Poetry Issue #31

Defense of Dysfunction

By Crystal J. Zanders

My brother and I used to fight over the remote.

We would spend hours after school

before Mama got home, arms locked in battle.

If you let go, you lost…
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*Image: “Television Can Seriously Damage Your Imagination” by Billy Tee, acrylic on canvas with enamel tiles, buttons and paper collage



Crystal J. Zanders

Featured Poet



Defense of Dysfunction


My brother and I used to fight over the remote.
We would spend hours after school
before Mama got home, arms locked in battle.
If you let go, you lost.
We would take it with us to the bathroom.
If you left it, you lost.
Eventually, we pulled it apart.
We hid the pieces, never mentioning it.
Mama didn’t ask.

Then buttons of the TV fell in.
It was gradual; the volume went first.
Within a few weeks, there were more buttons in than out.
My brother got a butter knife from the kitchen
to poke at the levers inside the holes.
Mama was happy that he fixed the problem;
I threw a fit,
“Y’all gonna get electrocuted!”
I replaced the butter knife with a plastic knife;
it lived on the edge of the TV stand
with VHS tapes stacked underneath
to keep it from leaning too far to the left,
until the next year when Mama’s taxes came back.

When we got the new TV, we placed it on that stand
and put the old one and the plastic knife in Mama’s room.
I guess, after a while, you learn to live with broken things.



Lesson in Loneliness


Water is sticky,
my eighth-grade science
teacher told us.
The shower curtain creeps
in on you because it knows
there is water on your body,
and it longs to connect.


Water is polar,
I learned later in chemistry.
Two hydrogens and one oxygen
make the molecules a little lopsided.
It’s drawn to other molecules,
searching, longing to connect.





You were eaten by a big green bird and vomited
on the other side of the world. I laughed

when you told me you’d joined. You won’t pass
the psych exam, I said, remembering the turtlenecks

you adopted after your last suicide attempt. You called,
and we were children playing bomb on the phone,

conscious of listeners. You drove trucks, you told
me, it was boring; you lied. I prayed,

and most of you survived. You asked
me what I wanted you to bring me back;

I told you to steal me a grenade.



The River III


The city dumps sewage in the river

in the Tennessee town where I grew up.

Some days the smell hangs heavy

in the air like wet towels on the line.

Walking, you have to wade through it.

Breathing it in, you can taste it

lingering in the back of your throat.


But once, I got there just in time

to see the mist refracting the setting sun

leaving a layer of pink over the blue.

I could still smell the sewage,

but it didn’t matter.

By Crystal J. Zanders

Crystal J. Zanders is a poet, teacher, and pug-owner who lives in Albuquerque. She is currently an MFA candidate at the University of New Mexico in Poetry. Her work has been featured in |tap|lit and is forthcoming in 45th Parallel.