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Best Poems Written by Steve Zak

Below are the all-time best Steve Zak poems as chosen by PoetrySoup members

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Bike Riding

Bike Riding

Once, I was able to navigate my sleek black Fuji racer, sitting arrow straight, pushing hard, and hands at my side. It’s amazing to think I was able to maintain my balance, down hills, around
unyielding corners, no plastic garbage pail stuck on my head to protect what little brains I had in the first place. Ah, those were the days.

I was dashing and daring back then, hawk-like eyes focused, clear and bright. There was no need to squint until my head ached. I rode with a pack of wolves, flying maniacs all part of my tribe, hurling down streets littered with the remains of Detroit’s monsters. There was no sissy water bottle stuck on the frame, no reflective side mirrors to steer me away from danger. No, just a basic stripped down machine was all I needed as if I was a test pilot screaming past mach one, the rush of pure adrenaline.

Now, when I bike ride, I feel weighed down with the expectation of a crash landing about to happen. Flung backwards by the slightest breathe of wind, I choke the handle bars with white knuckled kid gloves with eyes glued to the road, I expect the worse is always about to happen, watching the odometer to gauge how far I have gone, and how much time I have left.

Copyright © Steve Zak | Year Posted 2018



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Black Sunday, 1935

Year five of the Great Depression. 

April 14, 1935 another Sunday of church services praying for
The rain that wasn’t coming.

And the sky turned mean and angry, as daylight was obliterated into The blackness of night. The wind scoured the land, sweeping 
Everything in front of it like a plague of ancient locusts.   

A great migration of dust lifted up, blowing away a swath
Of the American dream, leaving only memories before 1935.

A relentless burning wind emptied out what little hope the
Migrating towns had left. 

Every inch of top soil was devoured, while dead cattle were strung out Against the barbed wire fence line; marked boundaries didn’t count for much anymore.

A blizzard of death coated whatever was in its way, across the
Empty fields of the Great Plains, the haciendas of New Mexico, the Empty towns of Oklahoma and everywhere it touched.

Black Sunday’s revenge was absolute, falling black snow, six feet deep.
Dust coating the lungs, blinding the eyes, swallowing the homesteads. 

An inky black wall spawned from hell spread its wings, soaring Hundreds of feet high. When it ended, nothing would be the 
Same in these places.  


The barren Dakotas.
The endless plains of Kansas.
The mountain peaks of Colorado.
The great dust bowl of Oklahoma.
The arid lands of New Mexico.
The vast Texas cattle ranches.                                                   

America, Sunday April 14, 1935
Hard times.                                                                                 

Copyright © Steve Zak | Year Posted 2018

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Havana Nights

The steamy Havana night air became heavy through the broken-up streets of the old city where ancient Detroit monsters were on display like dinosaurs from some prehistoric era, forgotten, given up to the boundaries of time. 

Another empty night crawl for two wayward visitors on temporary visas, caught between drifting indifferent currents, lost on their tattered barstools in the Tropicana. Their eyes wander the room, locking in on each other.

Sitting together they easily recounted their sad stories, not for the first time. He was running from a conventional life; she had blown through her third marriage. Two misbegotten tales, evenly hatched, flavored by the taste of 80 proof Cuban rum.

Two strangers, looking for a sign to escape from another slow Havana night as they checked into one of the hotels just for tourists. They got a room on the fourth floor engulfed by a king size bed, neither thinking about the décor.

Two lovers grounded in the moment without suitcases to be unpacked, locked in the heated embrace of unencumbered sex. Both equally relieved in the knowledge there wasn’t going to be the need for any long goodbyes or regrets in the morning.


Their night of frenzied love making completed without the need to look postcard fresh in the morning. By noontime they were standing at the front desk; just another American couple paying for their one night stay in Havana in dollars.

The streets outside overflowed with the sounds of truck
horns and the patched together relics of another time. They knew it was best to quickly separate before the hour stretched deep into the afternoon and then into another Havana night.

Copyright © Steve Zak | Year Posted 2018

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The Missing

Memories shift through generations; pictures yellow, fray across the currents of time, worn and torn. Hushed stories talk about a life taken away too early, bone fragments in the mud, saltwater graves and grappling vines overgrowing some jungle island with a strange sounding name.  

The hard sands of beaches are caught by the riptides of another time when soldiers scrambled down a ramp coming to a certain end. Families wait for word, huddled together in tight clusters listening to radio bulletins. Names are said with reverence as their ghosts gather in the shrouded mist, just on the edge always waiting, waiting to come home.

Families still search for their remains, something of who they were: a shard of metal ripped from the ancient skeletal remains of a plane that crashed; leather jackets that crumble to ash, numbers on an engine marking the place. They are the missing, waiting to be found, to come home for the last time. 

Services are conducted, speeches are given by the few who remember, rifles raised in salute, flags folded with precision, placed in trembling hands. The anguished cry of taps signals the missing have come home; no matter how long it takes to find a son, a brother, a father they never knew or an uncle pictured in some grainy black and whites. It’s the journey’s end for the missing.

Copyright © Steve Zak | Year Posted 2018

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Progress

Another concrete bomb shelter emerges, taking the shape of a Starbuck coffee palace embedded with the captive lure of free internet service. Like a crouching tiger on the prowl, this behemoth hungrily eyes the empty grass lot as a sure sign of progress.

A Chipotle rises up next door. This nondescript storefront eatery imitates an assembly line method of serving up a slew of fresh ingredients in the shape of a taco salad, unlike anything ever seen in Mexico.

Square shaped albatross blocks begin to nest in the corners of the parcel of unused land as the canal in front is drained and the arteries of sewer pipes are laid, then covered up as if they don’t really exist. An engineering miracle done on time and within budget.

Black top is pounded down and cooled, white borders are formed to insure no one crosses over into someone else’s territory, artificial suns are hung to illuminate the night to help travelers find their way into this barren moonscape.

An oasis of concrete bunkers offers up colored nutrients and drink, to the never-ending march of devotees who willingly lay down their coinage and devour everything being offered; the sure sign of progress when there is no place left to go.

Copyright © Steve Zak | Year Posted 2018



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America, 1933

They are conflicted haunted images from black and white photos of America 1933, when there was no place left to run. 

It was the hunger of people lined up, scraps of food ladled out, the street kitchens stretch across the country. 

Families held together by a single thread of silent prayers, believing the next day will be better, no worse.

Men fight ten deep for the chance their name will be yelled out for a one day job. 

They were called the forgotten men wandering across the land, something they never did before 1933. 

Clothes hang on them like torn streams of ribbons; belts tied tight holding up baggy pants, newspaper stuffed jackets. 

Dust creased their lined faces, blown black across the sky turning everything into perpetual night.

They exist for each day; moving through and sometimes around every small town, unwelcome mouths to be fed. 

Everywhere there are broken main streets, boarded up stores, empty movie marquee signs of Hollywood a world away.

The movies held out the promise of a dream, as they forgot the empty feeling in their stomach, at least for the afternoon. 

By now the months reached into years. The years stacked up into each other; a cornerstone built with no end in sight. 

Words and photographs create a black and white montage of despair and the hope for tomorrow.  

It was in their eyes. American 1933, another time, just a step around the corner, fall back.

 
                                       
                                         II- The Dust Bowl

Hard times blew through the screen door, around window panes, stretched out across the flat, dried out land. 

No rain, no grass, empty wheat fields shrunk down to nothing, as far as the land went and further than the eye could see. 

A heartless wind coughed up blackened dust, trapped by the whirlwinds of the plains to the distance cities in the East.

Dark oceans flood the horizon, the sky choked off. The land transformed clean, every morning, and every day. 

The black midday sun is plotted out by packed-in dust. The heat built up like the blast furnaces of the giant Pittsburg steel mills. 

Endless days of wind, dirt turns the hard scrabble people from the farms bitter with disappointment, just surviving. 

Their dreams tumble in the nightmare of fence lines blown away while endless sand dunes swallow up the top soil.

A mountain of dirt overflows everything and anything, until it disappears as if it was never was there.

Hard times in America, 1933. Some gave up, moving to dreams awash in the Pacific, others stayed, frozen in place and time. 

Dust clung to the skin, crusted the eyes, bit the lips, and lodged in the lungs; a coughing disease leaving nothing untouched.

Dreams die hard, floor boards torn up on the back porch; the broken swing squeals in the wind, empty. 

Farm cattle are shrunk down to nothing, dead or sold off. Empty fields are painted multiple drab shades of brown.

Hope is matched to despair; the pain of giving up was not something they ever knew; this time it was different, 

Worn faces, rusted jalopies on four wheels packed hard with generations in retreat, the land had abandoned them. 

Nothing was left to be done but head off to the next day; still holding tight in the hope that tomorrow will better. 

Hard times had come to the promised land.  There wasn’t any place to hide; America in 1933.

Copyright © Steve Zak | Year Posted 2018

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Lies, Liars and Love

                                       Lies, Lovers and Love 

                                           I- The Perfect Lie

It was easy for her to say “I Love You”. She must have practiced it a thousand times, with the mirror as her lover. She said it as an afterthought, added to the conversation at just the right moment, her timing always impeccable. 

Her mouth opened and the words came out with the perfect lie. 
She needed to feel loved, and saying these words out loud made it all the more believable to her. What would come later did not add anything to the equation of being in love.

Words injected into her orbit were objects to be shifted around, picked up for a time, discarded when they no longer served any purpose. She always remained confident of the outcome, unable to understand what she had said would become the lie between us.  

Her words rest on the floor in the dust bin of shallow memories that cannot be altered with the transit of time. Perhaps it is better to pretend what we know to be the truth is not what we heard. Words cannot equal love, for that to happen you cannot tell the perfect lie.


                                                  II- The Death of Love

Love often dies hard.
Twisted into fragmentary
Pieces, 
Bit by bit
Until time and pain obliterate 
Everything.

Love disappears around corners,
behind doors,
Within rooms, trapped
Between two worlds.
Both offer alternate endings,
As the dark devours
The light and what is left is what 
We cannot take with us.

It is only in dreams of white clouds
Are we allowed to see what is not there.
The moment when love is squandered,
Plummeted by the pain it causes.
Bitter,
Piercing, 
Unending.
Lovers explain every misjudgment into 
Small judgments, 
Measured by the few words
Never spoken.

Parcels of love litter the ground,
Fashioned into an unfinished puzzle
That can never be solved.
Lovers traverse the endless
Corridor of memories
Waiting to reclaim
What they cannot, and in the end
Will die a thousand deaths,
But live only once.
It is the nature of being in love.


                                       
                                         III- Lost and Found

I was lost, your unintended victim the moment our lips touched, a seemingly innocent feathery whisper of a kiss, infused with the burning pain caused by bolt of lightning searing my heart. 

That moment between us was too long, even for a second. Every emotion I knew was scattered into microscopic particles of dust spewed across an endless barren desert without any chance of knowing love. 

There never are visitors to this place, only pilgrims trying to avoid the quicksand of love and not be swallowed up by a single misstep; each surrounded by the driftwood of a discarded love that will not end. 

I move across a vast plain, one foot in front of another, searching for shelter while your presence never seems to disappear, constantly dragged through my mind as I try to understand how this happened. 

There always is light in the night, but in the morning, nothing will have changed. I can still see the mountains in the distance and I still seem to be drifting further away from you, taken by a never-ending nightmare.

Disoriented, I awake, wondering, where am I? Then I hear your voice calling my name from the bathroom as you come out of the shower, your body glistening and I remember your love, forever and a day.

Copyright © Steve Zak | Year Posted 2018

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Andersonville Prison, 1864

“Is this place Hell” a prisoner asked his first day there; 
No, just a stop along the way. 
Andersonville Prison, 1864. Hell Upon Earth.

The hounds of hell waited for those stranded in battle by 
canon shot, hunted down by the rain of bullets from the gray 
coats; a place to avoid like the plague.

They came, perhaps 45,000; no one knows for sure.
They learned fast to stand far back from the Dead Line; 
where a bullet was a mercy. 

They were the walking dead and the already dead
that didn’t know it; men of bones and taut skin held
in place by memories of who they were before this place.

Their mouths and eyes moving as they milled around, some falling down in place, stepped over by those with the strength. An endless sea of pallor stretched across excrement covered ground, filth and 
disease baking in the blistering Georgia sun. 

Hunger is the constant companion, always demanding 
an equal share as thirsty men gulped down defiled brackish 
water, and always a foul smell retched up the land, 
soaking the pores of the living. 

Andersonville, where hell found sanctuary on the 
land and devoured it with pleasure. Sixteen acres of 
torment where time stopped and days were measured in the 
corpses counted in the morning.

Death was a way home into the soft red 
Georgia soil and some 13,000 found their way there.
Skeletons walking in rags, living in a place where surviving was 
the only cause worth fighting for now. 

Here feudal kingdoms reigned supreme. 
“The Raiders,” they called themselves; thieves who wore the 
same blue coat of arms. Carnal house creatures falling on the weak, vultures swooping down for the kill, sucking at the remains.  

One bloody night those calling themselves “The Regulators” 
swooped in and took their revenge on the Raider scum. 
Hung six of them up high, put the rest of their evil to rest; 
the war of blue against blue was over. 

Andersonville, where surviving waged war on living and memories festered like an open wound. It was a place where staying alive was always one day closer to dying.                          

Copyright © Steve Zak | Year Posted 2018

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The Ghosts Behind the Graves on Omaha Beach

They were young then, now they would be old men looking across an empty beach, the sun at their back; for many this would be their last day to grow old; dead in the water; dying on the sand of Omaha Beach.

Memories.

Three long hours smashing through the pounding white capped waves; cold and hard as the water washed over the sides, mumbled prayers mouthed through cracked lips saturated with a salty brine taste.

Bodies were pressed together, brother to brother, clammy breath on your neck, an anvil hammering your chest and hoping the body against you would not taste your fear.

Scorching white flashes of light slashed across the plodding boats, tracers burst bright in the early morning light, twisting a body around, then another crumble, finally the Higgins boat stops......

And the gates of hell open wide to the heavens, making room for the newly departed as bodies stumble over the metal ramp, falling down in a slow-motion dance into the water and drift away, for eternity.

Terrible Memories.

A fifty-pound stone strapped on your back, when suddenly the guy standing next to you is not there, vaporized in a conflagration of redness and matter, an empty vessel flung to the heavens in pieces.

The screams of the wounded horrific, as bullets drive you across a sprawling field of fire. The sand was pockmarked by craters on what should be an early June summer day for frolicking at the beach.

The dead bob in the cherry colored water, and the torn apart want to be any place but here, at this hour, at this time, on this day, praying to heaven to make this hell of exploding shells a dream.

Haunted Memories.

Your name doesn’t matter when you are already dead. The dying dissolve in a burst of machine gun fire before kissing the coarse sand, washed away by the relentlessness of tide and the hour, MIA forever. 

The unbroken rat-tat-tat sound as bullets slam into bodies and the boys of summer scream for their Mother and the God of morphine. Bursting landmines scatter a leg fifty yards away and the sand bleeds out red. 

Memorials

The Ghosts behind the graves, brothers in arms, rest in the American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer in the quiet French countryside, not far from a place with the All-American sounding name: Omaha Beach.

Copyright © Steve Zak | Year Posted 2018

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The Death of Marriage

It looked so right on paper to everyone; but when the night embraced her she was alone, still wanting to believe in love. 

Her footsteps echoed through her cathedral of a house which offered her refuge in the empty rooms with only the sound of her walking.

Once again certain realities became inevitable; 
dinner for one,
one side of the bed slightly misshapen, 
empty closets,
it was all too familiar, again. 

She told her friends she slept in the middle, which was not 
exactly true, but there was no need to share everything since
this was not the first time she had found herself living in-between love.

When she was afraid the night might become her enemy, she would find some old Cary Grant movie to watch, they all seemed to offer the promise of love winning out in the end. 

But she knew better. Movies are only made up celluloid pieces 
of romance infused with fantasy and glamour to make you 
believe in the stuff of dreams.

Sometimes when she sat on her patio in the cool night, she listened to the sounds exiting from the surrounding hills and didn’t feel so alone. 

She thought it wasn’t supposed to be like this, being single again, 
holding a glass of chardonnay shadowed against the twilight of fallen stars, this was not the Hollywood ending she dreamed of. 

The death of her marriage was a solitary experience that eroded 
slowly in the beginning, then faster when there is no place left to go.

Until each day stayed longer than the one before, and the hours 
seem to stretch out to a place called forever; now she only wanted 
to be alone with the silence of her self-imposed sanctuary.

She had been here before; when the hands she felt on her 
body were her own, when there was empty space in the bathroom cabinet, when she went to a dinner as a party of one, not offering any excuse; when it was alright to fall asleep with the lights still on. 

She knew being in love was never easy, but she hoped that maybe it would be different this time; maybe she had gotten it right. 

She was wrong.


                                      
                                   II-  Endings and Beginnings

The beach was her refuge. It was her place of solitude where she did not need to hide. 

She walked by herself, as she did most mornings, the never-ending waves caressing her feet, moving the fine grains of sand around, into shape shifting patterns.

The mystery of love was something she no longer pretended to understand, as she looked out at the water trying to appreciate the quiet at this hour.  

She had grown sensitive to the noise that followed her wherever she went, but in the calm morning, she didn’t need to protect herself.

The early morning cool mist hung in the air as the orange sun began to explode out across the endless Pacific.  

Her thoughts tumbled inwards, juggling bits and pieces of a life she had rebuilt, now she was going to have to go back to the beginning, again. 

This second act had begun as friendship, and in the end, it had turned back into a declaration of the same; it sounded better that way, more like a made for television movie with a safe ending. 

She had hoped when love caught up with her once more, it might last forever, but the suddenness of the end, was unexpected. 

She caught herself laughing out loud, a smile creased her face as 
she shook her head and turned around to head back up the beach, leaving the morning behind. 

She knew tomorrow was going to be a new beginning anchored with another ending like so many that had come before.

Copyright © Steve Zak | Year Posted 2018

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