Now Hear the Word of the Lord

by Jim Zola
The Waters
Second Place, November 2021
Judged by Terence Culleton

I can recite the names of all the bones
in the human body, two hundred and six,
a parlor trick I practice at parties.
When drunk, I rap them in cartoon voices.
carpus and tarsus and zygometric.
The other night while making love
she stopped and laughed and said
I have an ambulance in my head.

But the ambulance was in the night. Flashing
lights played tag around the bedroom walls.
Good neighbors, we uncuddled to peek
from behind the curtains, curious to learn
which old man was shuffling closer to god.
Dem bones dem bones dem dry bones
This morning I watched a scattering
of starlings tossed against the permanent sky.

The last two lines of this poem lift it deftly away from itself and, at the same time, open it up and outward. The image of the “starlings tossed against a permanent sky” rises above the very entertaining oddities asserted in the first stanza and the self-amused narrative of the second to pose the timeless question the poem thus far has been both approaching and avoiding. Further, the poem’s movement is realized with extraordinary efficiency through juxtapositions, contextual shifts, and ironic realizations, and the language and syntax are clean and direct. No wasted words or even syllables. It’s a very satisfying, and memorable, read. --Terence Culleton