Genres Archives


ZYZZYVA poetry.

Finding Our Nature in the Surrounding Wilderness: Eric Pankey’s ‘Trace’

TraceEric Pankey’s new poetry collection, Trace (Milkweed, 68 pages), is an intense journey of powerful language to the edge of the wilderness. Even as his poems invoke a sense of earthly calm, the threat of danger looms throughout these poems, grabbing our attention and holding it throughout.

Much of Trace is set in the natural world, offering a somber examination of the ways in which humans occupy the space. Nature here is constant, balancing the frenetic sphere of humans, a realm in which homes are burning down and people are leaving, crying, or simply trying to find themselves. Often, Pankey will use death to show how these worlds intersect. In “The Place of Skulls,” he writes, “After the body’s hauled down, the tree resumes / Its life as a tree.” The enduring mystery of the natural world is also examined, perhaps most evident in lines such as these from “As of Yet,” where Pankey writes, “Call it paradise, this enclosure of trees / No graves yet.”

The spirituality of Trace is not simply beholden to how it addresses nature. The voice of the poems addresses human spirituality often, though it doesn’t seem to be grappling with the issue of what exists and what does not. Rather, the poems offer beautiful insight into how human consciousness exists in concert with nature. In “Edge of Things,” we read, “I wait for the resurrection, but wake to morning; / Mist lifting off the river.” On a similar note, “Cold Mountain Meditations” informs us that “No god offered us fire. A burning branch / Fell from a tree and we dragged it home.” These poems are not a rejection nor outright acceptance of any religious credence, but an examination of how the essence of humans is easily reflected amid the beauty of nature.

The references to religion are thought-provoking, but Pankey’s diction and word choice are arresting, too, often causing the reader to pause and reflect. In “Ritual,” he directly tells us, “Repetition is an aid to memory.” Repetition is also a tool frequently used in the collection to invoke reflection, and helps deliver some of Trace’s more skillful lines. In “The Creation of Adam,” the poem ends with “The scarecrow, who had listened well, knew / If he chose, he could shrug, and shoo the crow. / If he chose. And could shrug. And could move his lips.” Unlike humans, unlike Adam, the scarecrow has no free will.

Trace deftly surrounds the reader in the natural world, offering us a chance to ruminate our existence inside of it. In the collection’s final poem, “Sober Then Drunk Again,” we read “Once I drank with a vengeance / Now I drink in surrender.” While reading Trace, we surrender ourselves to Pankey’s vision, and conclude the book deep in thought.

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Voice low, father, you are
hurting aloud from the book of your life on this earth.

You are tearing out verses, pages,
reciting histories of mountains, waving

like oceans, gritting down teeth
at the sound of a needle as it enters your eye.

The telephone, father, you heard its call, you blinked in red
pajamas. You groped for the nightstand. Knocked

things over. I’ve read your sunken chest.
Halfway to death is blindness. And fingertips,

shin bruises, and if your hands broke, father,
you could not stroke your wife’s hair nor mouth

and neither could a son’s beard
fill your palms. Psalm is an open, burning text

but please, dip only your thumbs in twilight. Talk
not of God’s white furnace, father, and the fires

we are left in. Don’t tell
a tale of a man erased

like scuff on a window.

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The Sasquatch Poems

Sasquatch: a hairy manlike creature reported to exist in the Northwestern U.S. and Western Canada and said to be a primate between six and fifteen tall—also called bigfoot. —Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary

I believe in Sasquatch
just as much as I believe in God
which is not logical
since more people have seen Sasquatch
than have seen God.

We hire priests and politicians
who promise us there are no mysteries
only doors that can be opened easily.

Mystery is a series of large footprints
leading us from the edge of the forest
to the center of the desert.

At the center: an Anasazi pot.

In Hopi, Anasazi means ancient, alien one.
After 1200 A.D., the Anasazi vanished, leaving behind
only the slightest traces of their sudden departure.

Only the Hopi know where they went.

In the year I was born, a Sasquatch chased N
from Benjamin Lake to Turtle Lake.

N was on horseback
and still barely escaped.

N refuses to speak of this event now
and will only smile
when asked about the chase.

Because we are human
we assign human emotions to Sasquatch.
When it chased N from lake to lake
we assume Sasquatch was angry.

How would our hearts change
if we discovered Sasquatch was running
just for the sake of the run, the burn
in the leg muscles and lungs?

We tell these Sasquatch stories
because we are Spokane Indian.

We are Spokane
because our grandparents were Spokane.

Our grandparents told Sasquatch stories.
Our grandparents heard Sasquatch stories

told by their grandparents.
In this way, we come to worship.

By now, the hunters and hobbyists also call them Sasquatch
because they have come to understand a little
of what Indians have always understood.

Headline in the tabloids:
“Bigfoot Baby Found
in Watermelon: Has Elvis’s Sneer.”

Those who say “Bigfoot”
are those who don’t believe.

We must learn to fear metaphor.

We followed the footprints from the source of the stream
to the place where it emptied into the river.

We saw its hair snagged on branches ten feet above us.
Its smell was still powerful a full day after it had passed through.

The smell: rotten eggs, sulfur, burned hair, blood, sawdust
pine sap, bat piss, standing water, split granite, sunlight.

Even now, we like to think science replaced religion
when, in fact, religion became science.

I ran into the house on fire and saved my father and mother.
I ran into the house on fire and saved my sister and brother.
I ran into the house on fire and saved my version of God.
I ran into the house on fire and saved my only effective blanket.
I ran into the house on fire and saved my Adam and Eve.
I ran into the house on fire and saved my porcupine quill.
I ran into the house on fire and saved my cup of ice water.
I ran into the house on fire and saved my metamorphic rock.
I ran into the house on fire and saved my saxophone.
I ran into the house on fire and saved my last will and testament.
I ran into the house on fire and saved my favorite red shirt.
I ran into the house on fire and saved my basketball.
I ran into the house on fire and saved my book about Sasquatch.

After D. B. Cooper hijacked the commercial jet
and parachuted 30,000 feet into the Cascades
where he and his newly acquired money disappeared

we can only assume that he lived
because his death would kill the mystery.
Our only certainty: D. B. Cooper is not Sasquatch.

In order to know what Sasquatch is
we must know what he is not.

Here, I wonder why I speak of Sasquatch as male
when more female Sasquatch have been seen

including the most famous: the Sasquatch woman
who walked across deadfall in the film

shot by Roger Patterson on the Hupa Indian Reservation
in Northern California. We have all seen her

pendulous breasts, prominent brow, large feet
and shadowed eyes as she turns to face the camera

and the commotion caused when Patterson’s horse threw him.
Patterson continued to film as he fell, as he climbed

to his feet, and ran after the Sasquatch. His home movie
has never been discounted, only ignored or dismissed.

The scientists don’t want Sasquatch to exist
because her existence would destroy their God.

Roger Patterson was a Yakama Indian
a fact which provides me with a small, secret pleasure.

I have been taught to keep secrets
and to fool you into believing I’ll reveal them.

If we sit in John F. Kennedy’s limousine on November 22, 1963
and then we look back over our shoulder just as the first shot is fired
we will see a shadowy figure in the sixth-floor window of the

Moving closer, we can see the rifle, a gold ring, and brown eyes.
We can see a bead of sweat fall from forehead to gun stock, soaking
into the finely-grained wood. We can see the fine smoke rise.

We do know that Sasquatch did not shoot JFK
but we wonder if the man who pulled the trigger
was hired by the same men who pay the scientists.

On his deathbed, Roger Patterson wished
he would have shot the Sasquatch
and proved her existence with a corpse.

Thesis: Indians can only be proven superstitious
if non-Indians are proved to be without superstition.

Do the Sasquatch believe in us?

Do you take the bread and wine
because you believe it to be the body and blood?
I do, as other Indians do, too
because that colonial superstition is as beautiful
as any of our indigenous superstitions.

Of course, Sasquatch and Indians have known of each other
for thousands of years. Certain Indians believed Sasquatch
were evil Indians banished from their respective tribes.

Others believed Sasquatch came down from the skies.
Some Indians have sat at lonely campfires and watched
the woods for signs of Sasquatch, their long-lost brother.

A man named Anomaly is over there, in the dark
corner, with his eyes closed, dancing all by himself

I can give you proof of God: Jim Thorpe, Sac and Fox Indian,
won gold medals in the decathlon and pentathlon at the 1912
Stockholm Olympics. He won those medals despite the fact that
Indians were not yet recognized as United States citizens.

Sasquatch did not kidnap the Lindbergh baby.
Sasquatch did not bury the empty coffin of Heinrich Müller.
Sasquatch did not kill the prostitutes in White Chapel.
Sasquatch did not fly with Amelia Earhart.
Sasquatch did not roll the stone away from Jesus’s tomb.
Sasquatch did not build the pyramids.
Sasquatch did not create the Ghost Dance.
Sasquatch did not drop the bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Sasquatch did not descend from the Missing Link.
Sasquatch did not drag boulders across Easter Island.
Sasquatch did not crash-land in Roswell, New Mexico.
Sasquatch did not walk across the Bering Strait.
Sasquatch did not sink Lemuria.
Sasquatch did not write Shakespeare’s plays.

I can give you proof of Sasquatch: Indian tribes of the Pacific
Northwest carved ape faces into their totem poles long before
any Europeans arrived and brought news of such animals.
According to the scientists, there are no other primates, aside
from human beings, indigenous to North America.

If Sasquatch is the deviation
then what is the common rule?

Late night on the Spokane Indian Reservation
we can hear the shrill cry echo through the pines.

We have recorded the cry and played it for the experts
who cannot tell us which animal made that sound.

Because the Sasquatch use tools, I wonder if they write poems.
Because the Sasquatch steal salmon from nets, I wonder if they
have justice.
Because the Sasquatch travel alone, I wonder if they love.
Because the Sasquatch travel in families, I wonder if they hate.
Because the Sasquatch stink, I wonder if they feel shame.
Because the Sasquatch hide, I wonder if they are afraid.
Because the Sasquatch cry in the night, I wonder if they believe
in God.

A large footprint in the damp sand.
A bush burning on the mountain.

When I asked the Indian elder, she said
with a smile, “I don’t know if I believe in Sasquatch
but he sure does stink.”

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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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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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