“A Wrong Turning in American _____:” An Essay in Parts by Maya Jewell Zeller

November/January/September again. I am sick of:

a)     the calendar, how regular it is, how mundane.

b)     a story, how you get into the character’s life, how she responds to mundanity, how she seeks something.

c)     Robert Bly, how he rubs up against “I” with his large canon, how I love him in the next paragraph for the image like an animal native to the imagination.

d)     mostly, myself, how I can hate a man one moment and adore him the next.

e)     all of the above.

f)      only d/ pretty much d.

But I would rather:

a)     Toi Derracotte, how she loved “I” like a stinky bed.

b)     skip the dark months into which I know we are about to slide, and I tell my friend, as we drive through a dry dullness and the levity of a small bit of cloud like cream in coffee, that soon we’ll be writing without metaphor, the animals wandering past as they do, nothing new to say.

c)     both a and b.

For a long time:

a)     we were sad and then

b)     we were happy for a short while and then

c)     we were sad

d)     a, b, c: is pretty much a summary.

Except you—you went on to be content, enjoying that, stupidly, and:

a)     I am sick now of every week conjuring a new conflict, a new generosity, something else I can do for you, into peripety,

b)     I am sick of you shrugging and playing the exhaustion card,

c)     I am sick of your light gravity, the buzz you use to pull me in just enough that I’ll keep orbiting, spinning toward and away, writhing in my poles.

Today, I find myself nearly completely done instead of devastated, the way I feel about the hail hitting the last of the cherry leaves from the weeping tree, and the street blackened with melt while the quail, their little head-feathers bobbing, scurry under the juniper that crowds the lamp post. Derricotte and I agree I am not the “I” in my poems, nor in my life. This last part was me.

I am sick of the I that seeks, that asked if I should find a new audience, and when you didn’t respond, I knew you:

a)     weren’t sure,

b)     won’t try,

c)     will never see me.

d)     all of the above.

I can quote Pessoa at you all day and you will be off wild in Paris, your glow on all night, toiling. So let me be more candid; cast off

a)     the planets,

b)     the philosophy,

c)     the sickness,

d)     the selves.

e)     all of the above, all of the above.

All of the following are true. I:

a)     should have stayed away.

b)     am tired.

c)     have things to read, the road was long, you're not the only you in this room.


Maya Jewell Zeller is the author of the interdisciplinary collaboration (with visual artist Carrie DeBacker) Alchemy for Cells & Other Beasts, the poetry collection Rust Fish, and the chapbook Yesterday, the Bees. She lives in the Inland Northwest with her spouse and two children, and teaches for Central Washington University.