Poetry by Wayne Zade

At Last

Toward the end of her life she began to travel at last and tallied the cities she visited by the hours she didn’t sleep in them. For once she talked more than she listened, if not to someone then to herself. She talked and wrote down what she heard, not in letters or notebooks but on bills, tickets, maps, anything, and lost almost all of it, as in a fire or a storm you read about or watch on the news and you think you were lucky and why. To make up for lost time, she lost more time. It was worth every minute.


Juvenile Justice


I wanted to connect these things with more than an ampersand,
But I typed it anyway. It felt right and it looked good
And in the end it was like a sloppy stack of bureaucratic paperwork.

These two teenage suicides, one 16, one 17,
Both black, boys, both in custody, never met each other
And they died in the same week in May, just after Mother’s Day.

One, in shackles in the back seat of a Youth Center car,
Struggled and lurched forward, spilling out the front passenger seat incredibly
Halfway across the Missouri River bridge in Jefferson City,
And stumbled alone down into the 60 degree water
Where he drifts, still, probably, to be finally found.

And the other: What happened after he tied the bed sheet
To a sock and tied the sock around the metal bar
At the top of his bunk bed? He stuck three notes
To the cinder-block wall of his room with toothpaste,
And another in the narrow window of his door: “RIP
Jamal Damerco Miller.”


The authorities continued to avoid the debate:
Detention or treatment, treatment or detention.
Detention and treatment, treatment and detention.
It all was based on information available at the time,
The notes piled up like police reports in old newspapers.
Jamal’s mother could not remember the last time
He celebrated a holiday or birthday at home.

The questions were questioned and answers answered
And no fault was found with current procedures or staff.


And so for Robert & Jamal, no more school,
No jobs, no girlfriends or ex-wives or male bonding,
No Army or wars around the world, no earthly peace,
No unemployment, no further addictions, no sick days,
No cut-off utilities or repossessions, no bill collectors,
No prayers said in church or deep within their hearts
Silent now, no image or simile or electronic device;
Not having to live through a greater human suffering:
No grieving the loss of a lonely only child.


The Book I Almost Gave Away

I have too many books, and have not even read some of them. It was time to make some room, so I piled up a bunch neatly to give away, and then I walked past them several times during the course of the day. The one on top kept reminding me of another book I had stacked and so I picked that one up, sat down, and read from it. I found a single poem in it that was ineffably beautiful, and so I chose to save this book. I put it back on the shelf, between two other books by the same author. I had to ease it in, not sure about the sudden re-insertion. Then I slid it out and laid it on my desk, not wishing to take sides in the author’s mind.


Thinking of Something Else

Richard Hugo said to never start writing a poem by putting down a title first. He had his reasons, we can be sure, something akin to not painting yourself into a corner, or not running out of gas on an icy highway in the middle of the night, although that might be better than skidding into a truck or a ditch.

John Coltrane said of his relentless quest in music for something beyond sound, “I’ll know when I get there.” Probably John Coltrane never met Richard Hugo on his journey; they were simply like any two drivers at any time, not even thinking of anything half the time, just driving. They both drank too much, though, and it killed them too early: they had that in common with hundreds, if not thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of artists, some of whom must have driven drunk.

This morning I thought of the driver of the dune buggy who ran down Frank O’Hara 42 years ago on Fire Island, another early death at 40. How do you live with doing something like that, even if you’d never marveled endlessly at the jazzy ingenuity of O’Hara’s poems, or wondered about how many more he would have scat sung had he lived?

There’s a lot to think about here. Work, time, what lives on, ever, beyond us long after we’re gone.

My mother told me that if something bothered me, I should just think of something else. I’m trying. The young woman locked in her car and in panic on the side of the highway, unable to continue, needs to close her eyes, focus, and breathe deep. She is somebody’s daughter.



Thomas Aquinas said, “Pleasure lies in being, not becoming.” Maybe that was Willy Loman’s problem in Death of a Salesman. Near the end of the play he laments, “And always some kind of good news coming up, always something nice coming up ahead.” This comes not long after Happy has told Biff, “Dad is never so happy as when he’s looking forward to something.” Over drinks once my poet friend claimed, archly, “Nobody can tell me that Ulysses isn’t a great poem, and nobody can tell me that Paradise Lost isn’t a great novel.” Well, that’s how I feel about Death of a Salesman every time I read it.


WAYNE ZADE has taught writing, literature, and jazz studies at Westminster College, in Fulton, Missouri, since 1976. He is working on a collection of interviews with American and Japanese jazz musicians about jazz and Japan. An interview with the pianist Peter Martin appeared in Belles Lettres in May, 2011, and an interview with the jazz critic Ashley Kahn is forthcoming in the same journal. The names of his favorite poets change almost everyday, for which he continues to be profoundly grateful and pleasantly surprised.

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