My Zorba
Danielle Pafunda
ISBN 9780615195933
Bloof Books, 2008
Poetry, 79 pages, paperback

Reviewed by John Findura

Danielle Pafunda’s second book of poems is like watching an old nickelodeon or pressing your eye to the hole in a fence while the lights are flicked on and off quickly; there is rotation, and the movement often leaves you forced to fill in the minutest gaps, coloring the book with the reader’s own ideas.

The “Zorba” who appears throughout the book is never stable and cannot be pinned down. “She said my body became a praise-shack” is perhaps the most in-depth look we get into who or what Zorba is. Later, “He drew a drawbridge, she drew a gangplank. He an awning, / she an armory.” The book vacillates between the drawbridge and the gangplank, just as Zorba morphs between a “he” and a “she.” As each poem unfolds, there is a sign of welcome, but as quickly as it is noticed, next to it is the gangplank leading us off into the murky depths. It is an apt metaphor for reading this book as each turn of the page sucks us in deeper.

“Go Starboard, Go Further, Flee” contains the lines

[…] We dinner. We deck with the captain, a stroll in the
balloon light. We deck the captain, the gunner comes running.

Snail the passages so that in the phosphorescence of shipwreck,
I will be able to find you.

The images themselves are obvious, the way of getting there, however, is wonderfully skewered: the multiple meanings of “deck” when it is used so strangely as a verb the first time, the phrase “balloon light” and its long “o” connection with “moon,” the use of “Snail” as a verb, and the image of a shipwreck in phosphorescence.

Aside from the leaps in lines like “He warned me the wool blanket”, and the distance of the word “warned” to “warmed,” what keeps the momentum going is the transfer of sexuality throughout. The narrator eventually leads to “I felt my tentacle flex” and “soon thereafter I stiffened” from the feminine perspective of “for the third time in a year, I had / become hysterically pregnant.”

In “Rallying on the Plank, the Porch Swing Leans In” Pafunda writes that

With Zorba’s fingers, I have seen the shape of the triangle.
The shape of the hole and the shape of the plaintiff. I have
encountered the shape of a blade of grass, which slips
between two doors of the porch. Screen and otherwise.

The sex is obvious, the sexuality not so much as it again teeters back and forth. The first line leaves a bit of a mystery with the relationship to Zorba. Is the speaker feeling through Zorba’s fingers? Has she taken on the role of Zorba? Or is it simply Zorba doing the showing? And if so, whose “triangle”? The second line also adds another layer of interest. By separating the images of “The shape of the hole” and “the shape of the plaintiff” we are left to believe that they are separate, with a more masculine identity assumed by “the plaintiff.” This would leave the female in the role of “the Defendant.” What is her crime? Is it letting the blade of grass slip “between two doors”?

After a large break of white, Pafunda continues “A Quarter-Hour of Recess” with

When I tried to cover the hair with pancake, Zorba
Intercepted. She patted down the razor blade. The laugh.
Later, Zorba, her own blade in hand. Her brittle.

Brittle, exactly, like this poem, like these poems. Everything seems broken, haphazardly put back into place, trying to resemble what is was before the fracture, like a child gluing the lamp he broke back together. Scattered throughout the book are words and ideas glued together like “mommyanddady” and “HanselandGretel.” We recognize the form immediately, although it is a little off, but we find its purpose now changed and agitated—its reason stripped to the outline of an object. In places it becomes the outside world being ensnared by the whimsy of a broken set of blinds.

In the end, there is a single reason to not put this book down, as well as it being a legitimate reason for picking it up in the first place: as Pafunda states in “Parsimonious Holiday,” “It would be interesting to see what happened next.”

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John Findura holds an MFA from The New School. His poetry and criticism appear in journals such as Mid-American Review, Verse, Fugue, Fourteen Hills, CutBank, No Tell Motel, H_NGM_N, Jacket, and Rain Taxi, among others. Born in Paterson, he lives and teaches in Northern New Jersey.