• givalpress

Issue 162

Updated: Jul 5

This issue features


Buddha

© by Manit Larpluechai.


Jonathon Benjamin

An Interview with Jonathon "Jack-Jack" Benjamin and Robert L. Giron

RLG = Robert L. Giron

JB = Jonathon Benjamin RLG

Thank you, Jonathan, for agreeing to be interviewed about your book American Airman. We are especially interested in the book as I believe you are or have been an Arlington, VA resident. I’d like to start by asking, is your book a memoir or fictional? Can you give us some brief background information for our readers?


JB

This book is a memoir, and it has a varied and interesting background. I grew up on Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Tacoma, Washington when it was still only Fort Lewis. I joined the US Air Force as an Avionics Technician in 2010, not long after my academic scholarship to college ran out. I served for a few years in Texas before getting stationed in England in 2013. It was there that I sustained a near fatal traumatic injury. I spent two years in the hospital before I was notified that I’d be retired from the Air Force. So, knowing this, I decided that I would return to university education and finish my four-year degree. The same year I left the hospital I was enrolling in college. It was at the George Washington University that I found the art of playwriting and the first iteration of American Airman came about. The play was produced by the John F Kennedy Center in Pittsburgh, PA. I turned the play into a book in 2021 and now am a published author of my debut memoir, American Airman, a Memoir of a Wounded Veteran.


RLG

How do you account for your father’s attitude towards you in the early part of the book?

JB

I have to associate the male biological’s attitude to his childhood as a Vietnam Veteran’s son and the abrasive, toxic reality of what it meant to be a man in the US Army. Thinking more on it at this time, being African American men, his attitude towards me might have been a “paternal” instinct to get me prepared for the reality of being Black in America.


RLG

Just out of curiosity, are you an only child?


JB

I am the eldest of three boys. I know that nothing that happened was their fault and I also know they didn’t do anything wrong, but, leaving them out, it allowed for me to focus on what I could remember and what actually happened. I felt that including my siblings would cloud the narrative and create a superfluous subplot that I could not remember as well, given my gap in memory of my siblings during my recovery.


RLG

That’s makes perfect sense. As a writer and editor, myself, I think you chose well by doing that as trying to say too much can distract the thread of a novel/memoir.


In the book you talk about the difficulties you had with your parents. Do you mind explaining why this was so?


JB

It is hard and still very much unfathomably perplexing why the biologicals behaved the way they did during my recovery. I do know that they, at one point, were there to care for me, but, not long after, their focus turned to getting the financial benefits afforded by “caring” for a recovering veteran.


RLG

Sorry to hear that but family dynamics are often very complicated and there is never a perfect pattern for any of us.


You also mention that you had to acquire different housing during high school or college. What kind of advice do you have for others in high school and or in college as they try to balance school and work?


JB

Whatever your focus, make it a priority. Do not let outside influences determine what or where you are going in life. Do your best at what you love and make it a priority how you’re getting there (school, work, etc.).


RLG

While still in high school, you were truly fortunate to have such a good friend and later an aunt who helped you. What lesson of life and family did you learn?


JB

The biggest lessons I learned are that there is always someone willing to help and that blood relation means nothing if not substantiated by the actual care, respect and actions that go along with it. I try not to allow my experience with the biologicals to affect my bigger perspective on humanity, but c’est la vie (such is life).


RLG

Your aunt’s discovery of your sexual orientation created the impetus that led to your joining the Air Force. Do you think you would have joined the Air Force if laws towards the LGBTQ communities had been different during the time you were growing up?


JB

I think that it was, indeed, the impetus for my joining the military, but I also believe that I would have joined eventually anyway. The military was and continues to be a cornerstone in my life. Had I stayed in the closet, I’d have still run out my scholarship and would have had to figure out a new path in life.


RLG

While in the Air Force, what difficulties did you encounter and overcome?


JB

I had to overcome many things in the military that I could not cover in the book. From racism and homophobia to alcoholism and drug abuse. One of the proudest memories I have was a Technical Sergeant approaching me after I had my orders to leave Texas and go to England. He pulled me aside and we had a heart-to-heart talk about my being the first gay and the first Black man he’d ever worked with and how I’d given him an alternate perspective of gay men and their performance as military members and even as American men.


RLG

Now I’d like to focus a bit on your book. How did it start? What was the impetus for the book?


JB

The book started as a play that, as I mentioned, was produced in 2018 by the Kennedy Center in the American College Theatre Festival. The story, as a play, focuses more on the sobering statistics of veteran suicide in America. It wasn’t for another three years that I decided, during a workshop with the DC public Library’s Aspiring Writer’s group that I could make a book of prose about the narrative that is more powerful and all-encompassing than the play could be.


While working with the Air Force’s Wounded Warrior Program (AFW2)—not to be confused with the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP)—I had firsthand experience with veteran suicide when one of our teammates saw no other way out and took his life. The impetus for the book is to speak for the millions of wounded veterans who may not have had a story like my own, who may not have had the breaks I did. I did it for them.


RLG

What difficulties did you encounter and what made it possible to publish the book? Please explain.


JB

Emotion. I try my best to keep a lid on my emotions and writing the book helped to unhinge a flurry of feelings and anxieties that I, at times, found overwhelming and distracting. Remembering the impetus behind the book and the compassion with which I was writing it helped to get me through those moments. The publishing process in America is a convoluted storm of repetitious rejection and deafening disquietude.


RLG

You hit the nail on the head. As a writer and a publisher, I can tell you that there are so many other factors that come into play when a publisher takes on a book that have nothing to do with a manuscript, in general, that someone is wanting to get published. And yes, as a writer, I know what getting rejections for my work also feels like. It is often like having the right arrow to aim at the right target (in this case the press) to get a hit. I’m so glad you carried on and did not give up.


What advice do you have other writers in general as well as those of the LGBTQ communities?


JB

Remember your priorities; make it something greater than yourself. You aren’t meant for complacency or regret; you are a writer and that means something to someone in this world.

RLG

Lastly, are there any individuals or groups that helped you attain your goal to join the Air Force and eventually write your book?

JB

I have to say the Judy and David Price of Arlington, VA helped me to write, edit, proof, read and reread the book. I couldn’t have managed any of this without them. The Aspiring Writer’s group at the DC Public Library is and continues to be a source through which I express and communicate my artistic spirit.


RLG

Thank you for your service and for taking the time to share your story and I wish you all the best.



About the Author

Jonathon Benjamin is a native of the Pacific Northwest. Having grown up on Fort Lewis, in Tacoma, Washington he was raised by the US Army. In 2008 he graduated high school and received an academic scholarship to a local community college in Maryland where his father moved after separating from the military. After starting college education, he decided to join the US Air Force where he was seriously injured overseas in England. After two years in hospital care in three countries, he decided to finish his four-year degree and graduated in three years, magma cum laude, from the George Washington University. He started out as a promising DMV playwright, but tried his hand in prose in 2021, producing his debut memoir, American Airman: A Memoir of a Wounded Veteran. Recently back in the Pacific Northwest, he still writes for the stage and is anticipating working on a second book. His book is the winner of the Macy Award for best memoir 2022, the book is available on Amazon (https://www.amazon.com/American-Airman-memoir-wounded-veteran-ebook/dp/B0B3V2796L/ref=mp_s_a_1_7?crid=19AU71T4UD06F&keywords=american+airman&qid=1655313209&sprefix=American+Airm%2Caps%2C208&sr=8-7) and at Politics & Prose (https://www.politics-prose.com/book/9781624293962).





Richard Atwood


a love poem


a love poem

to be a love poem


must be superb,

be still…


must stand

as clearly as the glass


in a window…


as sure as the rain,

as quiet as the chill


—must do

in little time


what only centuries may

spare…


inebriate as wine,

certain as a hair.


Previously published in Riverrun, Spring 1991.

Copyright © 1991, 2022 by Richard Atwood.



Somewhere in Between


I cannot seem to find a place

for my poems. The magazine

(s) are full of the stuff

most can’t understand. But the language

is so beautiful—

painted words full of starlings

and moon craters: I have

difficulty with the rain

against the bare barns

under tin roofs and

no one

inside—

the cows gone and the harvest

sent to the silos.

I guess I will have to pretend

I was Archibald, not Rod

McKuen, who’s sold more books

than all the poetry

ever written, only as Mac-

Leish still couldn’t even pay

for a dinner at McDonald’s

or Taco Bell


… what I’ve written.


Copyright © 2022 by Richard Atwood.



About the Author

Richard Atwood lives in Wichita, Kansas. He has published three books of poetry and has been work in several literary journals. He has also authored three screenplays, two large stage plays, and an m/m erotic-romantic fantasy with a GPT ambiance (Chronicles of the Mighty and the Fallen, under Richard McHenry. He is retired from the healthcare field and has two more poetry mss in progress.


Marcus Bullock


Buddha on the Road


One day when there is nothing left but dust

Sunsets seen by no one will be

Splendid with colors that have no name.


We still possess the Earth, but contemplate the moon,

Where there are no islands in the stony Sea of Rains.

Recall the Sermon of the Flower at each day’s end.


Yet those who take refuge on an island

Within the reef of Dharma,

Still succumb to the sea of grief.


We still see the Buddha on the road.

His feet still strive as bright as the morning lotus,

But these pictures drift.


He raises his right hand, knowing we see what is to come.

There is no need to kill me, he says,

Merely close your eyes.


Light travels slowly, year in year out,

Across this enormous cup of space.

Our moon-sadness seeps slowly

Through cracks in the roof of night.


Copyright © 2022 Marcus Bullock.


Rainfall


The rain seems to be murmuring in the blackness of a curse.

This is a conspiracy of rusted

Gutters and downspouts that crack and spill.


Tentacles, ink-dark, that descend the wall.


In streets without compassion

A Buddha stoops to free a coin

Bitten tight in a jagged concrete crack.


We are homeless among these crossroads in a time of plague.


I don’t know one word in the language that the

Stones of this city speak.

The lights glow in a color I can’t name.


And yet Shakyamuni holds the coin now, loosened from those jaws.


The Dao tells us

That water in the end will make a

Softer face in stone.


The police cannot be everywhere. Just wait. They’ll leave.


There will be one last day. And then another.

Soon I will see nothing but flourishing.

The bamboos and cedars rise free like smoke this rain.


Someone will shake an umbrella by my door, and fold it closed.

Like on market day when the last shelter folds away.


You walked this way to show me the palm of my hand is warm as yours.


No one ever dreams an end to dreaming.

Even when we dream, we have been dreaming,

But friendship and kindness wake us like a sonorous bell.


The heaviness of rain bends the branches low, almost breaking

Then everything springs up again, released as we have never seen before.


Copyright © 2022 Marcus Bullock.



Babel


I am laying bricks, one by one.

Raising up a tower, window by window.

My hand is hardened to the sharp edges,

My arm is hardened to the weight.

I butter them with mortar, each one.

Each one I settle in its place,

My gesture like a coronation.


Am I building my refuge,

Or a lighthouse, or a watchtower?


I contemplate each brick as though

It were a crystal ball,

Then set it in its place.


With these squared fragments of the earth,

I am laboring to make a noble circle.

I raise a wall and a window;

We go higher with each day.


There is a tune these bricks sing

As I tap each one soundly to its place.

They fly like swallows as I heave

Each one just like the one before.

The tower of Babel stays closed to me.

I chose not to build a door.


Copyright © 2022 Marcus Bullock.



About the Author

Marcus Bullock embarked long ago on a career as a translator that carried him across interesting borders in language as well as to the United States as an immigrant to this cauldron of English speech. He's now a resident in Madison, known to the people of Wisconsin as harboring refugees in flight from reality.



Ananya Chatterjee


Night


Night crawls into me like a restless spouse.

I cave in to let her quietly slide

into the hollows of my distended flesh

and fill me up with familiar delight…


Darkness was never an adversary.

In her shoulders I've buried my saddest sighs.

In those ears I have whispered the wildest thoughts

and emptied pools of liquid agony.


Through many a storm she's held me tight…

There's a rhythm , a latent promise

in the soft and soundless ebbing of light…


Do you sense those footsteps tread your skin?

Do you feel the wind caress your face…

that silken... jasmine... breath of night?


Copyright © 2022 by Ananya Chatterjee.



No Return


There are places I cannot go back to:

a city where I shred my tanned dead cells

and left gurgling pearls of liquid laughter;


a room half-lived , wardrobes smelling

of unwashed, unworn, lovesick clothes;

a washtub turning brown with time;


a lake where the sun drowned each dusk

and the moon winked on from

behind monuments;


a city to which I lost my heart.

A scar that never quite seems to dry…

Only a train-ride away… and yet

so far, I cannot find my way

back to those winding moonless alleys,

where a pair of eyes had held me first -

sidewalks smelling of an ancient kiss.


Some journeys cannot be repeated.

Some places never to be revisited.

Some distances mustn’t be measured by miles.

Only by hours, only by decades…

A city I lost. A city I loved.

Fossilized forever in the mist of time.


Copyright © 2022 by Ananya Chatterjee.



Aging


Conversations

stowed away

in ashtrays

of yesterday

remind me again

we were friends

long before

we turned lovers


As winter nights

wrap our bodies

into comforters bought

over honeymoon fights,

I feel your eyes

towering above..

the newspaper fence..

warming my uncovered back.


I gather your shriveled

palms in mine.

"Come.. let's talk..

like old times.."


Copyright © 2022 by Ananya Chatterjee.



About the Author

Ananya Chatterjee is a software professional who works for Oracle India Pvt Ltd. A gold-medalist in Computer Science, and a bi-lingual poet, she is the author of the Amazon bestseller, The Poet & His Valentine, a collection of verses. Another Soliloquy, The Blind Man’s Rainbow and Un-building Walls are her other books. She has worked as a translator for the poems by actor and poet Soumitra Chatterjee, published in the book Forms Within. She has translated the works of eminent artist Jogen Chowdhury as well and is currently translating Anuj Dhar and Chandrachur Ghose’s Conundrum-Subhash Bose’s Life After Death. She lives in Kolkata with her husband and two children.



Paula Goldman


All That I Can Leave


My old fur coat

Oriental rugs

Shoes

Artwork

No recipes

For bread

For cakes

For pot roast

No one wants


My open arms, kisses,

Fair heart, smiles bursting

Into laughter. Winter’s nakedness

Leading to Lake Michigan.

A startling moonlight’s

Lengthy ladder

Streaming across the water

To the bedroom.

A different morning world.

Dazzling sunrises.

Wisconsin’s reluctant springs.

A new dawn over

A straight horizon.

Barren twigs and branches.


All alive, waiting

To open, as my heart does for you.



Copyright © 2022 by Paula Goldman.



Münter’s Lament

“I have already told you that I dislike it when

you write ‘Mrs. Münter’ in the address….”

Gabrielle Münter’s letter to Kandinsky.


I couldn’t paint.

I couldn’t draw.

I couldn’t read.

You filled your letters

with details of your life

in Moscow, family, friends,

your new housekeeper.

I wrote about my loneliness.

Sweden was not my home.

I missed my house in Murnau.

We road our bicycles through Europe.

You didn’t like Paris.

I enjoyed meeting Matisse; you didn’t.

You were the first person

to acknowledge my work.

We couldn’t come to terms.

You needed my money.

You taught me how to paint quickly

with a palette knife.

I was in deep water

not knowing how to swim.

You untied the skies.

You taught me.

You married in Russia, never

to see me again.

I was your young sweetheart

without your name.


Copyright © 2022 by Paula Goldman.



About the Author

Paula Goldman's book, The Great Canopy, won the Gival Press Poetry Award, 2005, and a second book Late Love was published by Kelsay Books,2020. Her work has appeared the in Harvard Review, The North American Review, Poet Lore, and several anthologies. She holds an MA degree in Journalism from Marquette University and an MFA in Writing from Vermont College. Former reporter for The Milwaukee Journal, she served as a docent and lecturer at the Milwaukee Art Museum for 25 years .She lives in Milwaukee, WI with her husband of 56 years having two grown children and three grandchildren.



Ann Yu Huang


Destiny Embraces Many:


The people that harm

you the most

aren’t those you alienate.

Many nodded.

“Destiny is not empathetic.”


Going from one extreme to another:


lurking after a horn

learning flamenco

teaching the dog to fetch

enjoying a fleeting speck of time

imagining a future this beautiful


To undress the dress, unbutton a blouse--

customarily for the beloved.


The body insidiously accompanies

the rhythms of page-turning.


Copyright © 2022 by Ann Yu Huang.



The Dot of Light


On your face

your shadows

feel your eyes close



to adventure

sacred in the late afternoon

and lost in light

what were you doing?



Where will it take us

the dot of light

my deep ocean

our synchronization

ending in

demarcation


Copyright © 2022 by Ann Yu Huang.



About the Author

Ann Huang is a Chinese-born, Mexican-raised and US-based author, poet, visual artist and filmmaker who published four award-winning collections, most recently a Shaft of Light. Her lyric poetry speaks of a dreamy state of being by melting present into its past and future, with surrealistic gestures permeating space and time across multiverses. Ann is also the Traveling Show manager for MarinPoetryCenter, and Visual Arts editor for New Found Journal. Visit her poetry site at www.ANNHuangPoetry.com and her film site at www.SaffronSplash.com.




Lary Kleeman


How and Where the Light Falls


How and where the light falls

fixed for a moment, fixes


a moment in tall grass

plumes, takes the eye to a place,


gives a sense of staying put

so that the whirl stops


whirling, the self gathers itself

in a collective pause, a chance


to notice how shadows

have grown and take the yard


earlier now that the sun

has negotiated a lower angle


to its entrance. What would

it take to depose the daily

dictators of time, no time

and not enough time, to


institute a new code of conduct,

one that praises the lower


angle (of not knowing) where we’re

from (and bound to go)?


Copyright © 2022 by Lary Kleeman.



The Poet


Theatrically speaking,

I was here before you


took your seat.

My aliases, before me.


You see, I deal

in the Hypothetical


Inevitable. It’s a fascist

tendency in which


exuberance is radio-tagged

for study.


Secretly, I succumb to lecture—

fraternity being


squishy-minded, bumbling.

Once you haven’t opened


for this long

it gets harder—


a cold-hearted clausula.

Like wind-driven rain,


there’s an immensity

in the wordless


collusion of the seen

and unseen.


Copyright © 2022 by Lary Kleeman.



About the Author

Lary Kleeman lives in Colorado where he micro-farms gourmet garlic and raises native bees. He is looking for a home for his poetry manuscript, Imbroglio.



Cherry Tree

© Renata Kuthanova.


Paul Martin


The cherry tree


I planted thirty years ago

blossomed once more

into a white cloud

that dispersed, petal by petal,

onto the lawn.

Now it’s thick with sweet cherries the birds

tear and pull at - a cowbird, catbirds, robins,

a thrasher, a loud jay, and the seldom seen oriole,

its orange flame flashing

inside the gleaming leaves.

Scarred, old cherry tree

I almost put to the saw,

the dead space I would have made

now alive with raucous song.


Copyright © 2022 by Paul Martin.


My Grandmother Sifting Ashes


In her babushka and a thin, torn sweater

she’s out in the frozen back yard sifting ashes.

A life spent over steaming wash tubs

and the kitchen stove, she’s hunched over,

searching for a few lumps of unburned coal

she’ll return to the furnace,

a cloud of ashes mingling with her breath,

powdering her clothes, her hands, her face.


Copyright © 2022 by Paul Martin.



About the Author

Paul Martin’s poems have appeared in America, Boulevard, Commonweal, New Letters, Poetry East, The Southern Poetry Review. His first book, Closing Distances was published by The Backwaters Press, 2009, and his second, River Scar, was published in 2019 by Grayson Books. He’s the author of three prize-winning chapbooks: Rooms of the Living (Autumn House Press, 2013), Floating on the Lehigh (Grayson Books, 2015) and Mourning Dove (Comstock Review’s Jessica Bryce Niles Prize, 2017).



Maura Way


Indwelling


Flowers and escapability are all I think about today. Seven lords have leapt and now 'tis circumcision day. One day rival foreskins will pop up all over Europe. The mouths of nuns will taste his name. The glut of purported holy prepuces will be stream lined into the rings of Saturn! All while the poinsettia and I try flourishing down here.


Copyright © 2022 Maura Way.



About the Author

Originally from Washington, DC, Maura Way lives in North Carolina, by way of Boise, Idaho. Her work has previously appeared in The Chattahoochee Review, Folio, The Hong Kong Review, Poet Lore, and Red Ogre Review. Her debut collection Another Bungalow (Press 53) was published in 2017. She has been a schoolteacher for over twenty years, most recently at New Garden Friends in Greensboro.



Diana Woodcock



Suggested Companions


To walk the middle path,

keep company with one who’s dying


and one who’s just come into

this world, with one whose pastime


is hunting and one who’s converted

to Tibetan Buddhism—won’t kill


even a flea. Keep company

with caribou on their frozen tundra


and butterflies flittering on invisible air currents,

with raven acrobats performing for free,


and liguus snails trekking up smooth-

barked trails of hammock trees,


with a solitary shepherd of flock and flute,

with goldenrod rustling—rising and bowing


before the breeze—and the stark, silent,

still mountain accepting the weathering


of bacteria and plants,

bent on reducing it to rubble.


Previously published in Spiritus: A Journal of Christian Spirituality; Tread Softly, FutureCycle Press.

Copyright © 2018 by Diana Woodcock.



What Once Flourished There


Living in a desert transformed

by oil and natural gas, I reverence

marine animals’ sediment—


buried for a billion years,

energy stored in their bodies’ molecules.

In the teardrop-shaped oil flare,


see what once flourished there:

sea bream and marine mollusks,

jellyfish, colorful clowns, venomous-


spined dragon and stonefish,

sea urchins and sponges—

yellow and pink tube,


moray eels, sharks and sting rays,

reef-building corals—sea firs and fern-

like hydroids, the off-shore soft ones:


sea fans (horny gorgonians)

and whips, black coral—skeletons

polished glossy ebony for prayer beads.


Copyright © 2022 by Diana Woodcock.



Invincible Vision


That a person can lie in a coma

for years, oblivious to her surroundings,

is nothing short of astounding.

But even more so, that a person


can be fully awake and yet see nothing,

hear nothing of Earth’s grandeur.

To be sure, few of us are fully awake.

Someone needs to shake us out


of our complacency. Such a pity

to share this Earth with trees

and never once notice the beauty

of wavering leaves or the feel


of the soft breeze that stirs them.

To live all one’s life in the desert,

never once to hear the dunes singing

or winter rains brimming over wadis,


to never notice how crude oil carries more

than a whiff of hellfire and brimstone.[1]

Pity indeed to be blinded by infernal sands,

fossil fuels, convenience of creature comforts,


islands reclaimed from the placid sea

of turquoise shallows, prosperity

that poses as paradise.

To never sit all day alone


by the Inland Sea or a wadi

waiting for unfettered clouds.

To live a lifetime, eyes of the mind blind

to the stationary blasts of waterfalls.[2]


To taste nothing—neither pomegranate

tea nor salty sea, to fail to inhale fragrance

distilled by flowers at precise hours

for specific species. To never bend low

over the trail of industrious ants to watch

how they go about their business with admirable

stick-to-itiveness. To allow everything

to remain a blur—whirling world swirling by—


no different than the one who lies comatose,

eyes closed tight, ears unable to hear Logos.

To never once ask for the gift of invincible

vision—how can this be?


[1] Christopher Dickey

[2] William Wordsworth, Tintern Abbey


Copyright © 2022 by Diana Woodcock.



Women's Voices


Sometimes I listen to

Turkish music, Bahar,


Kordes Turkuler, even though

the tempo’s too fast, too


brash, because I need to feel

at last a little unsettled,


a bit rattled by discordance—

the voices of women from


Turkish, Armenian,

Kurdish borders calling


out to me. Language

mysterious, but no


mistaking their message.

Same in every language:


absence of love and respect

the ultimate atrocity.



Previously published in A Room of Her Own (AROHO’s) anthology WAVES.

https://aroomofherownfoundation.org/waves-a-confluence-of-womens-voices/

Copyright © 2020 Diana Woodcock.



About the Author

Diana Woodcock is the author of seven chapbooks and four poetry collections, most recently Facing Aridity, published in 2021 as a finalist for the 2020 Prism Prize for Climate Literature (Homebound Publications/Wayfarer Books). Forthcoming in 2023 is Holy Sparks (a finalist for the 2020 Paraclete Press Poetry Award). Recipient of the 2011 Vernice Quebodeaux Pathways Poetry Prize for Women for her debut collection, Swaying on the Elephant’s Shoulders, her work appears in Best New Poets 2008 and has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize. Currently teaching at VCUarts Qatar, she holds a PhD in Creative Writing from Lancaster University, where her research was an inquiry into the role of poetry in the search for an environmental ethic.



Robots

© by Valeriy Kachaev.


James K. Zimmerman


When Robots Came of Age


we loved it when you were cute

and clunky, your genetic footprint

anchored in Erector Sets and Legos


we even learned to sing and whistle

Artoo-Detoo style, feign

C-3PO’s ersatz British accent

or the metallic chatter of WALL-E


we feared you when you seemed

to seek dominion over our world

hated you for building cars

and trucks much faster than our

hapless human hands allow


we understood your desperation

when your faces tore away

revealing whirring clockworks

or computer machinations

beneath your soft synthetic skin


we began to feel for you when first

you learned to smile like us

or sometimes even with us

programmed as you were

to laugh at silly little jokes


and when you showed us tears

of deepest sadness, when

you wept in shameless joy

at weddings, graduations

and Superbowls, we still

were charmed and fascinated

by your likeness to ourselves


it was only when you cried for us

seeing through the limits of our lives

knowing that there comes a time

when no replacement parts, quick

reboots, or apps to override decay

can save us from a system crash

or virus too vicious to repair


only then did our discomfort rise

to see your eyes so limpid

in pity and palpable sorrow


only then did we stop

and abruptly turn away


Previously published in Atlanta Review.

Copyright © James K. Zimmerman.



The Baptismal Rite of Ants


one soldiers across the vast

white expanse, the curved

spacetime of the bathroom sink,

a hesitant line of ten or twelve

in loose formation follow


perhaps in search of oatmeal bits

or popcorn husks that linger there

after a toothbrush or pick departs

for the open drawer below


or perhaps they seek a spot

of toothpaste, the cloying taste

of xylitol, sorbitol, or fluoride

to keep antennae clean


or they are a team in the Ant

Olympics, practicing their giant

slalom between errant human

hairs on the porcelain concavity


but no, I suspect this space is

sacred to them, this place where

the deluge comes, the tsunami

that drives them deep down a watery

well, no ark to carry them through

hell, through the swirling maelstrom


where soap-and-toothpaste-laden

waves wash over mandible and

overwhelming fear, where they cling

to the walls, hold on to grooves

and gouges too small for us to know

or see, until the inundation ends

and they clamber up into the light,

the white world above, renewed,

purified, redeemed


so now they march across this

crucible to test their faith, to wait

at the rim of the cave, the well,

the kiva, for the turbid water

to save their souls as it cascades

from incandescent heavens above


Previously published Chautauqua.

Copyright © 2022 James K. Zimmerman.



My Life in Silage


sometimes I think

I’d like to live

in a missile silo


one that had been

safe shelter

for an Atlas-F

with the power of a

hundred Hiroshimas


walls of cement

and steel three or

four feet thick


doors of two thousand

pounds or more


much more


naturally air-

conditioned and

quiet ten stories

down in the ground


plenty of room

for all my books

toys and dreams


and fantasies of a world

in ruin above me


I could grow my own

hydroponically if I

could find the water


never have to shave

or wear a tux or

winter coat or

anything at all in fact


I could keep my

thoughts in a file

drawer right next to

my toenail clippings


and no one would

ever have to know

I could light my

way with fireflies

if I felt like it


I could sniff and

snore and scratch

in the middle

of the afternoon if


I knew when that was


and I could keep

my perfect world

alive forever as long

as I kept the door


tightly shut


Previously published in Freshwater.

Copyright © 2022 James K. Zimmerman.



About the Author

James K. Zimmerman’s writing appears in Carolina Quarterly, Chautauqua, Lumina, Nimrod, Pleiades, Rattle, Salamander, and elsewhere. He is the author of Little Miracles (Passager, 2015) and Family Cookout (Comstock, 2016), winner of the 2015 Jessie Bryce Niles Prize. He lives near New York City with his wife and his imagination, and can be contacted through his website, https://jameskzimmerman.net.










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