Four Poems by Jim Zola

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Against Poetry

I’m reading an Official Detective Stories magazine from 1959.
Southern California’s Finch Scandal: I’ll Be Dead for Christmas, The Marriage
Counselor Racket. On the cover, a Hollywood blonde in a white lace dress
mostly off her shoulders, straddles a ladder that leans out of the picture.
Something to the left of the photographer must be frightening.
Her hand grips the wooden rung, gives away her age.

It’s the photographs that draw me in, the faces caught mid thought, the polite
killer, the innocent victim posed holding a tennis racket, then under
a sheet, feet sticking out. Who killed the Torso twins? Mr. X? Mr. Y?
Dismembering people near Gadsden, tossing bodies around the countryside.
Oh, how can I read Roethke or Lowell after this? There is mystery
on every page. Everyone is dead or dying.

The Sirens

I run back into the house to find my book on birds.
Olivia slouches on the couch scowling at bills.
Did you call Boise?
No. But there’s a giant bird on top of the house.

Are you sure?
Yes, it glared at me with hungry eyes.
No, are you sure you didn’t call someone in Boise.
I don’t know anyone there.
Where’s my bird book?

Someone did.
The newsman said jays were falling from the skies in Tangipahoa parish.
It was here between Frost and the Everyday Fix-It book.
West Nile Virus.
It was looking right at me.

Who did you call?
It said my name.
Do you love her?
As big as a dog.
Do you still love me?
I want to know what it is.
I want you out.

She points
towards the door.

Dialects of Lust

Dialects of Lust
Clumsy in love
we tangle instead of tango
bump heads, almost fall
out of bed
as though we haven’t
been doing this
for years
your nipple
in my ear
delicates caught
on a foot
tugged until anything erotic
heaps in the mess
of sheets and we
collapse
come together
not in sweaty bliss
but exhausting
laughter

Eugene & Lillian

Truth is everybody is going to hurt you:
you just gotta find the ones
worth suffering for.     — Bob Marley

She willows.
He grows
blade marked,
oakish. He goes on
about Bobby Donaldson,
the Goodman drummer.
Nothing compares.

She owns
a mountaintop,
a snapshot
in her dresser drawer
next to the vaginal cream.
He tells others
he keeps her
on a short leash.
She says
he just doesn’t realize
which end
is his.

 

Jim Zola is a poet and photographer living in North Carolina.

But that might be a lie.

‘Sonata 4 a Dying Loser’ by Walker Storz

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This afternoon, I passed by a man on a ladder who was working on the box store, cutting the rock with a machine.  The rock was screaming, splitting the air while it was being split–it sounded like grey-stacked neurons crying out of their own dryness.  My head was full of that same dryness and I couldn’t sleep.  I was contemplating suicide for reasons far more pragmatic than I had ever hoped.  I would rather exit than die of this thirst.  I couldn’t breathe, and my head was full of this suffocation–it permeated my entire body and consciousness.

My mind has become a wet, ragged cloth.  Time is power I can’t access.  I am a slow drowner.  I keep lagging–hope always comes to a different time zone.  Remember that time the USPS sent you a love letter I wrote before I died, three years late?  We have had quite a journey.  I remember when I died and was denied entry to my own funeral, it was because I had forgot my glasses.

A stratocaster is like an ak-47, an appropriate technology.  The way she smiles creates a glow–synthesized like had to be–no angel, subterranean, constant, chthonic.  It’s good the way rubber is good.  I read everything wrong and if you take this pill you can come into this other space.

 

The “art world” is a paper tiger.  The art world is made up of bodies, some lithe, some fat, brains, with wiring amenities and such.  The bodies can make things or go in things.  They are in buildings.  We can tear down these buildings.  It’s about unleashing something on the world that comes from the neglected mother.  Every night that you don’t sleep, fully, this barrier is eroded.  The veil becomes thinner, the way technology prepares us for this by means of desensitization, is just making our heads naked and stripped raw for a little bit, hearts raw and overworked for a little bit, only to fall into the dreams waiting in the center of the earth, to fall and have it be a good and a soft fall and have it work and replenish the brain’s thirst for sleep.  If that gap were ever sealed, the gods of sleep (all kinds, nymphs, demons, larger and more contemporary ones) would unleash themselves on the waking world.  People will spasm in smaller circles.   People will remember less, and people will do things that they don’t understand why they are doing.  They will be in one of the unhappy stratas that occurs when one breaks down the natural territories of dreams and sleep.  They will be anxious but tired, always coming or going.  And not remembering! And not remembering!

The sleeper must return to his mother once every cycle.  The cycles are based on organic, low rhythms.  This particular cycle, this particular sleeper is returning to the bowels of the green earth, the soft caves.     He will awaken at an appropriate time, that is to say, when his body wakes.

See another sleeper, Artemis this time, crystallized and suspended in a forest.  To glance at her is a sin, so to protect the public, the ministry has covered Artemis’ face with a sleep mask.  Visitors to the clearing are still exposed to danger, but they will or have signed liability releases.

Everything is moving so fast, my brain is buzzing acerbically, on a high frequency. I’m at the mall and they won’t let me out, I’m lost and every time I go down a level someone asks me what top they look best in, or where the nearest bathroom is.  A woman is hanging from the girders of the dome in the middle of the mall, when I look at her face closely to try and identify her, it starts to pixellate.  Underneath the mall is a parking garage, and I know the last sleeper is under the concrete on the lowest level.  Things move so fast, dissolve and ossify at record speed, but this sleeper is on another timescale.  The rumblings happen once every two centuries.  This sleeper will awaken, but I have to get to it first.  I have become aware that I’m in a dream and I’m racing to the bottom of the parking garage as if it’s a funnel.  I have a gun.  About half the times that I have a gun in my dream it’s a handgun and I have an accident with it or try and kill myself or am worried about killing myself with it, and the other half it’s an ar-15 variant that has plastic parts that break or jams.  But this is different.  This feels beatific, as if the gun was a gift, from an entity that was made out of violent yellow love and knew that love wasn’t passivity.  Love can be wrenching.  It’s a shotgun, and I point it at a car and shoot out the back windshield–I mean I’m in a dream, right?  I get to do stuff like this and start over, I think. The alarm goes off, however, and I know I just squandered some time.

Despite the fact that I know I’m dreaming (what’s sometimes called a lucid dream) I also suddenly have a feeling that this dream is important, that it has bearing on reality, that it’s vital not to fuck up.  Usually I’m on autopilot, but if I am to awaken fully this time, and not just into an adjacent waking dream, I will need to do this right.

I feel the concrete shift.  I am armed.  I am loved.  Tears of silver are running out of the corners of my eyes.  I am ready.

Three Poems by Nancy Botta

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Oh my God, shut up Susan

Small talk
about the holidays
new year, new you
maybe you’ll go paleo—
there’s no way out of this room

 

Small talk
about the weather
mudslides and ice patches
maybe you’ll buy new boots—
there’s no way out of this exchange

 

Small talk
about the community
the alderman is up for re-election
maybe you’ll remember to vote—
there’s no way out of this moment

 

Small talk
about the neighbors
always screaming and banging
maybe you’ll call the cops later—
there’s no way out of this script

 

If I could
I would fold myself up
slip through the walls
and disappear forever
but you’re here, talking at my face
with the expectation of geniality
so just give me a moment
to think up some bullshit
just give me a moment
to breathe.

That time you fell asleep at 4 p.m. while watching your child play—

You find yourself face down on a polyester couch
eyeglasses in hand and barely awake
you hear the toddler toddling 3 feet away
and hope they have the presence of mind
to not kill themselves or toddle into the radiator
that shrieks like a ghoul whenever it gives off heat.

 

Tired.
You’ve never felt this tired before
and you wonder if this is what a slow death feels like
an unrelenting surrender to the warm exhale of sleep
or a yawning inhale of the vast unknown;
but death is such a morbid contemplation
not at all appropriate for a stolen cat nap
amidst toddling toddlers and shrieking radiators
so you turn back and swim away from the catacomb
away from an invitation to the dreamless deep.

 

You find yourself awake, alive (and just a little bit sweaty)
time is immaterial as you grasp around for your glasses;
Is the toddler still toddling? Check
Is the radiator still shrieking? Check
Has the toddler managed to avoid
toddling into the radiator and kick start
all sorts of shrieking? Check and check.

 

So you b r e a t h e
stretch
and blink in the world
of toddling toddlers
shrieking radiators
and try to put away that coaxing memory
of that fathomless, bottomless, endless sleep.

Generation Loss

Generation loss of a happy moment—
sun and grass, watermelon smiles
loop back
cut the noise
record, let’s try that again.

Static glows from her head
and pitch shifts her voice
(the one you almost forgot)
when she pulls you in and says
“smile for the camera!”—
red juice drips off your chin
as you jostle pink meat
against white teeth and full cheeks;
beaming at a little red light
beaming like a little sun.

Generation loss of a happy moment—
sun and grss, watrmlon smils
loop back
cut the noise
record, let’s try that again.

 

Nancy Botta lives in Berwyn, Illinois and has been previous published in WINK: Writers in the Know. 

‘Gone’ by Walker Storz

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Susan and I had no real need to hitchhike back from the show, but we didn’t want to wait for the bus.  We figured why not.  We sheepishly stuck our thumbs out into the nighttime traffic with no real idea that we would be picked up.  But a red sedan pulled up to the curb, and the driver shouted out something I couldn’t decipher, that sounded like an invitation, so I got into the passenger’s side back seat, while Susan slid around to the other side.

“Where you guys headed?”  the driver asked.

I hadn’t foreseen this, had no knowledge of the local back roads, or main for that matter.  Nevertheless, I pretended I had competence, knew the score, everything.

“If you just get us to 116, I’ll know where to go,” I said.

“Tell me where I’m goin,” he stated.  “You guys live in Tilton Village, or what? You goin through there?  You in college?”  he lengthened and swallowed the vowel a bit, somewhere between a Boston and New York accent.  I could smell the beer on his breath.  He slurred his speech a bit, buzzed, I judged, not drunk.

“I don’t know where that is–Susie’ll look that up on her phone.  If you just get us to 116, I know where to go from there.”

He drove through unfamiliar neighborhoods.  Each house lit fluorescent orange with rounded hedges and small neat backyards and perfect driveways and grills.  I stared out the window longingly, thinking of all of the lives I could live out in any one of those houses.

“Hey, Jeff, are we goin the right way?” he asked his companion in the passengers seat, who had been silent so far.  Jeff nodded in assent.  “116 north should be coming up in a mile or so.”

“Remember that place, Sam’s, we used to shoot pool at up here?”  he pronounced it heah.

“Up on the left.  We used to go there every Saturday night.  With those cheap pitchers.”  He turned toward the backseat, an idea forming.  “You guys shoot pool?  You guys sharks?”

“Yeah, I play.”  I was crystallizing into having a purpose now.

“Let’s stop in there.  We could run these tables, man!  I can feel it,”  he said.  He was focused with an intensity on his vision, now.

He meant it.  We pulled into a lot lit by halogen floodlights, where a neon sign hung on the side of a square, plain building,  and the bar band noise emanating brought the skunk smell of cheap beer to my mind, even before we entered.  All through he kept talking with that same obsessive repetition.  “We could run this place, man.  This is our night.”  I identified with it.  I didn’t drink, but at heart I was a drunk.  He had his glow, his mania, and I wanted to bathe in it.  I was hungry to feel with the bloodred intuition that he had in that moment.  Susie and I followed him up the walkway.

Inside, the bouncer asked for our IDs.  Our man of the moment, he was having none of it.

“These are my kids, and we want to have a nice family outing here.”  The bouncer shook his head.

“Listen, I been coming here for years, never had a goddamn problem!  We just want to get some food, have a nice family game time!”  His eyes were slightly bloodshot.

The bouncer wouldn’t budge.  Our guy looked puzzled.  He knew what needed to be done, and they wouldn’t let him do it.  He really didn’t seem to be able to process this information.

That moment was shot, flat.  He drove us back to our college, even raced a pickup truck through a stoplight on the way back, but there was dead silence in the car.  He dropped us off near the dorm and drove off.

I didn’t talk to Susan at all, and I didn’t walk back to my dorm.  I just nodded goodnight, and walked back out the college entrance, onto the road, and kept walking, aimlessly.  I would tell this story as a joke, the next morning.  Drunk guy picked us up, tried to play pool with us.  Asked us for drugs.  But I really felt jilted.  For a few minutes there, I had felt as if I had a window to step through to another world.  It was like when I sometimes had the absurd urge to wander into a commuter train headed out of the city, and just wake up somewhere else.  Start a new life, have breakfast in a chrome diner in one of those small towns where I knew no one, having these dry dead memories stripped and waking into something that had the green light of birth around it.  It was a worthless aimless fantasy, but I had thought he would take us all the way.

‘Pale God’ by Walker Storz

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Jamey was dead tired.  He was talking to his mother when something inside him snapped.  It might as well have been a bone.

He had been sick for a couple years, and nothing much was getting better.  If exceptions proved the rule, he was pretty sure his moments of clarity and energy were exceptions.  Feeling ‘normal,’ or not sick, was rare, and was much like being high–he learned not to trust his judgement on those days.  Promises would be made that, like curses in the daytime, wouldn’t hold when he came back down.

Life had become temporally distorted.  His therapist was right when he said that being sick was much like being high, but he didn’t know how much Jamey hated being high.  At least with pot.  Every high was a dissociative nightmare.  The narcosis always revealed the screaming dissolution of the universe.  Those famed synchronicities of psychedelic trips would sometimes appear, only as if to mock Jamey, as if moments of order were famous, rare creatures dying of pollution by entropy.  Being sick had taken him from being a healthy, if angsty, 20 year old to inhabiting a strange fever-dream in which he had the energy and mind of an elderly man, but a still-childish body.

When he looked at his mother’s face in a sudden new light, he had the realization that there was no reason for things to get better, and so they probably wouldn’t.  He was tired of being a parasite, even if he had been made one against his will.  Everyone was growing tired of him, he was sure of it.  Every time that he fantasized about suicide, the protestations in his mind grew fainter.  The fantasies grew more vivid, real, heavy.  They were far more frequent than his sexual fantasies.  It was as if he was gradually leaving the world of the living behind.  He was less and less attached to his flesh.

 

Later that night Jamey went outside, feeling like he was leaving the world of the corporeal for the last time.  He was fairly sure of being unnoticed.  He had the keys to his sister’s car, an old station wagon.  He had sent an email to her with a service that allowed the sending to be delayed, so that she couldn’t stop him.

Dear Liz,

I’m sorry.  There’s not much I can say.  I’m mostly sorry that i’m going to smash up your car.  In that light I’ve left you my debit card and taken the other one that has a little bit on it, for gas etc.  The one I left you has that money I got from that gofundme for medical expenses.  It’s only 800$, I spent some of it.  That’s half of the cost of this car, I hope you get some insurance money or something.

I just got tired of this shit.  Please, please, please don’t hate me for this.  You can’t even imagine.   It’s not fun.  I wish I could be with you and mom and dad.  I want to be with the living.  I’m taking up everybody’s time and money and I’m just not fun anymore.   I don’t think I deserve this, but I realized that nobody’s gonna come along and make things better for me. 

Please don’t try and figure out my password and go on my computer or my phone.  There’s nothing horrible or illegal on there but if you go through all of my searches and chats I would just feel very embarrassed, and some of them would probably show me to be a mean and petty person, or just very strange.  I know it doesn’t make any sense but I can’t rest knowing you might do that.  Everyone deserves a little privacy. 

I really love you.  I can’t say much more or I might turn around and decide not to do it, but things aren’t gonna get better and I can’t turn around. 

–Jamey

The car–he had come to this out of a quick meditation.  He didn’t have a gun, or even enough pills of any seriousness to guarantee anything beyond maiming himself inside.  Every time he thought about suicide he had the sudden desire to do something that would allow him to die “happy”.  Not so much a bucket list as a bucket shortlist.  His illness had rendered him always-tired, near catatonic, and worst of all, boring.  Jamey was determined to die after having felt like he had stuck his finger in a light-socket.  If there was divinity he wanted a taste of it.

With a car you could experience this.  After all, it was America.  He would drive to the horizon and beyond.  This was his fantasy.  In reality, he had made up his mind to get to some canyons out west, or a mountain road, and just drive off the edge.  He was sure that he had at least 24 hours before his parents decided to call the police, and he would take back roads after that point.  He would have a car chase before he died.  Either he would get away, and die shot into the bottom of a majestic pit, or he would commit suicide by cop.  He felt guilty about the people who could be collateral damage, but he had been driven to this.  Nobody deserved to have to choose their own death, and he was determined to at least make it memorable.  He would not die as a loser, he would not live as a ghost. Read More »

‘Simians 3’ by Walker Storz

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You were born
with (statistically)
no chance

You were born
into soft noise
and sickness

What good is
what little
quiet that
remains?

against the
onslaught of
glowing screens
and hyper-present
noise, outlined
in neon

These days
you nurture
all you have
left of your
animal hurt

Fueling an
acid flux,
a nausea
at the seat
of yr soul,
an anti-
Kundalini,
Sit with it
and hold it
like a secret,
like a poison
that loves u
too closely, that
licks behind ur
ears like a
wayward flame-
child,
a friend that
nobody else
has