Poetry

Paul Zarzyski and Zeke at work
Photo by Kenton Rowe

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Memorial Birthday

George Floyd’s murder transformed my May 25, 2020 birthday into a

“deathday.” A similar pall darkened this year's “observance" the day

after the Uvalde, Texas School Massacre. Further affecting my 71st

was a poignant MSNBC interview with Scarlett Lewis, the mother of

Sandy Hook murder victim, Jesse Lewis—he, “Jesse Lewis, 6," being

the very first entry on the Wall Street Journal December 17, 2012 full

pictorial page memorial kept in view here near my writing desk and

referenced in the title of the poem “Ars Poetica Kevlar….”   

 

Beneath Jesse's photograph, the prematurely brief biographical note

includes, “Jesse liked to think up far-fetched scenarios, asking What

if…, before spinning a hypothetical tale.”

The following poem, echoing Jesse’s storytelling fancy, "spins a

hypothetical tale, a far-fetched scenario, asking what if?”

 

     Ars Poetica Kevlar—The APK-26 Bullet-Proof Poem:

        Upon Carrying “For Life” the Wall Street Journal

 Sandy Hook Mass Shooting Pictorial Page, “Shattered Lives”  

 

What worth are the poet’s words

scribed upon thoughts-and-prayers gauze—

cotton, bamboo, hemp, jute—mere pulp

too soaked to clot and stanch  

the temple’s stained glass 

platelets shattered, spilling at the whims 

of invincible ballistics? 

                                         What long-shot odds 

mere body-and-blood still face 

in the wakes of AK-47, of AR-15, 

unabbreviated bursts, if not for this quixotic 

willingness to will our A-to-Z-

26-letter alphabet, head-to-toe, 

impenetrable—the poem’s thin syllables, 

sinewy filaments, microscopic fibrils 

polymerized, twisted, woven, knit, 

clenched tighter than a million fists  

spun from the spinneret page?

                                                      Part myth, 

part wizardry, scripture, sci-fi… why not 

sanctify as supernatural   

this futuristic cure to the cancer 

of lead—metastasized, 

horizontal onslaughts of lead

flatlining we-the-faithful

joy-riding the salvation train 

we-the-faithful board day after day

for safe passage? 

                                Why bother otherwise

synthesizing our choirs of lines

if not to believe this alchemized song

stronger than the speed of evil,

if not to believe its chemistry

flexed, its tensile-strength-to-weight

ratio, its so-called “tenacity”

fifty-five times that of steel? 

                                                 In other words,

let us now fill our pages with these

inked second skins, these full-body-tattoos, 

these sheer, armored leotards, 

sheathing us from our own

prosaic law, from decades of bullet-

riddled dirges, patriotic requiems, 

sentimental anthems. Let our musical 

poetic suits of chain mail DNA, 

of molecular bugle calls, of maternal 

psalms deliver us from all 

future, present, past

tragic headline news amended here  

for good: “Ricocheted Lead 

Returned to Senders—No Victims

Smiling Childishly Below.” 

Jessie Lewis
Photo by: Scarlett Lewis

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(Beluga Photo by Anton Bryksin)

How the Beluga Spoons

For a whispered secret or to steal a kiss, I lean out

over her tank, like a longship’s figurehead,

far as a man in love dare reach

without altogether letting go. My fingers grip the rail

behind me, arms contorted to flippers. Rippling

in this aquamarine mirror, a human face

becomes the face of a whale

nosing cautiously through

the surface, that crystalline plane

between two worlds. I smile, her lips opening

into her eye-to-eye cavern. I throw a kiss, toss it

gently with a nod. She dips her lower jaw,

scoops it full as a waterwheel bucket,

and with a gesture, rightly larger,

wetter, more deliberate than mine,

approves our courtship. She chortles

my comic response, my straight-man nonchalance,

ladles another mandible full, and showers me

again with kisses. By this passage, we vow

to the cosmos a romance revived

from eons of dormancy. We feel our way,

sonar and sight, slowly into the gray swales—lovers sounding our one laughter

wave after wave, quasar to quasar,

toward that first rollicking spark and whatever

leviathan god brought it on.

 

12 How the Beluga SpoonsPaul Zarzyski
00:00 / 02:40

Recoded on COLLISIONS OF RECKLESS LOVE, Open Path Music, 2005

Printed version of poem:

WOLF TRACKS ON THE WELCOME MAT

OreanaBooks, 2003

 

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THE WHALE IN MY WALLET

My Polish and Italian grandparents entered this country through Ellis Island. Little could they have foreseen that one day their grandchild, Paul, would adopt a leviathan son named Stub. If this isn’t Stub, his humpback self, then perhaps it’s one of his numerous offspring who the Statue of Liberty seems to be welcoming as She did “our" ancestors in the early twentieth century.  Whether Stub or someone from his lineage, all I can say is "DAT-SA-MA-BOY!"

2-03 The Whale In My WalletPaul Zarazyki
00:00 / 03:54

Recoded on STEERING WITH MY KNEES

Bucking Horse Moon Music, 2016

Printed version of poem:

STEERING WITH MY KNEES

Bangtail Press, 2014

Recorded on WORDS GROWING WILD

JRP RECORDS, 1988

 

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MY LIFETIME OF WAR

 

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

CD: 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 : Blue Light in Night Sky 

 

 

 

NO WAY TO FEEL ALL ALONE WAY OUT WEST

 

                   “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.”

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Photo by zef art

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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.

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Photo by: David Billings

In acknowledgment of Earth Day, 2021, 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 "Western Questions":

 

…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:

 

WESTERN QUESTIONS

Bound for the horse barn, the cowboy goes blind

In a wicked-night blizzard, 80 below—

Mankind looking back at our long-ago light

Now barely a-flicker from his kitchen window.

 

Are we all plodding-on toward some faithful oasis

While talking in tongues and 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—

         Are we of the heavens we of the weather?

         Are we sacred or sinful—boom or we bust?

The cowboy peers back at his tracks nevermore

Out of the black, does our past become 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?

The earth at its 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—

Are we of the heavens we of the weather?

Are we sacred or sinful—if we boom, must we bust?

The cowboy peers back at his tracks nevermore

Out of the black, does our past become 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?

The earth at its 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—

Are we of the heavens we of the weather?

Are we sacred or sinful—if we boom, must 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 one nickering horse wake us in time?

Will we turn to embrace our one saving grace?

Is the earth reaching out for one hope in this 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—

Are we of the heavens we of the weather?

Are we sacred or sinful—if we boom must we bust?

 

Are we of the heavens we of the weather?

Are we sacred or sinful, if we shine must we rust?

…if we shine, must we rust?

…if we shine, must 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.

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Photo by: Joseph Driscoll
02 The Hand.mp3Paul Zarzyski
00:00 / 02:03

Recoded on Collisions of Reckless Love 

 

Produced by Open Path Music, 2006 

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

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Photo by Ben Hines, 2019—Parker Curry in awe of
Michelle Obama portrait.

Fairy Tale

First, pity the astrophysicist, adrift

billions of light years away

from observatory earth—yearning

to explicate the deep

hidden meaning of the heavens’ epic,

feeling his illiterate way

through the cryptic black-on-black script

of dark matter ciphers.

                                       Back to terra firma,

now picture the little African-

American girl in pigtails, cotton

floral-print dress and bobby socks. Say it’s cherry

blossom season in DC. She is

learning to read and to write, she

is loving her history lessons

in school, she is having fun on Easter

vacation in our nation’s capitol

where she stares up in awe—her dark eyes,

uncharted stars—at the white marble

statue of President Lincoln, at the colossal

alphabet letters of his

Gettysburg Address. In phonics

she has learned to enunciate

each word—ALL MEN ARE CRE-

A-TED E-QUAL.

                              The little girl thinks about

her blind friend back home. Older,

she might correlate the enormous

letters carved in stone

to a gargantuan braille that should touch

even the blindest-hearted. She does not know yet

how polemics, mixed with politics and civil war,

 

freed her great-great-grandparents. She’s enchanted

with the giant white man in his giant white chair

gazing down upon her as she now gazes

at the new copper penny sinking slow

to the bottom of the Reflecting Pool,

heads up, as she’d hoped

it would rest, the face of Mr. Lincoln

radiant in the middle of her

calm reflection.

                           She recites

“Star Light, Star Bright

First Star I see tonight…”

articulating each syllable with a wish

she’ll keep secret—something about the blind,

about letters she’s learning to shape

across the page, about darkness

holding hands, at play, with light

to make all good

words in this whole wide world

once upon a time

simply shine.

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Zarzyski Dictum #142. The Poet can go too long without swallowing the gusano at the bottom of a good bottle of Mezcal and talking with God. (Or, if not God, then why not Mister Mink?)

For those of you who might wonder how Paul spends the long cold dreary Montana winter nights 35 years or so after “The Make-Up Of Ice” wild-assed sled rides, he drinks with Mister Mink while perusing their photo album of times-and-climes much balmier. You bet—no matter the season, Paul and his mustelid laddie confidant companion stay cozy, thanks to top-shelf tonsil varnish, as well as to the thicker winter coats they both grow.  Here’s hoping you'll join them in their pursuit of inner warmth—the only way you’ll ever decode the DHM (Deep Hidden Meaning) of this poem!

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1-08 Drinking With Mister Mink.mp3Paul Zarzyski
00:00 / 06:07