old Hector Peterson (the first child killed in the Soweto riot of 1976). She doesn’t use punctuation or capitalization, but the reader does not feel disoriented or lost. The poem is framed too effectively (as the title suggests, beginning the poem with “no” and concluding with “yes”). The images and message are able to burn “into the most amazing science,” as Clifton puts it.

[…]

Continue Reading

Editor’s Note #92

by

Dear Readers, Welcome to the new ZYZZYVA. After 26 years we’ve given the journal a new look, even a new heft. Over the past months we’ve worked on a redesign with Three Steps Ahead, the same California firm behind our new website. ZYZZYVA’s original print design, created with care by Thomas Ingalls & Associates in 1985, was elegant and restrained. We kept in mind the clarity and the spare beauty of their vision as we sought to add other elements speaking to the pleasures of print, to the craft of bookmaking, and to the stimulating quietude of reading. We considered […]

Continue Reading

Gin

by

With news that Philip Levine is the new Poet Laureate of the United States, we bring to you this poem that ran in the Spring 1991 issue of ZYZZYVA. (At the time, Levine was a professor of English at California State University, Fresno. He now divides his time between Fresno and Brooklyn.)

Focused on a bunch of boys experimenting with booze, as common a rite of adolescence as can be, “Gin” is funny and tender, as it shows the kids puzzling over the merits of drinking. But the poem unsheathes a sharp line at the end. “Any wonder we were trying gin,” Levine writes, after detailing all the travails — personal and political — life will hold for the underage drinkers.

[…]

Continue Reading

The Green Tunnel

by

David Rains Wallace is the author of seventeen books, including Chuckwalla Land: The Riddle of California’s Desert (click here for our review),  Neptune’s Ark: From Ichthyosaurs to Orcas; Beasts of Eden: Walking Whales, Dawn Horses, and Other Enigmas of Mammal Evolution, and The Klamath Knot: Explorations of Myth and Evolution. His work has earned him two California Book Awards, as well a John Burroughs Medal for Nature Writing.

In its Winter 1985 issue ZYZZYVA published an excerpt from Wallace’s work-in-progress — his examination of the unique ecosystem of a state park just north of Daytona, Florida, called Bulow Hammock. The book, Bulow Hammock, eventually would be published by Sierra Club Books. In this piece, Wallace thinks back to when he was a nine-year-old boy and first visited these woods, which are so different from those he knew in New England. “The hammock was … seductive,” he writes. “It smelled sweet, a perfumy sweetness that reminded me of the hotel lobbies and cocktail lounges I’d occasionally been in with my parents.”

[…]

Continue Reading

Chico

by ,

In its Spring 1986 issue, ZYZZYVA published a short story by Moroccan artist and writer Mohammed Mrabet, which was translated by the late Paul Bowles, who was living in Tangier at the time. “Chico” was taken from the story collection Marriage with Papers, which was published by Bolinas, California, publisher Tombouctou Books that May.

A spare story of a man seemingly bent toward violence, “Chico” is also an ironic tale of a generous idler turned ingrate toward a hospitable friend. There’s no real moral to “Chico,” only observations of people’s contradictions. We can speculate as to why Chico acts so belligerently (life in prison? being spoiled as a child?), whether,  as the narrator says, nobody could save Chico from himself. These open questions make “Chico” something of a small tragedy.

[…]

Continue Reading

Complicity

by

Dodie Bellamy is a San Francisco writer and teacher. Her books include Academonia, Pink Steam, and The Letters of Mina Harker. Her book Cunt-Ups won the 2002 Firecracker Alternative Book Award for poetry. In its Fall 1985 issue, ZYZZYVA published her story “Complicity.”

A snapshot of an arguably lost San Francisco — one before the Loma Prieta earthquake, long before the dot-com boom and bust — Bellamy’s piece is experimental without being indulgent. It meditates on sex, art, identity, and friendship, confronting the inherent messiness those themes invite. Living off of bad checks and shoplifted goods, the men and women in “Complicity” may be marginalized by society at large, but there’s nothing shrinking about them. As the narrator says, “We knew we were perverts so we wallowed in it.”

[…]

Continue Reading

A New Ocean

by

In its Winter 1985 issue, ZYZZYVA published this essay by Blair Fuller. Fuller, who lives in Tomales, California, is the author of the novels A Far Place and Zebina’s Mountain, is an editor emeritus at the Paris Review, and with the late Oakley Hall, co-founded the Squaw Valley Community of Writers.

“A New Ocean” is the story of how, in 1963, Fuller submitted to an experimental LSD treatment in the Bay Area. The descriptions of his altered mental state on the drug are poetic, and could even be called moving. And the coincidence of his treatment happening the day before John F. Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas lends a sadness to the piece — a sadness extending beyond the violent death of the president. As one of the female doctors from that early treatment tells him many years later, it seemed as if a great many things changed with that day, including the “feeling of the possible”

[…]

Continue Reading