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"100 Clews" by Jason Zuzga

Updated: Dec 31, 2022

* portions of 100 Clews have appeared in SPORK and FENCE

clew: 1. A ball of yarn or thread. 2. Greek Mythology The ball of thread used by Theseus to find his way out of the labyrinth. 3. clews The cords by which a hammock is suspended. 4. (also Nautical) One of the two lower corners of a square sail.

This time zone is sleeping.

Shhh. The light comes.

Horse tails

Tuck safe away

With a carefully woven French braid.

Looks from the distance like bread

Or a brain.

Dad drifts toward moving

Out of his bed. Mom sings to him. She shakes

The soil off the roots and replants their chrysanthemum.

The white threads knotted in the hole rip free.

In the dirt, detangled, unnatural glint of key.

One heart opens into

Extravagant pain. In the darkness

Of the abdominal cavity,

Organs huddle together

Like a church congregation shaking

Hands, offering "peace be with you"

"And peace be with you." The heart

Muscles its way past all of them

To taste red wine on lips.

Sissy Spacek moves towards us

Through the wheat fields, wearing

A backpack, listening to cassettes.

The Kevin Kline we know from

Film is one dark dash below the parachute.

They are ready to take on the roles of Mom and Dad.


There is an anchorman.

He is named Peter Jennings.

He sits on a glass throne made of

Real tears. He opens his mouth and

It fills with air.

In one of the pools by the pavilion,

Connie Chung swims beneath the surface.

She moves with speed

In her athletic cut suit. There

Is love lit around her wherever she goes.

The plumber shoves

The box to reach the pipes.

Where did you expect me

To be going? We are underwater

Now, you and I.

In the air, it is said, we can breathe.

A child walks into a whale

With eyes that light up red

In a museum featuring

Biblical scenes: Jonah,

Demons pulled from pigs.


We press these towels

To our faces to blot sweat

From our eyes in the sauna.

Mom has a wooden spoon in her hand.

Her hand is on her hip.

The peppers sizzle in the skillet. The ground

Meat, a heap in the green bowl on the counter.

They have had that green bowl since they were married.

The bowl is eighteen years old.

The bumpy caravan

Travels past the people with arms growing

Out of their stomachs, the harpies and the wrens

With their wren-size lion heads.

This is the kingdom of Prester John.

In the mountains there are giants and monopods

Who know where cherries grow

With heavy pits of gold.

Dad fills the dishwasher and squeezes in the lemony goo.

Mom butters saltines that she feeds him

From the TV table. His cold is worse tonight.

The sparrows snap their heads from left to right.

Mom draws a bath. Dad wipes his mouth.

Fragrance. A washcloth. The rabbit paw fern shudders

As the heat kicks on. I come into the room from far

Away and touch one of these tendrils, the gray fur of

The rhizome reaching at its own speed into the room.

Let's sit in the mud for a moment

And look for miniature snail shells.

Discarded, they were the cups

Of tiny people tall as half a finger.

Their skeletons are not bone but cartilage,

Like a shark, so they only bend

When you step on them.


Mr. Rogers appears on T.V.

At the same time Dad

Returns home from the office.

Mom tries not to create a disturbance,

But she has walked into the glass porch door

And broken her nose. The pool

Is full of kids screaming and splashing.

Neighbors on lounge chairs take the sun.

Mom stands on the back porch and calls to Dad

Who is filming. She calls

His name and on the reel,

It's a blur all of a sudden.


Around us here there are these trees.

They resemble celebrities.

Headlights with a licorice flavor.

Kids on a trampoline.

An opossum on a sturdy log

Heads out to sea.


The cat prowls around the rabbit hutch.

The panicked rabbit

Jumps and breaks

its back.

Remember the first day of school?

How the men with secret guitars

Came walking through

The playground and hypnotized you?

Mom washes your face.

She holds your forehead

As you lose your lunch. She is

Hovering above the whole house in a recline

Of nervous glamour. Dad mulches the

Yew branches and comes

Inside for a glass of lemonade.

You lie on the chicken

Pox couch, as Lily Tomlin,

Covered in calamine lotion.

That's me. I was

A pregnancy. I emerge from Al Capone's vaults

Like nothing and everything they ever expected

And I break their hearts just by crawling around.


How can you confirm that you are being held?

You can't.


The Christmas lights blink

Segments in the trees.

I walk up the street with

Your hand in mine. We are now lovers.

It's excellent. Unhitched gate

To a gallery behind the gentleman's club.

All the landscapes we've only imagined take off their

Frames and call birds to them. Badlands bellows

"Robin, come rest in my mountainside!

Come move among my humps!"

Painted Desert calls:

"Canadian geese, I'll stroke your neck with

My petrified wood!"

And then Grand Tetons whispers

To the whippoorwills who tentatively arrive

In the summer wind.

The whippoorwills hover above the yard, waiting.

Your hand hovers in mine waiting.

My mind hovers over your hand.

"Okay" I say. "Okay."

In the sun is an animal with seven French

Horns and six heads. We learn this from the Bible.

When the animal

Decides to make its move, we get

The first step on film.

We get the second step on film.

We watch the show

Through publicists, pinholes.


Some shows had bright color

That would pull into a comet —

Naugahyde-upholstered seat

Round like a mitt, with a silver

Three-pronged base

Oiled for maximum spin.

The spin was silent. The room was beige.

A carpet of burning

Colors hung on the wall.

The center of gravity somersaulting.

I could hear kind Muppet voices

In the fizz of rectangular light.

The skeeballs roll up the lane and leap

into a pocket. Dad's tickets

Buy a suction-cup

Crossbow and a cat-shaped clock.


Drums beat by themselves

If you turn up the volume.

Every morning begins with the Christmas parade.

Have you learned to love the Law?

You will.

Two mentioned

Were lovers. The same two continue

To keep secrets and hide.

Watch the shadows as

The Christmas lights begin blinking.

Agatha Christie

Combs brambles

From the silky

Coats of her yappy little dogs

and looks at you.

Mulch bags, a driveway, a car.

Here is the meter and anything else is

Measured more or less.

I mean empirically.

The building you lived in,

Your first kiss folds into the story.

Think about your collarbone

Feel it there a solid thing

And let it be the cornerstone

Of our prosperous dukedom

With its citrus, antennae, buckyballs, prairie dogs,

Diane Sawyer on her raft and the grand river's expanse.

Its suggestion of graced flow

For flow's sake alone through

The remarkable random slopes and gullies

Of North America and its shirt of embracing intentions.


Remember the glacier?

What it did to the marigolds?


Things that begin with an "S."

What a doctor might say.

Things in a glove compartment.

Jane Pauley swims in a lake filling with the light of dusk

One arm rests on the floating transparent raft.

She kicks her way to the ladder, breathing.


Article 2.6 of the New Jersey constitution is a seatbelt:

"No idiot or insane person shall enjoy the right of suffrage."


Tom Brokaw is on the air.

His soul sprays on us like snow,

Like grace received by the upturned hand of

A whirling Sufi dervish.

Mom turns the Today show off.

Dead Dad's place at the table

will be played by the ivy outside.

Dead Dad will be played by Disneyworld's

Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. Those first spins

Take you by surprise, but

I see Mr. Toad checking his pocket watch

In the corner of my eye.

Mom is climbing the big silver

Ball that stands for EPCOT.

Get down we cry to her.

Get down right now.

Mom stands next to us silently

And I see she has bought a keychain

With a miniature model of Mr. Toad's car.

Dad can't swallow.

He throws up.

Never you mind. I have a button

That, pushed, whispers

You to sleep, holds you,

Pulls the string of your words

Loose, fastens it

From your mouth to


The way the pencil sharpener smelled.

The way the vote turns on feelings.

The way a crutch feels in your armpit and how it lets you fly.

The world trade organization

Cobbles shoes for you. The fairies in the night

Help them. They sneak around Geneva disguised

As Laplanders, mapmakers, achievers, conventioneers.

Christiane Amanpour is gathering the facts.

She disappears like mist beyond the checkpoint and

Leaves the streets of Geneva to their own devices.


The town council draws maps

And unveils a new Wendy's franchise.

The municipality is illuminated like

The whole place is on fire.


Smokey and the Bandit

Help the elephant down from

The space shuttle exploding in

The back of a truck.

In sassafras, a carcinogen.

The sassafras leaf alive has fingers

Soft like velvet and crushed smells great.

Dried and made into tea it can kill you

From the inside which was never its intention.

Sometimes there is something not human

In the middle, like a dog that sees things

Differently. Here's a personal story:

When I took "Old Yeller" out

Of the Cherry Hill public library in elementary school,

There was a paper inside that said if

I wanted a blow job I could call this number

And ask for one. Did I? No.


You are the first to witness your own life.

The speed and the amount of it in the light.

Behind her back, Dad

Fills the dishwasher and squeezes in.

Mom butters saltines. She feeds him

The TV table. Dad's cold is worse

Tonight. The swallows bite the rabbit.

The fern shudders.

The heat kicks.

It's okay, the whole time,

Betty White was frying up bologna

In the center square

Keeping it warm there and safe with provisions.

You can visit the Museum of Television and Radio.

You can watch Hollywood Squares happen again.


Spagettios. With frank slices.

Long hair. Travel kits.

Umbrellas' conveniences.


You may taste three flavors.

Then you may discuss

The ones you neglected to select.

Boys catch trapeze handles they fly

Holding chalky hands.

Coupon to mom to store to shelf

To box to cart to counter to dollars

To bag to trunk to kitchen to thumb

In perforation to bag to boil

To butter to savory smells to steam

To dish to fork the salty creaminess,

The Rice-a-Roni parmesan noodles.

Crimson spirals made with

Dyed sand poured from the steady hands

Of Tibetan monks. The customers

Scramble to get a pinch.

There's even a waiting list.

Table for four?

Kelly McGillis in her role in

"Witness" takes our coats.


Barbara Walters fastens the microphone clip to

Amy Carter's White House cat,

"Misty Malarky Ying Yang."


Mom wipes Dad off.

The swallows kick the rabbit.

A "Hear me out,"

A "This just in."

I told the beautiful girl

I was gay half a mile uproad

From the drowning of Jessica Savitch:

Her car sunk in mud.


Alexander Hamilton dances

Alone along the edge

Of Christmas morning.

He is passing the time.

He is waiting for desire

To flash clean through

So he can go and write

The most perfect federalist paper.


I am Mary with blue towel hair and

A basketball zipped into my sleeper.

The pool is emerging from its

In-ground concrete surroundings.

It's moving like a grand ghost, silver

Slippered around the backyard. Touching

The pine trees, their viscous sap

The ivy, the pool is standing blind

To the baby rabbits running at it

In ecstatic madness, nosing it, the squirrels

Too they are thirsty they are thirsty.

Mom under the table is thinking about the bills.

The boys that I will kiss are in the water.

The cooled voices of the anchors

Hold the water to the ground.

The pool stands still and shudders against the voices.

Come let's swim. If buoyancy

Is still here then we can float in this.

We'll be carved for the banquet

From the ice of the frozen pool.

The careful sled dogs will nose the caribou meat.

The convertible will arrive with the icy stars

Who will mill around, mill around.

The children will tumble

Like tokens from the igloos.

Moss forms on the north-most bark

Because the earth is tipped.

Pine needles will turn to us, play the wind,

Like a first-level language tutorial record.

Don't you agree that no education is complete without

The mind expansion of travel?

Isn't it great to let your senses go everywhere and take it all

Into your soft brown brain?

Dad listens to Mom put the dishes away.

Katie Couric's relaxed sphincter allows

The endoscope inside her colon

To take a look around

On live and later previously recorded TV.

It doesn't hurt, Katie says

Through sedation. She talks through

The whole segment. We see inside her.

Here are the soldiers

And the actors who will play them.


Joan and Stan

Were their names in my case

Like arbitrary noun genders in another language.

I would like to learn yours.

To unlearn my Joan and Stan

And see another pair

For what they accidentally are.

The kids run to catch their buses.

Mom as Moonstruck's Cher,

Stands in a corner of the room

Holding a cool wet washcloth.

The breadfruit is a delicacy

That people would kill for but

Goes ahead and grows on all the trees

So nobody gets hurt.


Where does our mad love affair fit into the scheme

With its actual kisses and measurable mouthfuls?

The old man in his wheelchair in love

With his Doctor of Philosophy and his virtuoso violin.

Dad moves through a fur

Closet that becomes a wardrobe.

It closes him into the cold.

He steps past a pile of Playboys

With their photos of vaginas

And interviews with Koko the Gorilla.

Koko's kitten has gone to the dark place.

Dad takes one of the furs

From its hanger and

Flies up into the snow.


Faces press against the coffee shop window.

The lady startles and spills herself.

One of these kids gets a facial cancer

And half a face is removed, replaced

With a snap-on plastic model.


Mom and Dad hold their kids to the sun.

The kids hold punctured black paper

And through, on white, a point of light.

Now, under the magnifying glass,

The sun finally begins to burn.

The sun will explode and take everything and not even know it.

Let your hair down, Katherine Hepburn,

Let us climb in to your Connecticut mansion

Where the fireplaces

Are confidently burning.

Here she comes with another armload of logs.

Rest here awhile,

On the carpet, your hands to the flames.

The stilled frames from The African Queen

And Bringing Up Baby are themselves

Tonight, as it is night.

Behind the sofa,

One shy cinematographer

Places a purple lens over the room.


The papers strewn by me on

The floor I dropped them by his desk

To sneak a look up

The sleeve of his loose T-shirt

His warm buttered bicep and further up and under

Curlicue of jet black smoky goodness.

I put the papers in a stack. I got an "A."


Dad's cold is worse tonight. Love

Takes a spoon to the ice cream and opens his hand.

Mom kisses him.

Dad tries to lift his head to her.


We pulled up runners of ivy

To find the underground railroad.

The first missile flew overhead.

The glaciers calve into the sea.

The calves melt among the pilot whales.

Elsewhere, Rather, with a retractable telescope,

Discovers the filaments from which hang Saturn's rings.

Prickly heat on your neck in the summer when you

Have been sitting in the humidity, when Mom was

Standing by the tree, when the tiki torches lit

Themselves. There's Mom crying. What can we do

What can we for her to make her feel better.

What can the pool do for her.

What can the grocery store do but offer itself

Up. One child descends and puts

The laundry in the hamper.

Let Mom be played by Candace Bergen.

Let Mom be played by Mom.


And those aren't kisses. Who gets their obituary

Big. Like a fruit, like the expansion of space.

Dad what are you doing here? I thought

Your audition was over.


The sea turtles hurry

As fast as they can.

South of the trade winds is an island

Covered in Reagans. They look up when an airplane

Flies over and fall over backwards. They spring right back up.

Mom and Dad are rooting around the island

With the metal detector. Here and there a dime.

Here's a baby in the brambles and all of this

Is natural because how could it be other really.

Beyond these hills you will find the six-sided pavilion.

A pool filled with buoyant toys.

More hills.

Towards the end, the captain has a heart attack.

He gets Parkinson's so he can't steer well. He gets the news

That the anchors have disappeared

Due to necrotizing mycosis. A lie. They guide him to the ground.


The abbey glows. Cold blue lit cauldrons,

The Calders in motion, the kittens' collar bells

Are lit by water surfaces refracting.

Lovers arrive in the cold rooms and insert their coins.

All the rooms of the monastery

Have two feet of water to wade through,

And the floor is one translucent panel.

This is a vacation.

Mom? Dad?

The moment when you whisper

Is the moment when the hammer

Taps the anvil painlessly.

The marigolds shed their parasol seeds and the magic happens

Again with water, the roots rocket down

The fist of new leaf punches up.


Your eyes attached to your brain by

Nervy ropes you made in your mother.

Here is a roll of quarters for the arcade.

The clean love of the grown men

Striding through the woods. Their green fingers.

Their cool bottled notions. They are out of the wind.

They are calling each other like owls.

Their thick feet barely touch the ground;

They leave the air behind them whorling. I could have

Imagined you as this—I am healing

And taking the rest of orienteering

Into consideration. The only compass that works

Is the one you build and smelt and magnetize

With your own iron-studded pigeon head.

There isn't a keyhole.


There isn't a door.


I mean America empirically including all over the body.

You can't.

Your collarbone.

We were all born, beaten into

Breathing, bathed, burped and tossed away.

Over there's Death squatting

With the soft mitt of vacation.


Tapenade. The marigolds

Rising from Dixie cups.

The lemony poo.

Are you able

To break love down into its constituent parts.

A cradle. A pinwheel. A basketball.

A cargo ship.

A plastic lemon on the end of a tether.

An anchor lodged in the mud.

Breathing underwater now.

Relax, this is how anemones

Do it, through the skin.

Mom tries to lift his head to her.

My brother and I

put pine needles

between the pages

and smoke the TV guide.

Dad wrestles his two sons up into the air.

The atoms move around

Like skee balls thrown with all Dad's skill

On the boardwalk up the lane up

Into the fifty-point hole, one after another.

The night owls hoot in all the forests of the earth,

Turning their heads almost all the way

Around. What can't they see? They fly

Into the fifty-point hole to take a look around.


Take your ticket and hurry on in.

The role of love will be played by your entrance.

Jason Zuzga completed an MFA in poetry and nonfiction at the University of Arizona, followed by a year as the poet-in-residence in the James Merrill House. His debut book of poetry, Heat Wake, was published by Saturnalia Books in 2016. His poetry and nonfiction has been published in numerous journals, such as Tin House, The Yale Review, and The Paris Review. He is Editorial Co-Director of Fence with Emily Wallis Hughes.

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