Photo by Kenton Rowe




I was born, May 25, 1951, during the Korean War. My generation’s first war, however, was Viet Nam.  As a student at Hurley High in 1969, I bought into our civics teacher’s fervent proclamations of the Viet Nam War being a “just war,”—oxymoronically akin, I learned later, to “Holy War” or “last war.”  My reactionary viewpoint, thanks to the virtue of wisdom, shifted drastically upon coming face-to-horrific-face with a June 1972 magazine cover photo of the naked, screaming nine-year-old Vietnamese girl, Phan Thi Kim Phuc, running directly toward the camera lens after a napalm attack. That single photograph defined everything I would ever need to know, going forth, about war.


On January 17, 1991, I watched, from a remote Montana ranch- house, live television coverage of Operation Desert Storm, which began our full-bore combat phase of The Gulf War.  It was late in the afternoon, and as perplexing, yet captivating, as were the images, I had to pry myself away from the tube to do chores before dark. I still recall today how I’d interrogatively contemplated—just as I had interrogatively contemplated 20 years earlier in 1971—how this war, most certainly, just had to be, once and for all, the last war of my lifetime of war?


I remember also—while feeding my family of 4-leggeds, as well as any additional kindred heartbeats I’d nurtured in the gloaming of that cold, blustery moment—how I’d been transfixed by the bright blue Minuteman Missile silo security lights a mere mile to the east.


Perhaps I came to understand, and maybe even to accept back then, on “The Day The War Began,” as I do today, with our country on the brink of “The Iran War,” how our fellow, soulful, nonhuman plant and animal beings, to whom I continue my caregiving, afford us our solitary, final, sorrowful glimpse of Peace On Earth.


                                             Paul Zarzyski—January 4, 2019

14 The Day the War Began.mp3Paul Zarzyski
00:00 / 02:46

Recoded on Collisions of Reckless Love 


Produced by Open Path Music, 2006 

(Gordon Stevens, Tim Volpicella, Lee Ray, Scott Sorkin—Producers)


Denny Berthiaume, Piano

Gordon Stevens, Acoustic Bass

Printed versions of poem:

I Am Not A Cowboy—Dry Crik Press, 1995

Wolf Tracks On The Welcome Mat—Oreana Books, 2003 

 Photo Credit:

cplani ~ Adobe Stock: Blue Light in Night Sky 




                   “And it’s not a cry you can hear at night

                   Not somebody who’s seen the light

                   It’s a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah.”

                                                        Leonard Cohen


Wolves up high are howling Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”

In the wilds of the mind, what better metaphor

A great horned owl hooting, hooting her approval

Aspen leaves, like hi-hats, clicking rhythm to the score.


Buzz-tails in the tall grass rattling their warnings

A polecat left his scent last night while passing through

Prairie dogs tell everyone in town their sad, sad story

Reminders in the wind that others live here, too.



(Chorus)   There’s no way to feel all alone way out west

                  Surrounded by hearts harmonizing with ours

                  No way to judge whose voices sing best

                  Whose souls shine the brightest from a land lit with stars.


Wolverine and grizzly bear, cougar, lynx and fox!

The hottest licks in Francis of Assisi’s Cool-Cat Band”

Bebop Jazz! Reggae! Blues! Hip-Hop! It all Rocks!

Blessed are those with front-row seats in the Wild West grandstand.


Honey bees to chickadees, meadowlarks to condors

Barn swallows, bats, and nighthawks in acrobatic spins

So many maestro species, so many songs and songsters

Mother osprey fishing to feed her hungry twins.


              (Bridge)  All for one, one for all

                              Fellow travelers, sisters, brothers

                              Our kindred-spirit symphony

                              Among infinities of others.



(Chorus)   There’s no way to feel all alone way out west

                  Surrounded by hearts harmonizing with ours

                  No way to judge whose voices sing best

                  Whose souls shine the brightest from a land lit with stars.


Wolves up high are howling Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”

For love and loss, a mournful is a hopeful metaphor

Aurora borealis shoots its cupid notes right through us

Big Mama Earth on lead guitar playing every “secret chord.”


Wolves up high are howling Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”

Photo From <a href=""></a>


PZ Dictum. #190. The Poetic worth of Literary Earth diminishes with each and every extinction, the definitive truthful irony being that the ultimate extinction of the Poet’s own species is no less, or more, critical in this equation of loss.

Photo by: David Billings

In acknowledgment of Earth Day, 2019, I offer the following Self-Interview except from 51:30 Poems, 20 Lyrics, 1 Self-Interview as a preamble to a recently written song lyric, titled "Mankind":


…You do write quite a bit out of grief, as did Hugo. And then there’s anger—your poem “The Hand,” for example. Care to address what seems for you rare, yet extremely effective, poetic catalysts? Grief? Anger? Or, if you prefer, ire?


 “Ire” smacks of euphemism. “The Hand” was written out of 200 proof fury—undiluted rage. I was holed up in that old ranch house on Flat Creek south of Augusta, in the foothills below the Rocky Mountain Front. Middle of winter.  Late 1980s. Numerically in sync with the wind-chill temps dipping to eighty-something below zero one night. I was all but hugging the wood stove. Had propane as a backup, but in that open country pounded by severe winds, power outages (which would render the propane heaters worthless) were common. My mission, therefore, was to sleep on the couch in the main room with one ear open and to keep the fire banked, as well as the television tuned in to the latest news and weather updates. I might’ve been watching Nightline or some other late-night news magazine show—I don’t remember for sure. They aired a segment on apartheid, complete with a camera crew on location somewhere in South Africa. What I witnessed—set thousands of miles away in an arid landscape almost two hundred degrees warmer than the climate just outside my window—offended and infuriated me. Despite my physical and emotional distance—my immediate anxiety over the blizzard conditions—I considered the contents of the TV segment as a personal assault on my world. Which is precisely the point, you understand—as long as I’m drawing breaths on this planet, it is my world, my home, and bigotry, racism, in my home, aboard my orb, both saddens and angers me to no end. The local station interrupted the programming with a “severe weather warning,” which, as I recall, included the information that propane at such-‘n’-such a frigid temperature will jell, not allowing it to vaporize, “the end.” Insulating the regulator on the tank was highly advisable. Ripley Hugo had given me Dick’s immense, heavy, hooded fishing parka after he died, beneath which I could sheathe myself in layer after layer of cotton, wool, silk, goose down, polyurethane, you name it. Thus bundled, I not so much walked as “plodded like an astronaut or deep sea diver,” is how I phrased it in a poem titled, “Feeding Horses In Richard Hugo’s Fishing Parka.”

The thousand gallon propane “pig” was set a mere twenty paces from the back door. I wrapped and lashed with baling twine an old sougan (cowboy’s heavy, patched blanket) around the regulator. I’d just eaten my ritual, before-bed bowl of Wheaties while barely fending off the guilt of possibly shorting the horses on their Arctic ration of alfalfa, so it didn’t take much self-convincing, as long as I was hazarding the storm, to prod me toward the barn to pour Cody and Buck their late-night Wheaties flakes as well. Halfway there I turned my back to the wind, noted the flicker of light ever-so-slightly visible from the kitchen window, and became mesmerized by the swirling snow quickly filling in my tracks. “I stood there amazed,” to borrow a phrase from the “Home on the Range” lyric, until the only tracks remaining were the ones I was standing in. Never before, or since, have I felt so connected to this earth, felt so aware of each breath, of the exchange of carbon dioxide for oxygen in the lung’s microscopic capillaries. Never have I felt so alive, as well as felt the significance of being so alive. I believe I also experienced for a nano-moment a heightened degree of tranquility in which I could have happily taken my last breath, although I could not have exercised that option even if I chose to because of my need to get back to the house and engage the poem I knew would confront me. Had I not just been accosted by the apartheid footage, I probably would have heated and hammered that minus-eighty wind-chill factor moment into something ornate, joyous, at the poetry forge. (Someday, I’m certain, I will write that poem.)…


Minus the “joyous” prediction 30 years ago:




Bound for the horse barn, the cowboy goes blind

In a wicked-night blizzard, 80 below—

Mankind looking back at our long-ago warmth

Barely a-flicker from the kitchen window.


Mankind plodding-on toward the faithful oasis

Talking in tongues all dying of thirst—

Is this all a mirage, or an unanswered prayer?

It just might be both, for better or worse.


         Out in the desert, the arctic, the cosmos

         Molecule, atom, and Big Bang dust

         We are of the heavens, we are of the weather

         Both sacred and sinful, we boom or we bust.


Mankind gazing back at our tracks nevermore

Out of the black, our past becomes future—

Stunned by what was, we fall madly in love

With life in which death is our consummate suitor.


Is temperature linear or is it a circle?

Mankind at our coldest spinning toward hot?

Hurricane, fire, flooding and drought,

Do we learn what-is-what to learn what-is-not?


         Out in the desert, the arctic, the cosmos

         Molecule, atom, and Big Bang dust

         We are of the heavens, we are of the weather

         Both sacred and sinful, we boom or we bust.


                    Astronaut cowboy in chaps and big hat,

                    Wild-West tamed by ol’ climate change—

                    Adrift, all alone, no horse and no home

                    At Castaway Ranch on the dark cosmic range.


Will a nickering horse wake us in time?

Will we turn to embrace our one saving grace?

Will mankind reach out for one hope in a storm?

For the truth that will force us to face what we face?


         Out in the desert, the arctic, the cosmos

         Molecule, atom, and Big Bang dust

         We are of the heavens, we are of the weather

         Both sacred and sinful, we boom or we bust.


          We are of the heavens, we are of the weather 

          Both sacred and sinful, we shine or we rust.

PZ Dictum. #42. Not one single human being will be remembered after death in the ultimate wake of the Universe mourning the passing of Its dearly beloved Planet Earth.

Photo by: Joseph Driscoll
02 The Hand.mp3Paul Zarzyski
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                            The Christmas Saguaro Soirée



During an enchanting week of writing and/or reminiscing with mostly friendly ghosts in the old home ground of Hurley, Wisconsin, where I grew up in the ‘50s and ‘60s, I was fortunate to catch a brace of NPR interviews, one between Diane Rehm and Poet Billy Collins and the other between Terry Gross and Poet Bruce Springsteen. Both exchanges focused on their recent books, The Rain in Portugal and Born To Run (Springsteen’s Memoir), and both exchanges addressed their connections to parents, to people and place, which spoke most personally and timely to me, as I and Liz and Zeke actually stayed in Mom and Dad’s home of 60+ years, many of their possessions still in place long after their passing.


And then, while driving out of town early on the morning of the 13th, approximately 8 years after Dad’s death, I heard the news that Bob Dylan had received the Nobel Prize in Literature. How could I not, first and foremost, recall the chilling rendition of “Knocking On Heaven’s Door” played during Dad’s funeral. How could I not—after having so often over my decades as a writer proclaimed my belief that “poetry written and recited musically will, at times, blossom into song lyric sung”—ponder with delight during our 1100-mile jaunt back to Montana the Nobel committee’s surprising choice?

Especially while passing through Duluth, the birthplace of one Robert Zimmerman, 10 years and a day prior to my arrival and infancy at 505 Poplar Street—a mere 94 crow-flown miles from Bob’s childhood home at 519 North 3rd Ave. E. in the Lake Superior port town. Or, to couch it perhaps even more interestingly, around 200 miles from the Gogebic Iron Range, where my father worked a mile underground in the hematite ore mines, to the Mesabi taconite range in Hibbing, where Bob spent most of his youth. Yup, we’re talking “iron”—which Dylan has welded for decades into magnificent sculptures. “Iron,” the medium, as well, of the wordsmith, of the poet born and raised in the midst of the rich ferrous veins.

Finally, how could I not take note of our Great Falls destination, where, on July 26, 2005, I attended a Dylan concert at Four Season Arena, his stage set exactly where the bucking chutes stood years earlier as I rode the Montana Pro-Rodeo Circuit Finals and made a pay-window spur ride on the National Finals bronc, Whiskey Talks?

Mile after mile, I contemplated my extremely distant, but, nevertheless, significant connections to fellow Zedman, Mr. Zimmerman.  Mile after Wisconsin-Minnesota-North Dakota-Montana mile, I celebrated Bob Dylan’s lifetime of putting music to poetry, poetry to music.

Therefore, with utmost humility and gratitude, I give you “Bob Dylan Bronc Song.” Thank you singer-songwriter compadre Wylie Gustafson and Producer John Carter Cash for bringing this work to life at the Cash Cabin Studio during the 2009 recording of Wylie’s Hang-n-Rattle! 

Paul Zarzyski at Cash Cabin Studio, Nashville, TN

2-12 Bob Dylan Bronc Song.mp3Paul Zarzyski
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                               FIVE WILD REMINISCENCES OF RICK DEMARINIS




What an honor in the early 70s for a young aspiring poet to not only be admitted into the Creative Writing, Master of Fine Arts Degree, Program at the University of Montana, but also to be welcomed into Missoula’s Wylie Street Writers Social Club—Dick and Ripley Hugo, Jim and Lois Welch, Rick and Carole DeMarinis! Little could I have even considered at the time, however, that decades later five of those dear friends, along with my Mother and Father, and too many others who’d played such seminal roles in my writing life, and otherwise, would be gone.  I will forever remember fondly those heyday times on Wylie—even dedicated my 2014 poetry collection, Steering With My Knees, “In memory of Ripley and Richard Hugo—With gratitude for all the laughs at 2407 Wylie Ave.” 


My wildest of memories, however, actually occurred at Rick and Carole and daughter Naomi’s home, directly across the street at 2408 Wylie.  During Rick’s celebration-of-life ceremony in Missoula on June 29, (2019), I read the following account of that glorious moment in poetic time and space (excerpted from 51: 30 Poems, 20 Lyrics, 1 Self-Interview):


Me (Interviewee):

…Carole and Rick threw The Mother of All First-Book Parties for me after The Make-up of Ice was published in 1984.  We’re talking “back when writers behaved badly,” as Jim Harrison put it oh-so-succinctly at Jim Welch’s memorial at the Wilma Theater.  Back when notorious novelists, to remain anonymous here, were prone to remove cherished heirloom family photos off the hosts’ walls and pull them apart in order to acquire unhindered panes of glass upon which to evenly divide and separate the white, wheel-spoked berms.

Interviewer (Also Me!):  

Crumley, Right? It had to be Crumley.

Me, again:

I’m not saying.  Although, rumors abound that Rick DeMarinis has in his possession a stash of un-retouched snapshots documenting the events of that bash.  At one pivotal point of the occasion, Carole snatched a pint of Everclear (she reported the day after is how I know this) away from me and Jim—yes, Crumley, goddamnit—passing it back and forth, tears gushing down all four of our grinning cheeks.  What I do remember, pretty much solely, is the wild drive to The East Gate liquor store for re-supplies at 1:30 a.m., just under the closing time wire—Carole’s mother’s ‘71 Monte Carlo, bad shocks and all, roller-coasting down Van Buran Street doing Saint-Christopher-only-knows how many miles-per-minute over the speed limit, Rick slouched low-rider-cool behind the tilted-down wheel, me riding shotgun, and in the back seat, two renowned prose writers nasally inhaling through a straw from one of those amber plastic pharmaceutical vials some non-liquid substance. The Canadian train event, years earlier, documented by the film Festival Express, had nothing over a Missoula book party, I tell you. Carole cooked breakfast for me as the sun came up.  I strolled out into the brisk fall Rattlesnake Canyon air and wondered if it would all be down hill from then on…. Thanks in no small part to Rick’s continued major friendship role in my life for another 35 years after that infamous event, it has not been.




And then, ten nights after Rick died on June 12th, this dream that I deem metaphorically commensurate with the highest esteem in which I regarded both Rick’s writing and our Friendship:


I’m pacing in the wings of the stage and getting pumped for a proverbial  “really big shoe.”  Major poetry venue. Might’ve been the historic Wilma Theater in Missoula, where years ago, I did, in fact, enjoy an otherworldly interaction with an enthusiastic full house. I peek out from behind the curtain (bad theatrical luck be damned) as I am prone to do, to see if anyone has actually shown up to hear Poetry? There in the middle of a packed auditorium sits Rick. He’s sporting his classic “any second now something really fucking funny is going to happen” shit-eating grin. I yell loud enough for everyone in the joint to hear, “IT’S RICK! RICK DEMARINIS IS HERE! We’re talking a surprise factor akin to Hemingway or Yeats or Dylan Thomas or Richard Hugo Himself being in attendance! I make my way out into the seats—those in the audience sitting in front of Rick turning to witness silly Zarzyski’s willingness to blow to itsy-bitsy pieces all protocol.  Rick and I throw our arms around each other in a big Italian “K sue chadda” (“What’s Up!?”) paisano hug.  Rick appeared young and healthy as ever.  Oh, and one more note: he was wearing a gun-metal gray, starched and pressed, short-sleeved shirt similar to those worn by auto mechanics or appliance repairmen, sans, of course, his name embroidered in red over the left-hand pocket, because everyone in that auditorium knew it was him, the fiction-writer Wizard—out from behind the curtain of mortality, “The Great and Powerful” DeMarinOZ!






Speaking of the “great and powerful,” if only I could be granted a magic-lamp-genie wish to transmogrify the dream I just recounted into reality, while turning the following Zarzyski-DeMarinis Oregon Road Trip true story into a dream, albeit somewhat of a nightmare:  


It was longtime writer-friend extraordinaire, Gary Gildner, who, during his distinguished writer-in-residence tenure at Reed College (Portland), booked Rick a reading gig in 1983-84.  So that Rick wouldn’t have to make the drive solo, Gary must’ve leveraged an appearance for the both of us at Willamette U. (Salem). I was still fitting an occasional classic spur-ride to bareback broncs and decided to enter the Eugene Rodeo, hoping to augment the paltry poetry honorarium with an 8-second pay-window trip in the arena. As things turned out, although I’d made a qualified ride, I wound up just out of the money and maybe even in the close-but-no-cigar “crying hole”—5th place when the rodeo paid the top four.  It must’ve been a night show and we must’ve stayed for the whole shebang, because we didn’t pull back into Gildner’s abode until well after midnight.  I remember the driveway between houses being so narrow that I could just barely open the car door enough to slip out.  I had never, ever, before left my riggin bag, my precious rodeo gear, out-of-sight overnight, but for some foolish reason—it being only a few hours until daybreak and my bedroom window being mere feet from the car and it feeling like a safe residential neighborhood and our planning an early departure back to Montana—I decided not to bother hauling my war bag into the house.  I recall feeling exhausted from having to poetically strain to incite the heavily-sedated zombies-in-tweed Willamette audience, as well as from coming down off the buckin’ hoss adrenaline high.








Rick was the first to mosey out with his suitcase come time to leave that morning.  I’ll never forget his succinct wording: “We’ve been hit.” The back window of the hatchback had been either busted or, more quietly, popped out.  Either way, I hadn’t heard a peep from my bunk “mere feet from the car.” My rodeo gear-bag and a stack of CDs gone!  I was no-doubt entered in some Montana pitchin’ the following weekend, and now minus my most personal—dare I say “intimate?”—tools of the trade, likely destined for some Portland pawn shop.  As good-bad-luck would have it, the police found my riggin’ and chaps in a neighbor’s hedge row. But my spurs, riding glove, boots, you name it, were history. I had never in my life until then been victimized by theft. Needless to say, for someone who lives as viscerally as do I, both on and off the page, I not only did not take it well, I was out for blood—an artesian geyser of arterial hemoglobin, not one drip less—in return for my torment.


And here’s where Rick—heaven bless his pacifist soul for his capacity to assign to his fictional characters every nano-iota of real-life rage—rode in to Guido Zarzyski’s rescue and saved me, just barely in the nick of incendiary time, from Polish-Mafioso-Rodeo-Poet Combustion.


I distinctly recall us being somewhere on the snaky Lochsa Highway between Lewiston and Missoula.  We’d spoken nary a word since leaving Portland.  I had a two-fisted garroted death-grip on the wheel.  I mean, we’re talking a seething car full of palpable toxic-fog, of venomous silence—a veritable superfund sight on wheels; we’re talking skittish Rick feeling as if he’d been buried alive in an economy casket with Hannibal Lecter; we’re talking the violent velocity of human atomic matter (sans God Particle!) transmogrified into a Homo sapiens Hadron Collider dialed to “HIGH!”  “Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord?” Mere child’s play next to the surgical nuances of revenge I was envisioning in the smoldering soulless cauldrons of my boiled-oil psyche—Capote’s In Cold Blood, or, far worse, a Quentin Tarantino script, by comparison, qualifying as appropriate cinematic subject matter for a Disney matinee.


Had our CDs not been filched, who knows, maybe Rick would‘ve endeavored to slip a mood-music disk into the player, although, on second thought, the player may have been excised during the hit, as well. Rick squirmed nervously mile-after-mile in his seat as he visibly strained to think of something, anything, he might say to console me, to spill even a shot class full of chilled perfume into the effluvium of The Dago Volcano’s fumarole. Believing, I’m sure, that his imaginary powers had failed him for the first time in his life, he finally oh-so–pathetically offered-up in the most serious tone he could muster, “You know, Paul, when we get back to Missoula, I’m going to get a gun.” 


One Mississippi, 2 Mississippi, 3 Mississ… was about how long it took us to burst, in unison, into a raucous laughter that lasted the rest of the way home and for decades thereafter—“Rick? Paul. Have you gotten that gun yet?” prefacing many a phone conversation, which never ceased to trigger the same degree of comical relief we experienced that day while driving back from Portland.  Tibetan monk Rick DeMarinis with a gun?  About as lethal or menacing, as inconsequential, as a poet with a literary agent. Although the word on the street years later was that Rick did, in fact, take a loaded pistol away from novelist Barry Hannah in the middle of a dark Missoula night. But that’s another story—and one nowhere near as funny. 



The Burning Women Of Far Cry


I was both humbled and scared witless when asked by publisher, Aaron Parrett, to write a blurb for the Drumlummon Montana Literary Masters Series 2018 Edition of Rick’s 1986 novel, The Burning Women of Far Cry.  After tormenting for weeks over what I might say to most emphatically extol Rick’s mastery of the language and imagination, I brilliantly decided to just let him do it himself. As the quintessence of my praise for his work, I quoted the inscription he penned into my copy of Under The Wheat:


“for Paul—my partner survivalist: it’s the bottom of the ninth, see, two outs. We’re trailing 1-0. Gooden is on the mound and he doesn’t like Polacks or Dagos. The count is 0 and 2. The bat feels like a railroad tie in your hands.  The stands are filed with collection agency thugs. Gooden uncorks a 99 mph fastball. It looks like an albino BB. This is it. You take a big cut, and…and…(next page)…590-foot drive into the Hudson River!


                                                                                                Your buddy,

                                                                                                 Rick (The Bambino) D.






“MONTE CARLO EXPRESS: P.O. Box 258, 15.2 Miles Home”:


It must have been sometime in the mid-‘80s when Rick and Carole offered to sell me her mother’s 1971 Monte Carlo—originally sold at Dee Motors in Anaconda, where Carole grew up.  I had never owned a vehicle that “new”—had been driving a ’69 Ford half-ton pickup and decided I needed something that would get “better mileage?” The car was a wrecking yard dog’s dream come real—complete with a caved-in grill and front bumper, and dents a-plenty in its faded burnt-orange exterior—but it ran (with or without brakes) and I was still young enough to military press the 50-ton-sheet steel (or so it seemed) helicopter landing pad hood in order to fill up the oil every time I checked the gas.  You bet—the same land barge Rick drove down Van Buren in the opening piece of this post.


When it came to taking a run at and busting through snow drifts to get in and out of an isolated ranch house I lived in south of Augusta, ol’ Monte was a D-8 Cat.  In whatever weather, we’d make the trip into town once or twice a week to retrieve the mail, which was the triggering subject for a poem that speaks to my failure to exercise willpower enough to wait until getting back to the ranch before addressing the envelopes beckoning my attention from their perch on the front seat.


I’ve since had the car mostly restored—painted “viper red,” adorned with a new black vinyl top, and outfitted with chrome rally wheels.  Although I don’t drive it as often (or as hard or far) as I once did, I still punch it up to 80 or 90 out on the wide-open Montana two-lane blue lanes, which seems to suit the full-scale stuffed Loony Tunes Tasmanian Devil strapped into the back seat  (same back seat occupied by Bill Kittredge and Jim Crumley during the Van Buren Street liquor quest). Moreover, I never get behind the wheel of Ol’ Monte without summoning the passenger spirits of Carole and Rick, to whom this poem is dedicated:

"A six-pack of “rodeo writers:” (left to right) Gary Gildner, Kathryn Terrill, Verlena Orr, Marian Palaia, Rick DeMarinis, Shutterbug P.Z. out of the frame—Eugene, Oregon rodeo, circa 1984.

1-01 Monte Carlo Express_ P.O. Box 258, Paul Zarzyski
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Except for the time in which he served during WWII aboard ship, my Dad, Leonard J. Zarzyski, seldom ventured, during his 83 years, from the hardwoods of northern Wisconsin—oaks, maples, ash, birch.  They towered over the house where he was born, and continued to surround him while he pursued his life’s passions—hunting, fishing, wild berry and mushroom gathering, making wood (cutting firewood), and milling lumber from which he built cabinets, tables, boxes of every denomination—toy, jewelry, shoe-shine, recipe-card, pen-and-pencil, fishing lure, you name it—ornate banks, picture frames, knife blocks, cutting boards, chests of drawers, shelves, anything and everything to challenge and occupy him in his wood-working shop, especially during the long winters.  Sometime in the ‘60s—likely while he was still working in the iron ore mine for two-bucks-n-change an hour— he bought 20 acres of mostly virgin hardwoods a few miles from our house for $750, a decision he tormented over.  “The Twenty”—as he referred to this woodlot with so much pride in his voice—became his sanctuary.  He built a small “shack,” which he dubbed S E R E N I T Y in oak letters arched over the door, and enjoyed thousands of hours there by himself (Mom preferring the comforts of their home in town) but never alone amidst his beloved trees.  Over the years, he cut the standing dead for firewood and culled others—only those jeopardized by disease—for lumber, lumber he stacked, stockpiled, everywhere, a Fort Knox of hardwood boards.  “Do you know what you’d shell out for this oak one-by-six at Menard’s!” he was prone to exclaim every time he’d pull the corrugated tin off the top off one of his troves, as if opening a vault, to show off his wealth

My dad died in October 2008.  I’d helped him cut and haul into town his last years’ supply of cordwood with which he heated our house, the same home at 505 Poplar Street where he and Mom lived their entire married life, since 1947. Little could I have known, as we worked side-by-side making wood, much the same as I did 50 years earlier—a five-year-old boy wielding a wooden ax Dad had carved—that I’d be soon spreading my father’s remains at the bases of the biggest trees on The Twenty, the very trees, I vowed to him, that I would never allow anyone to cut.  In the sawdust to gray-ash interim, I wrote the poem, “How I Tell My Dad I Love Him”:


How I Tell My Dad I Love Him


Knocking down the standing dead

oak, maple, ash, yellow birch

in July humidity all day long, we

take a blow only to guzzle

spring water from moonshine jugs—

same jugs, same artesian seep, same

father and son who made wood

together one-half century ago, me at six

swinging a hickory double-bit

Dad carved as he whittled

into me the virtue of work, same pride

a blue-collar poet knows

sizing-up the ricks, the short cords of words,

split and fit into stacks

during another hard shift in the woods. Dad

gestures to me his slow-motion

coup de grâce—kill it, quitting time—

straight razor across the throat

Sicilian sign language with thick Polish finger

just as my chainsaw, racing

out of gas, bucks into two

matching sixteen-inch rounds

the butt-end of a fifty-footer

I was itching to finish. Flocked

with sawdust from my boot laces up

to the crown button of my Paul Bunyan ball cap,

I saunter to the stump

Dad sits on, The Lumberjack Thinker

pondering four score and two years of BTUs. He

does not see me peeling the heavy red

sweat-soaked t-shirt

inside-out up over my torso and face—

popping its collar, like a cork

out of a crock nozzle,

off my forehead. I toss it

splashing into his lap

with reptile heft. He jumps,

cusses me with a laugh, agrees

to replenish my Pabst Blue Ribbon reservoir,

replace my shredded gloves. Our deal

sealed with a handshake, ever so

less virile lately, tender as a hug,

we drive the same slow miles home—

dripping in the sweetest silence he knows.


A couple of months before Dad passed and while he was extremely ill, we sat together inside his shack and talked.  At one point, after a long, difficult lull in our conversation, he proclaimed with great joy, as if offering a testimonial summary of his life, “well, I sure did build a lot of beautiful pieces out of these hardwoods.”  We were sitting at his kitchen table—oak and maple—the same table at which he wrote, by lantern light, hundreds of letters mailed to me in Stevens Point, where I attended college my first four years, and later to Montana, where I’ve lived the past 38 years.  Along with all of the finished woodwork Dad left as legacy, he also left, among the thousands of board feet of rough-cut lumber, a small stash of his favorite bird’s-eye maple, which he’d high-graded and stored out of the weather. 


Unfortunately (or so it sometimes seems) the building materials of my craft, my passion, are merely musically-grained words rather than woods.  I’ve paid tribute to my father often with poetry, including two pieces written after his death.  One, tilted “Rubato: Stolen Time,” is triggered by a birch burl clock Dad built for me.  It has hung near my writing desks for 40 years. The other poem, “Good Friday,” offers the following as its second stanza:


                             Melding into the fog bank

                             horizon on the other side, my dad left

                             dovetailed in his wake

                             one bird’s-eye maple tackle box

                             half-filled with the cinder of a man

                             whose blue-collar hands loved

                             the smooth, slow-stroked

                             strumming of exotic grains he milled,

                             sanded, lacquered—enticed

                             into the light.


I spread half of Dad’s ashes at the trunks of 51 (the year I was born and the title to my recent book) of the oldest, most majestic trees on his Twenty.  The other half, in the most elaborate bird’s-eye maple fishing lure box Dad ever built, was placed in the coffin and buried with Mom on August 28, 2010, one year ago to this very hour, I just now serendipitously realized, glancing at the calendar and then to the birch-burl clock, in the midst of this writing. 


Timing, dear reader, seldom occurs more perfectly on this earth than it did in the following scenario.  Earlier this year, I contacted Wyatt Wilkie, master luthier and son of one of my grandest compadres and song-writing collaborators, David Wilkie.  While cleaning Dad’s shop in Hurley, Wisconsin, I had discovered a dozen or so bird’s-eye boards of various lengths and widths and thicknesses that he had obviously earmarked for special projects.  In the same breath (again, timing to the precisely crossed T), I found in a drawer a black and white photograph of my Mom holding a guitar and captioned “Tex, 10/3/1939.”  And, in the same drawer, a 1940’s photo of Dad and Mom (on the left) drinking with friends and listening to” Don Pablo and His N.B.C. Orchestra at the Palm Beach Café in Detroit.”   

Delia and Leonard

I take seriously my cues from the Musical Universe.  Thanks, in part to those cowboy and Indian coloring books of my 1950’s childhood, I learned early the critical significance of connecting the Cowpoke Cosmos dots.  Thus, Dad’s bird’s-eye stash—his enthusiasm for anything crafted artistically from hardwood—connected, via a penciled straight-edged line, to Mom’s guitar picture and her life-long love of music, of singing (though she did not continue to play); which then evoked the 1930’s or ‘40’s arch-top Gibson likely being picked, off camera, in Don Pablo’s orchestra performing that night at the Detroit club; which reflected my late-career discovery of common ground between the poem and the song lyric, the stanza and the verse; which in turn summoned fond recollections of David Wilkie and wife Denise Withnell sojourning from Alberta across the Medicine Line into Great Falls for drinks and laughs and music with Liz and me—much akin to the spirit of the Palm Beach Café snapshot; which reminded me how every visit included a tuning of my Ibanez  (likely not tuned  since its last tuning by Dave and Denise), which inevitably connected, full circle, to my envisioning a guitar, dubbed Leonard,  accompanied by a matching mandolin, Delia, both inlaid in mother-of-pearl (a la the sea, the navy)  on the heads of the instruments—all components (neck, sides, back, binding) save for the spruce top, made from the wood cut and milled off Dad’s Twenty.  Yes, as a tribute to my enduring love for my parents.  Moreover, as a way to hold them in my arms for my remaining days.  To celebrate their memories, their life’s music and songs imbued, engrained, into these instruments by not just any luthier, but by the very son of musician extraordinaire, David Wilkie, who has graciously offered to teach me to bring the music of Leonard and Delia, of Dad and Mom, out of Wyatt’s masterpieces and into the living room of our log home.  Not immortality, granted, but perhaps as close as we, in this dimension, can creatively come to it.


Zarzyski Dictums
Photo by: Kevin Martini-Fuller

                                                 DICTUM #172

Make it visceral, make it sexy, infuse it with reckless abandon into the bloodstream of the page, and you can count me in! Play it pedantically safe and painless and cosmetically intellectual and esoteric, and you can deal me the fuck out!


                                                 DICTUM #48

Oh, the weight of words, this lifetime of ink printed on paper between covers, hoarded like imagined wealth—poetry as gold? Fool’s gold! Somebody please (thank you Abbie Hoffman) “steal this book,” steal every one of my books, so that the Poet may know again the lightness of being it took to write them in the first place.


                                                  DICTUM #82

The only subjects Friends, as well as enemies, should be discussing in order to save our goddamned selves from our goddamned selves are Politics and Religion.

                                                   DICTUM #106 

When the dictum, “Truth is like poetry. And most people fucking hate poetry,” flashes out of “the blue” onto the silver screen during the film The Big Short, Poets watching should raucously applaud. I do!



                                                   DICTUM #113

When women rule the world—“the world” being our very Mother Earth, lest we forget—then the world, feeling encouraged by Her Sisterhood Rulers, by their knowing what it means to nurture truth rather than to stifle it, will most definitely choose (and it is Her choice!) to hang around another eon or twenty in addition to the 4.5 eons-plus She’s already oh-so-patiently awaited this long-overdue evolution of human wisdom.



The Musical Universe shines down its most beatific riffs in praise of women everywhere!

I genuflect and bow with humility and utmost gratitude before their bountiful, graceful spirits.

The Women’s March on Washington today has imbued, and renewed, my bullet –riddled,

Imploded soul with Wisdom, with Beauty & Truth.

Power to the People! Amen.

“This one is for you, Paul.  Sending love always!  Sally" (Brock)—Boise March, 1/20/2017



With Ian Tyson

  • “Rodeo Road”—18 Inches of Rain

  • “Jerry Ambler”—Ian Tyson: Live at Longview

  • “Whispering Hope”—Recorded by Wylie Gustafson—Bucking Horse Moon


With Tom Russell

  • “Bucking Horse Moon”—Cowboys, Indians, Horses, Dogs

  • “All This Way For The Short Ride”—Cowboys, Indians, Horses, Dogs

  • “Heart Of A Bucking Horse” Cowboy’d All To Hell


With Denise Withnell and Kristen Strom

Lyrics and Music by Paul Zarzyski

Arrangement by Scott Sorkin

  • “Calico Fever Blues”—Steering With My Knees


With Wylie Gustafson

  • “Saddle Broncs & Sagebrush”—Hooves Of The Horses

  • “Rodeo To The Bone”—Bucking Horse Moon

  • “Ain’t No Life After Rodeo”—Hang-n-Rattle!

  • “A Pony Called Love”—Hang-n-Rattle!

  • “Grace”—Hang-n-Rattle!

  • “Ridin’ Double Wild’—Hang-n-Rattle!

  • “Hang-n-Rattle!”—Hang-n-Rattle!

  • “Cravin’ 8s—Tribute to LeDoux” Hang-n-Rattle!

  • “Cryin’ Hole Blues”—Hang-n-Rattle!

  • “Circle”—Raven On The Wind

  • “The Mistress, The Maestro”—Raven On The Wind

  • “Wicked Kiss”—Raven On The Wind

  • “Sweet Old Song”—Raven On The Wind     


With Cowboy Celtic/David Wilkie 

  • “Black Upon Tan”—The Drover Road

  • “Flyin’, Not Fallin’, In Love With You”—Rose Petal Pie—Denise Withnell 


With Betsy Hagar

  • “Hope Chest”—Heavens To Betsy

  • “Lucky Charms Of Love”—Heavens To Betsy

  • “True Cowboy Love”—Heavens To Betsy

  • “The Christmas Saguaro Soiree”—Heavens To Betsy

  • “The Best Dance”—Heavens To Betsy

  • “Star Light, Star Bright”—Heavens To Betsy


With Hal Cannon

  • “Wastelands of Yesterday”—Lord Of The Desert—3hattrio


With Don Edwards

  • “West Of The Round Corral”— Last Of The Troubadours


With John Hollis

  • “Maria Benitez”—Good Life


With Peter O’Brian

  • “Roadwork In The Boneyard”—Small Talk, Bullshit & Lies


With Robert Shepherd

  • “Conoco Saloon Blues”—One Last Look

With Justin Bishop

  • “Fanny Sperry Steele”—Prairie Flowers—Jean Prescott


With Jim Haynes

  • “The Snowy’s Wearin’ White”—Here I Am

Articles and Reviews

How Cowboy Poetry Pulled Me out of the Abyss: 

Carson Vaughn’s ode to the poetry of Paul Zarzyski. 

By Carson Vaughan

Read it Forward, 2016


Rounding Up Rodeo Poetry

An Interview With Paul Zarzyski

By Kris King

Montana Quarterly

Winter 2015


Look Around The Room: Rodeo Poet Paul Zarzyski Interviews Himself

Montana Quarterly

Winter 2012


Paul Zarzyski: Poet Lariat of the Rockies

By Myers Reece

Bangtail Press


Cowboy Cool:  Kicking it with Zarzyski and Gustafson

By Scott McMillon

Montana Quarterly

Fall 2010


Interviews 11 & 12 with Paul Zarzyski

Cowboy Crossroads

By Andy Hedges

Released May 23, 2017 (#11)

Released May 31, 2017 (#12)


Paul Zarzyski Compares Writing Poetry to Riding Rodeo Broncs

By Cherie Newman

April 19, 2017


The Critical Virtues -Paul Zarzyski

By Christy Crowley

Released June 15, 2016

Not Worthy of Poetry-Paul Zarzyski

By Christy Crowley

Released June 22, 2016


“The Day The War Began”

On the CD:  Collisions of Reckless Love

(Open Path Music, 2006)


“Jerry Ambler”

Written by Paul Zarzyski and Ian Tyson

On the CD:  Ian Tyson:  Live at Longview 

Video Credit:  Lee Ray


Paul Zarzyski performing "The Mistress, The Maestro"

(Video courtesy KNPB-TV)

Video Credit:  Western Folklife Center, Elko, NV

Paul Zarzyski performing “Black Upon Tan”

On the CD:  Collisions of Reckless Love

Video Credit:  Western Folklife Center, Elko, NV


Paul Zarzyski performing “The Monte Carlo Express—P.O. Box 258, 15.3 Miles Home”

On the CD:  Steering With My Knees

Video Credit:  Western Folklife Center, Elko, NV

“Ain’t No Life After Rodeo” and “Rodeo to the Bone”

On the CD:  Steering With My Knees

Performed by Paul Zarzyski and Wylie Gustafson

Video Credit:  Western Folklife Center, Elko, NV

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Thank you.

Photo by Kenton Rowe