Sunday, July 11, 2021

Richard R. Zabransky


My Wife Sends Us to Adoption Class by Richard Zabransky

(For Kathleen)
Somewhere in this poem I have to say
that my wife and I don’t have children,
but I want to say it softly and slur the words;
first, I want to have a double Manhattan,
wrap my hands around the squat, sweaty glass
and convince myself
the cold current clotted in my fingers isn’t nerves.
Nearing forty, this is a terminal admission.
On the campus of the nearby community college on spring days,
we see couples untangle on the broad common green.
They rise and drift to class, indifferent to their powers of creation.
I look for portents in the way my wife eats breakfast.
We make love during full moons,
thunderstorms, and partial eclipses.
When I pass the New Age shop selling crystals, I’m tempted to buy,
but instead, my wife sends us to adoption class,
a dozen gum-chewing, throat-clearing, name-tagged couples
perched like so many seals from Hart Crane,
our wide spindrift gaze toward paradise.
It must be what audiences of give-away game shows feel
when the wheel starts to spin.
But this is not a freebie.
This is a lesson of surrogates and fees,
want-ads placed in college newspapers,
an infertility rite, an excursion into fallopian tubes,
a Paraguayan or Brazilian guerilla mission to transplant life,
a chance to stuff our hands down the cracks of the sofa
after the rich uncle gets up, hoping to find loose change.
After class, illuminated in crime-prevention orange glare,
we walk out into the parking lot.
The car has grown a sack of dew.
Before I can drown the silence with the ignition,
she leans toward me.
“What are you thinking?” she wants to know.
The windshield wiper counts to ten.
A raccoon prowling for garbage crisscrosses the headlights
and disappears behind a mound,
cutting its gums on aluminum cans,
swooshing ketchup-tainted fries,
feasting on iridescent burger.
How dangerous to hunger.
Russian Olives by Richard Zabransky
A rain like this one
killed the olive trees,
wrapped them in frozen glaze
sometime during the night.
Each summer,
wind shook the leaves
like a young girl’s party dress
that in fall became a shattered mirror.
Each spring
when the black bark bled,
you could smell the lonely
growth working.
I asked the man who owns the land
how such a fine weight destroys.
“On the inside,” he said.
“They’re almost hollow
and dry as grain.”
He pointed to a fracture
where wooden razors
scraped the morning.
He said there’s a myth
that lightning bounces off
and that moonlight fertilizes,
but that the shadow of a sparrow
is enough to break one.
In April, I heard him chain sawing,
heard the screech of metal
on metal almost,
and I remembered how
he squinted at the clouds
when he said,
“Never one olive,
not one.”
Zeroes by Richard Zabransky
They came out of the east, you said,
where the clouds turnip on the horizon
and the sun is a welder’s flare.
At first you thought it was the hangover
from trying to forget the wahine,
or a formation too geometric for gulls.
Then you heard the sound
of grasshoppers caught in a paper bag,
the mantra of an empire.
With a ladder, you could have
climbed to see your reflection
on the shadow-less faces of the boys,
but instead the world turned upside down
as your head rotated back
in the after-draft of their wake.
You told me about them
the night of the draft lottery,
the night they picked us for Vietnam;
funny, I thought,
how much zeroes mean,
the kind that hold count in a line of figures,
or the kind buried in the pupils
of eyes that are never seen
yet which foreshadow our lifetimes.
From where you stood,
you could see the smoke from Pearl
blossoming like a hybrid
of cuttlefish and midnight.
You mashed out your Lucky Strike
and headed for base.
Today, we invaded Panama
and received accounts of acceptable losses.
Deemed Operation Just Cause
by Rather, Brokaw and Jennings,
we watched together,
zapping channels.
A young marine threw the same grenade
three times—
you said he’d have a great fastball,
and I imagined a perfect game,
another string of zeroes
placed in the record books.
The Owl by Richard Zabransky
His hooting had built a wall
between father and sleep,
nights of warm milk and slamming doors,
the long shadows a flashlight throw.
It put me to sleep,
a moan less foreign than imagined love,
less threatening than the voiceless whisper
from a pouting centerfold.
To father, it was nearer,
like a burglar waiting for the car
to pull out of the driveway,
waiting to claim an empty house.
He turned to Zen as a last resort,
would often spend nights sitting
cross-legged, crooning his monotone,
exchanging mantra for mantra.
In the morning
mother would blanket him on the floor
where the winds of thought
had blown him like a fallen nest.
A dry fall
made the trees flame and pale quickly;
more and more our windows were shut.
The hoot diminished.
A month later
we heard wings coughing in the attic,
like sounds of someone
beating his own body.
“Leave him,” my father would say,
“he’s older than I am.”
By spring, silence. Father cried
at the thought of bones hollow as a flute.
Haircut by Richard Zabransky
He doesn’t mind the feel of the barber’s hand
on the back of his neck.
It’s the hand his father placed there
to walk him across Austin Boulevard as a boy
to let him know the driver of the car
wasn’t going to stop.
Today, he wants it cut short,
feels it as functionless
as the dangling fire escape of the old apartment
in which he and Kathleen lived that first year.
Besides, it’s stylish again
to wear a strip of flesh above the collar,
to square the sideburns above the ear
and razor edge the nape to make the face
look as if it’s chewing hard on a leather button.
That it holds together after it’s cut and fallen
to the floor shouldn’t surprise him.
He felt it before:
a population united by disaster,
the forces of negative space that pulls bodies together.
Nothing ever wants to be alone.
Once, they had a baby raccoon wedged in the fireplace flue.
It rattled like a handful of pencils tossed in the dryer,
then became still, then rattled, then still.
Wearing work gloves and an old denim jacket,
he pulled it free after it exhausted itself,
then carried it out to the yard
and placed it in the sandbox.
Moments later, the mother arrived and drew it
into her body, cleaning it, they thought.
In the morning, he walked out to find
the bones and fur.
Today, the sun is strong
on parts of his head that have not felt light in years.
He feels filthy clean
as he prepares to bring his new face home,
as if he is the one being dragged
from a dark, sooty tunnel.
Dolls by Richard Zabransky
They were kicked aside
to clear the stairway.
Their plastic baby faces
glow of being loved,
just like Mrs. Laurie’s cat.
Norm Carlson swears at them
for getting in his way
when he carries groceries up.
I have to wrestle The Chronicle
away from a pink prosthetic grip
and open it only to find
red Crayola smiles
in the obituaries.
There must be thirty of them.
At night, glassy eyes follow me to the door.
I have heard whispering
among other tenants.
They are planning to remove the dolls.
They pass them silently,
careful to avoid their eyes.
There is an effort to walk
on the other side of the stairs,
in single file,
at least until
a decision is reached.
The front door is wedged shut
against the warped welcome mat,
and the lightbulb
at the top of the stairway
is beginning to flicker.
Mr. Frietag leaves down the fire escape;
Mrs. Frietag stays home.
Norm Carlson broke his leg.
Mrs. Laurie’s cat died.
At least one family has begun to pack.
We are at a point
where something must be done.
As a last resort,
we are thinking of asking
the children for help.

Quicksilver by Richard Zabransky

for Glen’s Father

He anchors it, bare-headed,
Hair dense as steel. There must be forty
Front-facing men in the photograph--
In three rows,

Bottom on one knee, elbows cocked.
Top balanced on an invisible scaffold.
He is dead center. Behind them, a brick wall
With a Hopperesque window, dead left,

Perhaps the supply building
Where meetings are also held.
One man’s hand clutches a snotty handkerchief,
Or it might be the corner of the flag.

All wear their plumbers’ proud indignity,
A few prematurely balding or graying
Beneath newspaper boy caps,
Wide-brimmed fedoras,

One in a Brooklyn Dodgers cap,
All wide-eyed, some with jutting chins.
The foreground is a parched prairie
Beneath a sky with the promise of storms.

Something brought them together,
Some indignity. A plate of spaghetti
Their lure, a shared Lucky.
A story for the wife or girlfriend.

Bragging rights count.
They are as real as a goose neck,
A drain fitting, or the hot iron
That makes the solder run quicksilver

Along the joint of copper pipe--
A sort of wedlock,
Taken for granted, yet a trust endowed
To children, the grandmother,

The embarrassing Red uncle,
Or the wayfaring aunt.
The infrastructure of life
Should last.

But as I said, he is dead center,
And like Ahab’s crew,
The others lean away from him,
Giving him room to spiralize.

I have a suspicion he has as much
To do with the photograph
As shutter or film or tripod.
Perhaps more.


Richard Zabransky (December 3, 1950 - July 1, 2021)

 1989 My Daughter's Baptism

                                                2009 My Son's Wedding

                                  2016 Teaching at Benedictine University


  1. In memory of my dear friend for 51 years.

  2. Rich, Bob and I met in 1970 in college. We remained best friends thereafter.

  3. Powerful poems, full of paradox and emotional charge. Rich speaks vividly through them to our hearts. Thanks for posting them in remembrance of this dear, dear friend.

  4. Thank you for posting these wonderful poems and photos. I just learned of our loss this morning. You two were such great friends. How I enjoyed your banter! May he rest in peace.

  5. I taught next door to Rich for many years. I knew there was great power in his teaching, I didn't realize until now the power of his poetry. Thank you for helping me see that.