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Andrew Zawacki’s third book, Petals of Zero Petals of One, is comprised of three long poems, correlated by their frenetic pacing and chaotic undertones. Employing both elevated language and profane slurs, Zawacki lays a lyrical path that leads the reader from pastoral southern landscapes through urban decay and back into suburban complacency. Often unpaved, bombed out or pocked with violence, this lyrical road mimics the rapid cadence and constant jostling of a fast jeep ride over uneven terrain, its a.m. radio set somewhere between dogmatic rants and shouting static.
“Georgia” is Zawacki’s ode to his disagreeable home. Genial Georgia, its folkloric hospitality and each proud moment of its history are strapped to a chair, eyes pried agape, and forced to watch a montage of its gravest short comings. “I don’t sleep Georgia,” starts Zawacki, setting the tone for the anxious insomnia that defines this poem. Georgia is accused directly and repeatedly, its name an ever-evolving punctuation mark (in the absence of any others) that recurs every few lines and persists through the whole of the poem’s thirty pages. When reading “Georgia” the identity of the addressed skews and at times disappears into a dense fog of frustration. In some lines Georgia might be a woman, a southern belle or a “bitch”; in others it is perhaps a former Soviet state, steeped in despotism. Long after these popular connotations have passed the reader, Zawacki is still chipping away, using Georgia as a curse, a weapon, a disease or a darkened room.
There is a “hotwired Georgia,” a “centrifugal Georgia” and a “ricochet Georgia.” Zawacki’s vitriol is that of a parent disappointed or a lover betrayed, drunk on unhinged emotion, weary of compromise and growing violent. By the end of the poem, “I don’t sleep Georgia” becomes “I won’t sleep Georgia.” His matter-of-fact tone has chewed on its sentiments for hundreds of lines, and through its volcanic eruption and molten flow, embraced its scalding defiance. Georgia is a crime scene and Zawacki is witness.
Throughout the poem, Zawacki’s wit is unfading. Blunt as the work may occasionally be, it is still rife with inventive word play and sonic sculpting that is always engaging and vividly imagined. Zawacki gives the impression that he is offering Georgia only what it wants. He is colloquial with Georgia, “I don’t say it ain’t kitschy Georgia.” He violently decries Georgia’s violence. He is able to do so because he is present in Georgia, part of Georgia, as Georgia is part of him. His discontent is so specific and vast, it could only be self-generated.
In “Arrow’s Shadow”, the second poem in Petals of Zero Petals of One, Zawacki depicts nature as a post-technological accident, a “tear in the terra.” The poem is right aligned, heightening the visual tension and defying the reader’s learned ocular inclinations. The eyes must resituate themselves at a new origin with each line. It is said that emotionally disturbed children tend to draw images towards the edges of a sheet of paper; this poem reads as if printed from an emotionally fragile computer. Zawacki reassures us,
eries are the centers of other things
Ends of lines seem to slip toward the gap between pages, or conversely grow like vines out of the shadowy fissure at the binding. Words are repeatedly enjambed, reducing lines to syllabic utterances that read like the notes playing from a scratched CD, or the “whistling polyhymnia of Geiger counter.” Difficult to structure together in traditional sentences, and likely requiring the average reader the companionship of a dictionary, the reader who can trade knowing for experiencing is likely to take more from this poem. “Arrow’s Shadow” is a mechanical mating call, the
ject and ob-
ject suspend[ing] their wetland lease
Nature, in “Arrow’s Shoadow,” has lost its autonomy. Every meteorological moment is “the extinction of a cloud cued up and cranked hifi,” or “systolic lightning toggles.”
Petals of Zero Petals of One concludes with the book’s shortest poem, “Storm, Lustral.” In it Zawacki coheres the rebellious individuality of the first two poems from this book into a melancholic precipitation. The poem rolls in from the vast turbulent seas stirred by the shifting pressures of its predecessors. It feels isolated and introspective as “everything hangs in the balance, even the balance.” A ‘you’ and an ‘I’ secure themselves as a storm bears down on their home and they on each other.
“Storm, Lustral” speaks at times with the drawl of “Georgia,” “a snowflake done brought the mountain down: reckons well,” and with the fuzzy crackle of “Arrow’s Shadow,” where “birds filibuster a poplar & stay the conductivity of night in this landscape sampling another samples others.” Unlike the visceral indictments of the outcast in “Georgia” or statically charged broadcast of “Arrow’s Shadow,” “Storm, Lustral” is overcast. The narrator feels “unable to stay on the coast of a concept a singular thing that only happens plural.” He finds himself in a setting “filthy & fucked up & bent beyond fixing.”
Petals of Zero Petals of One entangles itself in the red and black wire confusion of the 21st century. Whether alarming or disarming, Zawacki’s deft use of language saturates this book and begs for revisiting. Each subsequent reading enjoys melodic changes due to the abundant word and line play. Zawacki manages to render a landscape in perfect color of the shoreline where radio and tidal waves crash.
Daniel Shoemaker is a video artist and recent graduate of the University of Richmond.