not there , labrador or kootenays
By Zane Koss
for mike chaulk
seen that picture of you
with the gun
with the twelve gauge pump action
and the dead birds ( , pixelated
while you mourn your grand
father; i bet you are wondering;
i never shot anything except
popcans and paper targets,
but i know it, and have clubbed
fish to eat; gutted
one time my dad brought
home a tiny rabbit ,
in a cardboard box; that
his skidder had disturbed
we looked in
at it, then let it go back
in the woods; that sense
of wonder, seeing something
so different, alive in your
where have our fathers
gone i have still lived more years
of my life
on a dirt road than a
i tell people that, and
though true, it doesn’t
feel that way; mike,
where have we gone
let’s get a trapline, and some
traps; an old skidoo; on a winter
night, we’ll get back to the truck
from a long day and
stop at someone’s winter camp
on the way home ;
we will steal their wine,
and i will trick you into eating
the dogs’ food you’ll be so drunk
it will be easy; soaking wet, you
will have to curl up on the
floor on the passenger
side, to get close to the heater,
and pass out; i will drag you green
up your front
steps, and into your trailer; theresa
relieved that you are not dead,
will threaten to kill us both, and
together we will strip you naked and put you
in the warm bath; you will hurt, for
days afterward, and take years
before you can go down the dog food aisle
trust me, it will make
a good story;
mike, send me a poem, that
you’ve written, in .docx format
and i will return,
By Zane Koss
over your skin
that you can feel
your skin that
can feel close
ing over to feel
feel skin hover
ing over the
your skin to
feel the push
air from its to
feel the air
from its wings
as] the carpenter bee hovering
close enough over your skin to
feel the push of the air from its wings as the
police helicopter circles the neighbor
hood to touch it with its wings
is your skin
By Zane Koss
[it only takes a few dozen rednecks
around a fire in the yard of the
community hall across from my
brother’s wife’s place because it
is xmas eve and there are fireworks
the best, the most impressive i will
later call it fireworks display i have
ever seen to make me grateful that
the rockets that explode over
head vibrating the claybank ends of
the watershed as it opens on the town
and the valley cannot touch me that
they cannot touch me and the bigger
ones have been placed further away
so] They cannot touch us and they
cannot touch our houses, the rock
ets cannot torch ourhouses.
By Zane Koss
I am in a car hurtling along the rain-slicked highways of a midsized city in america. The wet surface of the asphalt throws back the reflection of highway signs and billboards.
The driver is drunker than I wish he was and spending too much time singing n*sync into the back seat at us, and I am called a nervous nancy when we hit the white line and jerk back into our lane. I say watch the fuckin road, and someone other than the driver says we got a nancy. The driver is too busy singing to notice.
We are five graduate students crammed into a used toyota, brought together from different institutions by the conference and shared research interests.
We are on our way to a conference-closing house party hosted by a prestigious senior scholar. The party will be filled with prestigious senior scholars and well-known writers. Some of these people have built a reputation on exploiting or abusing people with less power, seniority, or celebrity than them. Each of those three words is a synonym for money.
I am constantly torn between the desire to express solidarity with my peers—to say fuck that influential critic in my field—and the fear of rocking the boat—in case anyone was thinking of offering me a spot on the boat. And because I am still frequently awed by these scholars and writers. I still read and enjoy their work.
Fuck that influential critic in my field.
We arrive at the party, and spill out of the car, still drunk from the bar where we had hosted a poetry reading on a stage prepped for a punk show.
I am drinking bourbon and beer purchased by someone else, in a house that resembles nothing so much as the houses of the wealthy where I have at times made my living.
Where my father makes his living. Where my brother makes his living. Where many of the people my mother works for have lived.
We have torn down the rotted structures of their houses, and replaced them, expanded these structures. Moved their furniture. Bathed their elderly and infirm. Delivered their purchases. Been paid and injured. Suffered, sweated, and laughed with other people being paid to work in these houses.
Been paid to laugh with the people who own these houses. Been paid to attend their barbecues. “These are the guys working on the new cottage.”
(Though at times my mother has worked for people who don’t know what palliative means and just want to go home to a cabin or trailer and can’t understand why no one will take them there.)
Where I am still making my living.
Where I am still being paid to shake hands and smile at a house party in the home of a prestigious senior scholar in a midsized midwestern city.
The opportunity to read a poem in this company presents itself, and I seize it. I am reading a poem to the people who live in houses like this one, houses like the ones my family has known only from work.
I am reading a poem I wrote about working in houses like this one, a poem that says fuck your houses and the undercompensated labour they entail to the people who live in the houses like this one. The poem is also about the joy of working together, of sweating and bleeding and laughing too hard over a shared joke together.
I have also been at parties where graduate students have mocked working people from rural places because these graduate students were not working people from rural places.
Where my peers have told stories about driving through landlocked states, where they’ve been afraid because a waitress was missing a tooth, or a gas station attendant was missing a finger.
I have been at parties where my peers have told stories mocking people who can’t afford healthcare or people who work jobs where their bodies are put at risk for a wage, because my peers have never had to work jobs where their bodies were put at risk for their wages.
Because this is the way america works. It puts us against each other. And things work differently, but mostly the same in canada and elsewhere.
A famous poet dozes on the couch while I read my poem and imagine that I’ve stuck my thumb in their pie without anyone knowing.
I finish reading my poem and sneak back into the kitchen for a last stolen sip of whiskey. The driver is gathering us to leave. We put on our coats and give a last ingratiating smile to the senior scholars.
When I’ve worked on houses like this house, we piss in the back of the yard or behind the convenient tree if they don’t invite us in to use their toilets.
They always forget to invite us in until we’re finished.
On the porch, one of us has a last confrontation with that influential critic in our field, who I avoid acknowledging. Which is the both the same as saying fuck that influential critic in my field and not the same as saying fuck that influential critic in my field.
It is, at least, with some certainty, not rocking the boat. Which is another way of saying, I bought that influential critic’s most recent book at the discounted conference price, which saved me around thirty dollars off the amazon price.
(Later he friended me on Facebook. When the allegations—some of which stemmed from this night—came out in full, I unfriended him.)
A car service arrives to pick up the influential critic in my field, and the people who have decided to go with him.
We’re waiting for someone to find a cardigan that is probably already in the car.
While we wait, I do as I’ve always done. I piss in the yard. Because I am here, making my living as I have always done.
We are in the car, and someone else is driving. It had been determined that the original driver was, now, drunker than any of us wished. We drive from the suburbs back into the old neighborhood of the midsized midwestern city where we have rented rooms.
We sing pop hits from our childhood. They play over the car stereo from salvaged compact discs. Tomorrow, we will drive or fly back to different cities where we’ve made our homes and make a living.
I wish I did not smell so strongly of the cigarette smoke that fills the car. We laugh at a good joke until we are all crying. We are all crying.
Zane Koss is a non-resident alien currently living in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. He was raised on the unceded territories of the Ktunaxa and Secwépemc nations. His critical and creative work can be found in the Chicago Review, CV2, Poetry is Dead, and elsewhere. He has published two chapbooks of poetry, job site (Blasted Tree, 2018) and Warehouse Zone (Publication Studio Guelph, 2015), with two further chapbooks forthcoming from above/ground press. Zane is a doctoral candidate in the English Department at New York University, where he researches Canadian, Mexican and U.S. poetry in the 1960s and 1970s.