Jim Zola

The Bass River Fish Market

There was a marble-mouth cadence
to the names along the two-lane
highway down the Cape’s gradual fold—
Braintree, Mashpee, Sandwich, Barnstable.
The last summer without worry,
I slept on beaches during the day,
slipping into the nightly chaos
of the Bass River Fish Market.
The stink of shrimp and grease weighed down
my clothes like an anchor. Butterflying
100 pounds of jumbos, heads lopped
with a blade sharp enough to subtract
a digit, picking the black ribbon
intestines wiped on an apron
stained with fish guts and blood like a flag
for a nation dedicated
to the lonely notions of pot washers
and prep cooks. This was a life for some.

What I remember about that summer
I could have made up. As I swing
my two children in the backyard,
I realize none of this will last.
Even now, as the light lingers
through broken trees, I want to hold it.
I push the swing back and forth.
They beg to go higher, faster.
All I want to do is slow it down.


When my father died my mother traveled 
untethered as if he were the rope 
and death the cutting blade.

One summer I pulled a buck knife on a boy 
who bullied me. The black handle 
a perfect fit for my fist, I flipped

the blade to let him see and hoped 
my shaking was taken as passion, 
as I do now, still. When the first girl I loved

dumped me, I walked through a plate glass door 
and saw the white bone of my ankle 
like a whispered secret. Years later,

she emails from Guatemala to say 
she is part of the revolution, 
that I revolt her and should stay far away.

My mother phones from Alaska to ask 
if I need a new winter coat. 
When my father’s heart stopped, while he shopped

at the mall, the paramedics sliced 
his down ski jacket from top to bottom. 
I know because I saw it hanging

like a tired flag of surrender 
in my mother’s closet that first Christmas 
she spun out into the world without him.


Trying to Write a Poem About My Mother

There’s a beginning and an end and a yard
with toys scattered like little car wrecks,
a dirty truck, stegosaurus with its head

gnawed off. In the corner I notice
an elderly woman. She is older than she looks
and she inspects the few straggly chokeberries

that grow there as if reading footnotes.
She asks why I only write about him.
Because you’re still alive. She laughs and holds out

her hands, empty and green. The elms are full
of crows. That’s how I know
it’s time for me to get to work.


© Jim Zola

Jim Zola states, “I have worked as a security guard, bookstore manager, warehouse man, teacher for deaf children, toy designer for Fisher Price, and (currently) a children’s librarian.” He has published a chapbook, One Hundred Bones of Weather (Blue Pitcher Press), and a full-length book entitled, What Glorious Possibilities (Aldrich Press).

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