Pins & Needles No. 26: Abigail Zimmer

Pins & Needles

bad wolf
© A.T. Velazco

No. 26: Abigail Zimmer

Q. I enjoyed the list aspects in “At the Closing of the World,” bonus points for coral and that beluga whale. “Hiatus” also makes use of the list aesthetic (alder, birch, oak, etc.). What’s your advice on crafting a successful list poem?

Keep going, longer than you think is comfortable because it’s in those moments of discomfort that things happen. And I want to say, “get strange.” I also want to say, “include the mundane,” so maybe there are no rules. The great thing about lists is that whatever you have collected together in your pile of a poem will start to make its own conversation. You just listen. 

Q. You’ve stated that you “want worlds filled with the strange, the on-the-move, a few loose ends and Dorothy-like believers.” Sounds exciting. In which of these categories do you see yourself?

I hope all of them. Movement is really important to me, both in writing and in my life. To ask questions, accept a challenge, explore an emotion. Even in rest, being open to what comes to you—a thought, a phone call, a tornado whisking you away to another world full of flying monkeys and really sparkly shoes–means growth in some way. “And so to begin / my love,” writes Alice Notley. That “and so” such an exciting turning point. A loose end leaving room for another story.  

Q. As The Emerald Issue’s final contributor, you supply its closing words: “The butterfly monk releases his blessed host.” What is your favorite ending line of all time and why?

I have a poem by Yehuda Amichai taped to my bathroom mirror, called, “When I Banged My Head on the Door” (read the full poem here), which ends with three objects that matter most to the speaker: “My head, my head. / Door, door. Your hand, your hand.” (Another list!) I love the simplicity of the pared down, the complete focus on this particular moment and its longings.

I’m also rereading Arda Collins’s collection It Is Daylight, which includes poems beginning, “It was raining a little,” “It was hours before I sat down / with a bowl of soup,” “A glass of orange juice / overpowers the counter.” Her last poem ends: “And after, they’re going to have / pear clafoutis behind a velvet curtain / and drive their skulls into the center of a diamond.” It’s such a punch of an ending after these everyday moments, the speaker boring further into the hard and beautiful interiority of her private space. Yeah, it’s good.

Interview conducted by Fairy Tale Review Poetry Editor Jon Riccio.

Abigail Zimmer’s work, from Fearless As I Seam, appears in The Emerald Issue of Fairy Tale Review.

“At the Closing of the World”

After self-indulgent tirades and the last teary you mean

a lot, a boat waits to cup and carry me out to sea. I pass

schools of fish, a beluga whale, porpoises and squid,

apologies, a chunk of coral reef. What is dredged from

the deep rides the current. They hope to be landborne

finally. I hope for some slight turning of the universe, a

conversation I wasn’t privy to before. Who knows how

it will come—explosions, darker night, some tugging

at the heart before I keel starboard. There are

others watching the wide sky. Someone is singing and the

sound is no longer right for me. I have said nothing for

weeks. All sense of reason—now an offering.


In the walking tree forest, a large clearing. No one

knows what / goes there. To step in is to split into

carvings. Birch becomes canoe. Alder, a bear statue.

Oak, a cutting board. Tamarack, a word horse. Linden,

a mother for orphans. Dogwood, discarded sounds. If

you are a tree, do not go there. If you are a tree, take

another route.

“The Woman in the Dress Begs”

She wants me to sip. Her lips salt crusted. These nine men

are stories now. She sways, dress strap sliding off shoulder.

I want to help / am required to help / came here to help

/ want her. Ready for the word sorrow. In my hand is

the cup. In my heart is good. In my good is a spell. Then

the woman panics. Stop! Don’t spill. Her fear holding. You

cannot lose a drop. Her sorrow world, her circle of red.

“The Incident”

Most underwater cities are freshwater. I visit one with

a river-sky. The inhabitants have long thin faces and

are always dancing. Shake your hips, they chide when I

pause to remove a crawfish from between my toes.

Form lies in the wrists, with which they bait their partner.

Reel & swoon. Little light cathedrals. Otherwise

we are lost. When the hull of a skiff clouds the river-sky,

when their grumbling bitters the water, when their

gathering brews to the surface, when they say, as if above

there is light to spare.

“The Ruined City”

Steel-framed and smoking. The river carries me

through. The river leaves where it can. Bent to a bridge,

a watchtower breaks in slow pain. Here the hush of

survivors. Paled heaps of junk for the sake of moving.

The sky remains ash for years. I believe what I can.

In the water, a parade reflected, sunny streets and the

shape of music, a limbed crowd reaching, ribbons in

hair, around fingers, out windows, across waists, from

rooftops, upon mouths, over lungs, within trade. The

butterfly monk releases his blessed host.