February 15, 2020

Jeff Vande Zande


Wanting to sell our house,
my wife and I agreed
against methylene chloride’s
bleed into the ground water,
and so with the first door up
on saw horses, I poured
eco-friendly paint stripper,
remembering our realtor
advising, “People want natural
wood in Victorian homes.”

After six applications,
faint swatches of oak
faded up through the layers,
giving me time to imagine
the twelve other doors.
We wanted better neighbors,
central air, a bigger yard,
and needed to be on the market
before the end of March.
“Most houses sell in April
and May,” our realtor said.

The second can of stripper
annihilated the years of paint,
bubbling up globs of acid mucous
to fly from my scraper, smoldering
to yellow the spring grass
around my blue tarp, leaving
my fingertips and knuckles
simmering like the upper arms
of old men having heart attacks.

My wife and I didn’t talk
about the first can of stripper
we abandoned in the garage
of that house we no longer own.
“They loved your woodwork,”
the realtor congratulated,
and our house sold immediately
and for more than we’d hoped,
which we agreed in the end
was really the important thing.

from Rattle #28, Winter 2007


Jeff Vande Zande: “I’m of the belief that poetry, and all literary writing, should be after something. It should tell us a truth about who we are—even if the truth is often ugly. Don’t expect of corporations what you can’t live by in your own life.”

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September 1, 2012

Jeff Vande Zande


(An Incomplete List)

Don’t let your cell phone rest
against your ear or any other body part. Don’t use the same ear
for every conversation. Don’t use your cell phone
while you’re driving
since it must continually reconnect with antennas,
which uses more power,
and the signal is reflected by the metal around you.

All of the above doubles the chances for salivary gland anomalies, gliomas
and acoustic tumors.

  Don’t own a cell phone.
    Never leave the house
without a cell phone
    because you never know when you’ll need someone.

Digitally Enhanced Cordless Telecommunications (DECTs)
    constantly emit radiation.

Try never to use one while you are using one.

  Don’t use computers, printers, iPhones, iTouches, BlackBerries, etc.
  Wireless signals are a source of electromagnetic radiation.

Don’t doubt the truth of this; Google it for yourself.
 Don’t ever use the Internet.

Every search you execute exposes you to viruses.

Even if you don’t have wireless
    service, don’t leave your Wifi setting in the on position;
the device will emit electromagnetic energy
      in a continuous search
 for the nearest available router.

Don’t own a computer.

Try never to breathe on Ozone Alert days.

    Don’t stand within twenty feet of an operating microwave.

Don’t believe you’re safe.

Set your cell phone inside your microwave
to test it for radiation leakage. Call it
with another cell phone. If you can hear it ringing,
it means that microwaves can pass through the walls
of your microwave oven.

Don’t microwave
  your cell phone.
Don’t own a microwave.

Don’t forget to microwave leftovers to kill bacteria. Try not to eat leftovers.
  Don’t waste food.

If you can help it, don’t eat.

Don’t own a plasma TV
  which generate high levels
    of dirty electricity,
linked to fatigue,
difficulty concentrating
 and cardiac symptoms
         in sensitive people

(known as electrohypersensitivity).

Don’t forget to watch programs on your plasma TV about household safety.

  Don’t, if you can avoid them, own a television or a home.

Don’t put your feet up while relaxing; we don’t know why yet, just don’t.
Don’t forget to try to relax.
Don’t do anything stressful.

Don’t forget that stress is a sign that you are probably living.

Don’t wake up; don’t sleep.
  Don’t do anything that feels good.
  Don’t do anything that feels bad.
  Don’t do anything.

Don’t forget to breathe.
  Don’t forget to eat vegetables.

Don’t forget to remember that the fertilizers they use to grow vegetables can leave
trace amounts of carcinogenic nitrates in those salads you eat.

Don’t forget there’s nothing you can do about any of this.

This poem is already outdated.
This poem will never get old.
Don’t try to avoid reading this; it could save you.
  Don’t ever read this poem … it’s a proven killer.

from Rattle #36, Winter 2011
Rattle Poetry Prize Finalist


Jeff Vande Zande: “I owe the writing of my poem, ‘The Don’ts (an incomplete list)’ to my in-laws. They subscribe to a monthly newsletter that offers advice to retirees. When my father-in-law is done reading them, he puts them in the guestroom. One night, unable to sleep, I began to read an article with a title along the lines of ‘Why Your Household Electronics Are Probably Killing You’ or something fun like that. After reading that article, I got the idea for the poem, and I had a great time writing it. It’s a ‘found’ poem of sorts, though I needed to knock it into shape and make additions of my own to truly make it what I would call a poem.” (website)

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February 16, 2011

Jeff Vande Zande


Discontinuing By Timberland
on a Fleecy Eventide
—Robert Frost

Whose copse this is I speculate I get.
His domicile is in the township, yet;
He won’t monitor me refraining here
To observe his pines congesting with wet.

My petite steed must reckon it bizarre
To knock off with the next shanty so far
Flanked by boscage and glaciated loch
The blackest eve of Earth’s loop around star.

He gives his tackle’s carillon a flap
As though he’s inquiring, “What the crap?”
The single other racket is the zoom
Of cozy zephyr and pubescent scrap.

The thicket is cute, sooty and abstruse.
But I’ve contracts that I don’t want to lose,
And 5,280 feet more until I snooze,
And 5,280 feet more until I snooze.

from Rattle #33, Summer 2010
Tribute to Humor


Jeff Vande Zande: “I guess I was reading a lot of student papers in which students were compelled to try to make their papers sound ‘better’ by using the thesaurus. For instance, one student had been arguing why people should take up jogging and then, in the middle of the paper, started arguing why people should take up cantering. I thought it might be funny to rewrite a Frost poem under the premise that Frost was a thesaurus abuser. Then, after reading it, Tim Green said, ‘I like it, Jeff, but can you make it rhyme?’ That’s three hours of my life that I’ll never get back!” (web)

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November 11, 2010

Jeff Vande Zande


Her small body shines
with water and light.
Giggling, she squeals daddy,
splashes until his pants darken.
Five more minutes, he thinks,
stepping out quickly,
pouring himself a drink,
not expecting to return
to find her slipped under,
her tiny face staring up
through the undulating surface.
Before he can move,
or drop his scotch,
she raises her dripping head,
her mouth a perfect O.
The sound of her gulped breath
takes the wind out of him.
Her face, pale and awed,
understands the other side
of water and air.
His wife didn’t see,
doesn’t know.
Her feet pulse and fade
in the upstairs joists.
His daughter cries,
slips from him, not giggling.
She wants out.
He tries to keep her
in the tub, in the light.
He’s on his knees.

from Rattle #24, Winter 2005

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March 18, 2010

Jeff Vande Zande


She starts the engine, wanting
only the air conditioning.
He unloads their shopping cart
into the back and then slides
in against the scorching seat,
grips the wheel, and watches
her finger skim the receipt
until she finally announces
that the store didn’t charge
them for the table lamp.
They both turn around
as though to check a child
strapped into a booster.
It’s there. And, it’s theirs.
Crystal base. Beige shade.
They tingle with chemicals:
norepinephrine, phenylethylamine,
dopamine— the same blend
of neurotransmitters that fired
six years ago in the stretch
of their first extended kiss.
It’s not until miles later,
when normal levels return,
that they turn to each other.
She begins with the rumors
of child labor overseas,
while he explains how
places like that always bully
their way into towns
with promises of low prices,
and they’re both soon nodding
to the idea that all of this,
the unaccounted parting gift
of a sixty-five dollar lamp,
this rare olly olly oxen free,
is exactly what a store
like that deserves.

from Rattle #31, Summer 2009

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November 9, 2008

Jeff Vande Zande


It’s the first time
he doesn’t want us
around. They disappear
upstairs with sleeping bags,
pillows, a miniature suitcase,
like bonsai luggage.
They close the door.
My wife and I aren’t sure
what to do with our
sudden personal space.
We drift around
the empty downstairs.
I go to the landing
twice, lift a foot
to the first step.
My wife shakes her head.
“Just let them play,”
she says, smiling,
watching the weather
channel, trying to be positive
despite the cold fronts.
The upstairs rumbles
with their running
and distant voices.
What they will begin
to share tonight in whispers,
will leave us behind,
the start of what will be
our son’s own life.
Watching TV, my wife
and I remember
how to hold hands
like teenagers. Skin
finds skin, fingers
slide between fingers,
knotting, intertwining,
palms sweating
beneath the slow rhythm
of thumb rubbing thumb
until coming
downstairs so quietly,
they startle us,
as though we’d forgotten
we weren’t alone.

from Rattle #26, Winter 2006

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