Paul Zarzyski

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Their rump hairs puffed, chrysanthemum
antelope blossom from beds
into morning hoarfrost, the rancid
scent of carnivore
boring through the tranquil
air of their world
turning, in a single whiff,
               His rifle propped
solid, crosshairs fixed, melded
into the black-haired face, why
does this hunter, in awe of himself, stop
squeezing off the easy shot?
because he’s learned horned angels
germinate from earth
to save us from our own
cherubic ghosts—these animals
floating over rolling prairies of snow
like seraphim through cumulus.
                                                            Far less cosmic,
he stops because he feels his heart
refusing to march or charge
in uniform. At a pastoral stroll through rib
thicket—through flesh and Malone wool
and into a red-orange lichen coat
adorning the boulder
he’s nestled against—the thrum of warm waves
pulsates back into him.
                                            During this
nearly indiscernible blink
within his forty-fifth winter, he yearns
for the fine tendrils of silence
crystalline air clings to,
most vitally, right before the rifle
           This instant, sunshine,
burning off the frost,
ignites the snapshot into action
toward a spring run-off
May morning on this very spot—antelope
browsing through wild iris and blue
lupine they all choose not to pick.



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.


Good Friday

I’d be goddamned glad to call it Good,
Good or, hell, even Great
with a bold capital G, if only
my capital-F Father,
celebrating the passion of the Apostles
was still here capital-F Fishing
today. Six vacant months ago,
Dad vanished and, far as I know, has not
glanced back, has not yet
semaphored to me, in dreams
of tempestuous Limbo, where he’s anchored,
making camp, weathering and waiting out
the postmortem storm.
                                             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.
                           For Lent, I gave up
betting on the long shot gods. Irony,
however, running amok and roughshod,
lording it over us, I still count on chance
collisions with kindred senses from some next
orbit, trek, quest, spin—some round
slippery wet stone I’ll leap to
from this one I’m pirouetting upon
now in my needle-toed boots.
                                                        The whirling
turbulence of bullet-proof youth
wanes daily. Waving pink flags
of uncertain surrender, I’m burdened
further and further by the deafening
vespid drone of capital-D Death
vexing, tormenting me
toward the lip of the abyss
before delivering its venomous shiv,
its shimmering drip of utmost vertigo.
                                                                        As sure
as some Cosmic Force created green apples bobbing,
I will cross—boulder by slick-mossy-backed-
Rolling boulder—the far dark water,
thanks not to seas parting
but to the thick backs of fish,
to my Father’s piscivorous spring itchings
from all six directions. I will listen
along the way, listen for the whistling
monofilament lines, maybe glimpse
his silver minnow lures, shooting stars
cast into the black from our Lonesome
Lake rowboat toward shore, the unknown,
toward the shallows, the boiling
siege of heavy feeders
wreaking havoc in the weeds.
                                                        I will plead
humbly for nothing—not miracle,
not mercy, not the unearned
inheritance of heaven’s eternal bliss
invented on behalf of the dead
to mollify the living. Prayerless
with faith, I will launch
my lucky bait into the mystery
riddled with apparitions. I will keep vigil,
lean with the weight of all my heart
into the fogged mirror, my hands splayed,
fingers flattened against the glass,
against the murky depths. Mesmerized,
I will yearn until I fiercely see again
someone here I can love to believe in.



Paul Zarzyski, recipient of the 2005 Montana Governor's Arts Award for Literature, has been spurring the words wild across the open range of the page and calling it Poetry for almost 40 years, a dozen during which he complemented the writing with bareback bronc riding on the rodeo circuit. He has performed at 24 consecutive annual National Cowboy Poetry Gatherings in Elko, NV., as well as at the National Storytelling Festival, the National Folk Festival, The Library of Congress, The Kennedy Center Millennium Stage, Festival Hall in London, and on Garrison Keillor's A Prairie Home Companion. Since receiving an M.F.A. degree in creative writing from the University of Montana, where he studied with Richard Hugo in the early '70s, Paul has authored 10 collections and has recorded 4 spoken-word CDs. His 2003 publication, WOLF TRACKS ON THE WELCOME MAT, received the 2004 Spur Award from The Western Writers of America.   He also received the 2010 Spur Award for Best Western Poem ("Bob Dylan Bronc Song"), and Best Western Song ("Hang-n-Rattle!"), co-written with Wylie Gustafson. The poems included in this issue of Poemeleon are from his newest collection, 51: 30 POEMS, 20 LYRICS, 1 SELF-INTERVIEW, forthcoming in January 2011 from Bangtail Press. Born and raised in Hurley, Wisconsin, Paul has called Montana home since 1973.  For more about his life and work, see