The Vietnamese Restaurant and other poems

by Zach Fishel


The Vietnamese Restaurant

For Ammon

The soup always comes out and steams my friend’s glasses.
Intricately painted bowls and tiny saucers of basil and peppers
are simple planets we orbit as the slurp of our spoons halt all talk.
This isn’t an intricate planet, but a nightmare god walked out of without
waking from. My friend thinks that’s why he never answers.
I add Sriracha and fish sauce to the broth, as the broken English of
our old waitress stares across the counter. She knows each week we
arrive to watch the tendons and tripe float around like our own organs
in the broth. We’re dressed like dirty laundry,
covered in textbooks and grading sheets,
rubrics on what qualifies for passing.


Settling in Toledo, OH

Once the payphone on Collingwood Boulevard
Started ringing like the woman on fire who leapt

from the nunnery I slept in for two bitter winters.
We would crush PBR cans and launch them past

Victorian chandeliers coated in minimum wage
and regret above the theatre that housed countless runaways,

hobos, and hookers who slept with bruises.
When the woman on fire knew everyone

was putting her out I watched the houses rot
like out of season farmers markets. The weeds grew

in the parking lot as she claimed to understand Icarus.
You can still see the crack looking down from the east wing.


Thanksgiving in New Jersey

For Mike D’Agnili

The city yawns behind the cold
streets of North Jersey as a confused

flock of turkey meander through
curbside recycling, the blue boxes little

pieces of the sky as a joint is passed
around the outdoor fryer.

Inside laughter rises from the chimney
as sisters and aunts mince onion

with gossip. Italian hands
working odds and ends

into family traditions,
pointing at Black Friday deals

in between clinking glasses of red wine
spilling on the unworried carpet.


Janesville, PA

The sixteen year old boys dreamed of girls
and paychecks from the paperbag grocery store.
Casting lures out into the black, the splash just the sound
connecting them to the lake. The fish were out there
listening to their blood run its course, their questioning of
how to find big water as fireflies sought the right connection
to continue living. Eventually the fish pulled the line,
forcing them to pull back against their own tensions.
Shirtless on the rocky bank, seeing the night come undone,
holding the fish by the jaw. They didn’t imagine
what it meant to grab life and drag it home.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Zach Fishel is an outdoor guide, poet, and educator currently living on a reservation in North Dakota. His most recent book, Blue Collar at Best, is available from Words Dance. Recent work has appeared in Red Paint Hill, Fox Chase Review, The Lindenwood Review, Blast Furnace Review and Night Ballet Press.

* * * * * * * * * * * *


Rear View Nude in Window

photo by Sally Davies


Resignation of Pleasure and other poems

by Zach Fishel

Resignation of Pleasure


Lost like the car keys or

your contacts

blindly trampling

the smallest crumbs

of dropped toast

in the carpet I

hungrily miss your wine stains.

Today I fell in love with the

rainstorms in your


as the old

postcard from your holiday,

the one where you never returned,

slipped into the

disposal from the hanging

magnet on the

freezer door.



Love Poem for Abandoned Houses


My heart is

exhausted mortar

clinging to

your underpinning,

knowing that no

flood will move

This chunked


as water

pains through

dirty windows.




My Favorite Cup


Kool-aid and cheap beer

drunk from the same

unwashed ceramic cup,

tough and chipped

but surviving



two angry


the new gas stove,

and countless drops

from hands that have

dirtied carpets,

and left promising

to bring something

next time.

These people only

Spill and use,

yet this scarred cup

knows that first you

have to have nothing in order

to hold anything at all.



Maybes Mean Nothing


Some nights a man wants

to split his breastbone

and disconnect

a heart sensibly wrung enough to

top the sponge of

kitchen bachelors.

Those nights

are sutures of

fishing line

and forgotten bobby pins

from the woman

who collects dust

like an arrowhead,

locked away from boy scout camp,

or a bus ticket

in the dirty book forgotten

at the station the day

she left town.



Poem About Adventure


Everyone is a limp dick

wondering why more prescriptions

don’t ignite a passion.

There’s a dog spread across I-64

by a Mac Truck as

gnawing a toothpick

heading north to the Great Lakes

my mind wanders along the lines,

breaking with lane changes

desperate for romance between coffee breaks and

speed traps.

Aligning to the left lane,

a piece of you sent out the window,

furious like a teen with nothing

to do but pussy.



Rise Up, a Man Rooted


Sour flesh off

the vine

and choke cherries

stain the footpath,

sticking to gum boots

found in a cork tree.


Peat of Irish tea and

cold biscuits

warm knotted

muscles dog-eared

into mountain peaks

like the only

novel you’ll ever need.


Drawn tightly from grayed


Piddling down cheeks

Like now defunct springs,

Memories the echoing of

rusted church bells.




Zach Fishel is a Pushcart Nominee and the Univ. of Toledo Press Fellow. His work has appeared in numerous journals and he hopes to move west for a PhD in American Modernism with a focus in Environmental Studies.  He also co-edits poetry for Red Fez .


Art by Ernest Williamson


Christmas in the Flower Shop and other poems

by Zach Fishel


Christmas in the Flower Shop

There’s moon
shining from the
flower shop
Poinsettias reaching
outward with their
fiery poison,
the noise of car horns
celebrating the good
night that’s
everywhere in these
Collecting snow on window
sills with cold lucky
quarters. Roasted
pork shoulder
waiting for the family
to pull in the drive,
snow covering the tracks,
as if people never
left or got older.


Learning to be a Man

After the pig fat congealed
in the cast-iron
skillet I’d run behind the
outhouse for the rusty
Folgers can with
my great grandfather’s
clove cigarettes
and brandy flask.
We’d sit and watch the snow
stirring next to the woodstove with fried
eggs and cold bacon
as we waited to
strop the blades to butcher
what the woods allowed us to keep.


Broken Kites

Divinity is better left to broken
children as the caterwaul
of busted rusting bell
knockers falling from the
belfry into hell
rattle the cages just enough
for a small drop of rain
to sizzle on the ground.
Yet we’re inundated with
vapidity insomuch as to
say drowned,
the way it stutters
still as a kite forgotten in a garage
the day someone sang a dirge of sound.


Better than Most

(For Sundin Richards)
St. Jude
was used

for excuses

against long distances,
fitting as a belt

made of shoe

The tightening

as the
mornings turned to

dirty rain
or whiskey,

as if there was a fucking

between moon

or sunup

glowing elliptic.




Zach Fishel is a two time Pushcart Nominee and the Univ. of Toledo Press Fellow. His work has appeared in multiple print and online
journals and NightBallet Press is releasing his first chapbook, “Prayerbook Bouquet” in Early June of 2013.

Art by Sheila Lanham



How to dance in a bad time and other poems

by Zach Fishel


How to Dance in a Bad Time

Japanese beetles fray sunflower stems
like pigtails on old skeletons.
This dancing can’t continue
without whiskey and fly fishing
in storm clouds that remember the words
we spoke on television to people throwing up
under heat lamps because of bad menus.
Leaving tips on dirty napkins for harder loves
than our own collect in the loneliness
hall of fame at the corner table of collateral damage.
She was an Elephants swinging at her own knees
for prayers sake. He counted road kill,
mumbling the steps to unwieldy
acquaintances with much suffering.
My closet is empty except for the shoes
And these leaves are chewn to pieces
Scattered across the wind like noiseless
Traffic on a rainy day.

Personal Poem #26

After Ted Berrigan

Time has left its mark
like a battered wife. The court costs
are too            much to handle
suitcases while turtles slow down violently.
Dandelions in July make a
snowstorm of all this fluff as cement
cracks at the dollar general
where women with bad teeth scream
at ugly children lifting lipstick.
Sister’s turning prettier than
dead willows that won’t stop swinging
trees can still sing. Appalachia
is beards and baldness
growing into love until I like
things enough to                   continue.
Cliffs hike the sunset and
my ears are forests counting
the stretch marks of flat moons
as a tall Jewish woman carries shapes
in her
eyes and
lets everyone drink cheap
until two (on the porch only).
Hammocks roll over ashtrays.
Marijuana for the pigs playing accordion in the wind
some like the dog days cooling down.
It would be easier to work a solid week,
vacation once a year to an ocean
town like everybody else,
but who would account for this beauty?
Where would the clouds come sit?
Is there even a question                  (there’s always some)
left to the boys grown too old
to do anything but sit
inside single bedroom
apartments waiting to be drunk again?
Fleas stay desperate. The lonely dig
scabs just to taste some        body.
Sisters turning prettier,
playing desperately in the marching band
at a DUI checkpoint.

Eating the Sailor

For my father


The only thing from the forgotten house
is a broken alarm clock stuck at 9:13.
It was the last thing standing as
the rusted porch swing
laid with the angry sunrise.

You used to mention how fields caught fire
when nobody was hunting. I became a fisherman.
Double shifts and dirty fingernails
taught me to dress a trout and put
it on the camp stove as whip-poor-wheels
would tell the story of old ghost dances
and fallen buffalo.

Pheasants dot the daylight.
Curveballs and crickets were
the comfort of diamonds run
in the backyards of forever
as the summer tired of radios
and the smell of cheap charcoal.


Driving through Pennsylvania in the snow,
your face melting the make-up
as little flakes smeared
into the local polka station,
taking each turn with two cans of beer
tucked between your legs.

To keep on
keeping on out of spite
and wearing thin the seams
of soldering.
A shatter of windshields.

withered and waiting,
a gardener finishing the harvest
of unsteady scarecrows.
The crescent of your arms
around me as a child,
the reality of pipe wrenches.


I remember the only summer I was twelve,
pitching a one hitter and sitting
in the same truck that provided a comate,
nearly perfect but missing the point.
Repeating stories on yellowed post-its.

We listen to routine punch
itself in place like a panicked festival.
This restlessness against the grasses
sending dandelions off to die quiet as batteries.

There’s only one photo of your grin,
my brother and I clinging
to your Atlian shoulders,
afraid of the Chesapeake’s hot sand.
The edges sun-aged and eating the sailor,
those singing waves are not a dirge.


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Zach Fishel‘s poetry has appeared in numerous journals, and received two Pushcart Nominations. His latest chapbook, “Thorn bushes and Fishhooks” will be out later this year via Night Ballet Press.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


Artist Nannette Guinto Amorado