ZZ Packer – a riff on a short story

This gem of a short story in ZZ Packer’s eponymous collection, Drinking Coffee Elsewhere, really took me back to freshman year in college, and all the tensions I felt among my new college ‘friends’. The poem I wrote in response doesn’t do the story justice, but I couldn’t resist trying.

Against Yale’s brick and mortar edifice,
our question marks about ourselves wore thin,
a trying-on, a test that’s hit-or-miss,
the sort of test we’d skipped, to not fit in.
The shabby drills of funerals caught out
the repartee we lived for – cryptic, crabbed
and always quick to hang its hat on doubt –
the rules of death, for us, no less exact.
In the event, one dreams of Istanbul,
of coffee on the Bosporus, away
from childhood’s traps – al through the strain a full
day of mourning puts on you – just to stay
lucid and connected with the future
you still had the day before: you daydream
and you try not to remember her.
I couldn’t say that, without starting to seem
like the sort of person who holds you,
when all you want is to cry and be held.
Nothing I said would have made that sound true,
no matter how reflexively my heart swelled.

This book of short stories is for people who don’t normally go in for literary short stories. Beautiful, compelling, deeply personal and utterly refreshing writing that speaks to the here and now with real scope and clout.

No time for a new book? For a quickie from ZZ, check out her Trump-era essay for NYT Magazine on civility and civil society in an age of polarized politics. Reading this essay alongside descriptions of entire factories of professional internet trolls clocking in to send hatespeech from work in Peter Pomerantsev’s book This is Not Propaganda is really frustrating.

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Filed under False controversies, Poetry, Puppy love

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