Zumwalt Poems Online

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Beach Café

Beach Café

Chiming glassware
Lusty laughter and liquid murmurs
Midsummer night in Balboa
In the dream-dark
Charcoal curls spiral from the tables
Writhing arabesque and rococo
Like nomads’ campfires.
From a darker corner enclave
I survey the scene sucking my mug of java
Black and bitter.
The bartender
Grins through a wizard’s beard
Pouring, mixing, performing
For the waterfront gentry
While a waitress weaves a winding honey dance
With ball bearing grace bearing trays of beers
Through the clustered tables.

The locals
Burned and blonde
Gleam polished keyboard smiles
Brandish biceps and exhibit cleavage
Perched like cheetahs poised for game.
Or, Heineken in hand, they prowl in puka shells
Floral shirts and sandals
Sporting the seashore regalia
And predatory as the alligators embroidered
Above their hearts.

My focus withdrawn
I study the brown pit of my cup
Embarrassed by my suppressed, cynical envy
And my incipient paunch
Which spills below my sternum and sits
Like Signal Hill
Above my belt.
I spin theories about Their intellect or character
Judging smugly
But knowing, too
That the judgment’s just jive
And petty consolation
For my social shortcomings
A shoring up of a shaky soul
Discomfited by the competition and the game.
So I stroke my moustache
That drooping display of virility
And stay stoic behind an Agamemnon mask
Listening to an Aegean known only to me
Aloof and passive
As a walrus on an offshore rock.

The band
Back from break and beer
Slide into the electric haze
Tune up with playful foreplay before performing
Then splash emotion in the whisky illumination
The bassist
Measures out time like a beating heart, while
The drummer—a clock—
Clips it off
As the sax man belies his horn’s brassy brilliance
And cries the blues.

Behind the dancing tobacco curtain
I am anchored at my corner table
Cloistered in a turtleneck and straight leg jeans
An anachronism looking
For an age to join.

— Zumwalt (1978)


when winning is not enough

when winning is not enough

he like a stunned animal
holds the fragrant unclothed stranger
this remnant of the victory of last night.

she is half asleep
tenderly young
and so totally a stranger.

he feels like another empty episode has escaped into the ozone layer.
There is not even anything to gnaw on.

he wonders how to wake her up
half asleep

— Zumwalt (June 1991)

The last party (Trivial Pursuit)

The last party
(Trivial Pursuit)

She was in the room glowing
a smile on her face
she should have talked to me
or looked at me

Her boyfriend sat across from her
like a cardboard cutout
he should have been alive
or at least awake

another room awaits
bordered by sounds
of new wave existence

friends reach out
alcohol people
a swirl of support
a backdrop of goodness

yellow light flickers
orange perfume clusters about
purple music masks the crowded voices

the little dog scurries
moves with short stubby legs
strawberries sit too long
a phantom plays monotonous percipitations

the game continues
to begin anew
the dice is the leader
the cards are finite

time wanders in a trivial pursuit
following the strewn clothes of lovers in transit
drinks stir, soaking the carpets
choices are made to apologize for chance

time beckons in a trivial pursuit
bubbles of memory
pockets of pain
seasons stacked up, circling to land

time chases in a trivial pursuit
paths are lost forever
relationships crumble from the motion
happiness dies countless deaths

time hates itself in its trivial pursuit
it shoulders the consequences of the fear and grief it spreads
it loses its identity
and is crushed by its existence

colors darken into empty shapes
taste and smell congeal
sounds form into thickening twisted knots

a dog scurries
alone in sympathy
it cannot understand

arms of activity
limitless ferment
dancing in madness
fleeing from feelings

this room is silent
solid and isolated
occupied at times
by present and past

Her boyfriend sat across from her
and he once had been me
He should have been happy
He should have stayed

She was in his life glowing
a blessing of emotion
He should have understood her
or at least communicated

the game never finishes
its motion won’t subside
but its pretense fools the wise
and traps all

the morning rises
timidly, relunctantly
its features are grey
from the last party

— Zumwalt (1985)

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