In Zeller’s first book, Rust Fish, a young woman has a conversation with the succulent natural world. They speak of the endless summers of youth, the sober winters of the Pacific Northwest, the violence of children, and the benign neglect that nature offers even its acolytes. Throughout the book, fish are this speaker’s consorts. Fish, both real and imagined, stream through these poems, past the various totems of working class poverty to the inevitable sea. Zeller asks many big questions in quiet, sly ways in this wonder-full book. How can a person live in such a gorgeous and difficult world? How can the sensual redeem us? Which is the bruise that heals? Which is the one that stays?
Maya Zeller’s American Northwest is a land of verdant sensuality, insistent yet fragile and intimate as it was in the eyes of Roethke, storied in mossy and weathered details, human ruin and hard won grace as it was in the heart of Kesey. With extraordinary veracity and empathy she inhabits the body and emerging consciousness of a girl and young woman alive to the lives around her. There are poetry books with the power to move poets, fewer poetry books with the power to move lovers of literature, and those rare poetry books with the power to move just about anyone else. Rust Fish is all three.
In the small room of the self, the imaginative child looks out, wishing up the world. Visitors—beetles, “each back opening and closing on itself,” smelt, flood plain, river, even the “rust fish,” bronze statues, now rusted, of salmon in the public place—transform her and are transformed in her presence. The imagination, however, does not trade in illusion. Locals like herself know the “sea smell” the tourists come for is really the rotting corpse of a seal, know the red room she has been locked in is not a dream. In this book of poems infused with magic cadences, Maya Zeller spells the damaged world into sparkle again.
About the Author
Maya Jewell Zeller
Maya Jewell Zeller grew up in the Pacific Northwest. Born at home in the upstairs apartment of her parents’ gas station on the Oregon coast, Maya has been a high school teacher, cross country and track coach, an editor, a college professor, and most recently, a mother. Her poetry has won awards from The Florida Review and Crab Orchard Review, and appears widely. She currently lives in Spokane with her husband and daughter, and teaches English at Gonzaga University.
THE RUST FISH
leap on their poles, ride sidewalk
toward river. Once they gleamed silver,
glowed bronze in the Bellingham sun,
once they glitzed chrome
under smoke-town moon. People
would come to see their own bright
reflections in the freckled statues,
look into the fishes’ eyes and know
what stone to carve their souls from.
Elders burned cedar, fanned smoke
to these fish. Women imagined themselves
sea lions swimming up Whatcom Creek,
swallowing brilliant pieces of gods.
Today a girl leans her bike on this salmon’s
red stick, pink plastic streamers
from her handlebars making whiskers
across a stuck jaw. The bugs
aren’t afraid; they buzz
and glimmer as if no teeth, no snap
could crush them again.
But tonight when constellations whiten
and bang against black, these fish
leave their rods to the low-lying fog, rise
in long jelly arcs as if no metal
contains them, as if
they might spawn stars.