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Paul Zimmer: self-referential like Walt Whitman

A generosity of spirit. A sharpness of wit.

  • The Great Bird of Love
  • I want to become a great night bird
  • Called The Zimmer, grow intricate gears
  • And tendons, brace my wings on updrafts,
  • Roll them down with a motion
  • That lifts me slowly into the stars
  • To fly above the troubles of the land.
  • When I soar the moon will shine past
  • My shoulder and slide through
  • Streams like a luminous fish.
  • I want my cry to be huge and melancholy,
  • The undefiled movement of my wings
  • To fold and unfold on rising gloom.
  • People will see my silhouette from
  • Their windows and be comforted,
  • Knowing that, though oppressed,
  • They are cherished and watched over,
  • Can turn to kiss their children,
  • Tuck them into their beds and say:
  • Sleep tight.
  • No harm tonight,
  • In starry skies
  • The Zimmer flies.
  • Love Poem
  • In southern France live two old horses,
  • High in the foothills, not even French,
  • But English, retired steeplechasers
  • Brought across to accept an old age
  • Of ambling together in the Pyrenees.
  • At times they whinny and kick
  • At one another with impatience,
  • But they have grown to love each other.
  • In time the gelding grows ill
  • And is taken away for treatment.
  • The mare pines, pokes at her food,
  • Dallies on her rides until the other
  • Comes home. 
  • She is in her stall
  • When the trailer rumbles
  • Through the gate into the field,
  • And she sings with impatience
  • Until her door is opened. 
  • Then full
  • Of sound and speed, in need of
  • Each other, they entwine their necks,
  • Rub muzzles, bumping flanks
  • To embrace in their own way.
  • Together they prance to
  • The choicest pasture,
  • Standing together and apart,
  • To be glad until
  • They can no longer be glad.
  • Zimmer Envying the Elephants
  • I have a wide, friendly face
  • Like theirs, yet I can’t hang
  • My nose like a fractured arm
  • Nor flap my dishpan ears.
  • I can’t curl my canine teeth,
  • Swing my tail like a filthy tassel,
  • Nor make thunder without lightning.
  • But I’d like to thud amply around
  • For a hundred years or more,
  • Stuffing an occasional tree top
  • Into my mouth, screwing hugely for
  • Hours at a time, gaining weight,
  • And slowly growing a few hairs.
  • Once in a while I’d charge a power pole
  • Or smash a wall down just to keep
  • Everybody loose and at a distance.
Paul Zimmer

Paul Zimmer (1934-2019) was an American poet and director of several university presses and helped found the Pitt Poetry Series. The winner of the National Poetry Series award in 1998 for his volume, The Great Bird of Love, Zimmer also won two Pushcart Prizes and was awarded two NEA fellowships. His poetry, often characterized by the self-referential “Zimmer” in both title and content, evokes the same sort of self-reference found in Walt Whitman and Catullus. Like the former, his poetry exhibits a generosity of spirit; and like the latter, his work exudes sharpness of wit and exactness in diction. The present editor only met Mr. Zimmer once in person (although many times in his poems); his incomparable warmth and kindness left an indelible impression.

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  • The Great Bird of Love
  • I want to become a great night bird
  • Called The Zimmer, grow intricate gears
  • And tendons, brace my wings on updrafts,
  • Roll them down with a motion
  • That lifts me slowly into the stars
  • To fly above the troubles of the land.
  • When I soar the moon will shine past
  • My shoulder and slide through
  • Streams like a luminous fish.
  • I want my cry to be huge and melancholy,
  • The undefiled movement of my wings
  • To fold and unfold on rising gloom.
  • People will see my silhouette from
  • Their windows and be comforted,
  • Knowing that, though oppressed,
  • They are cherished and watched over,
  • Can turn to kiss their children,
  • Tuck them into their beds and say:
  • Sleep tight.
  • No harm tonight,
  • In starry skies
  • The Zimmer flies.
  • Love Poem
  • In southern France live two old horses,
  • High in the foothills, not even French,
  • But English, retired steeplechasers
  • Brought across to accept an old age
  • Of ambling together in the Pyrenees.
  • At times they whinny and kick
  • At one another with impatience,
  • But they have grown to love each other.
  • In time the gelding grows ill
  • And is taken away for treatment.
  • The mare pines, pokes at her food,
  • Dallies on her rides until the other
  • Comes home. 
  • She is in her stall
  • When the trailer rumbles
  • Through the gate into the field,
  • And she sings with impatience
  • Until her door is opened. 
  • Then full
  • Of sound and speed, in need of
  • Each other, they entwine their necks,
  • Rub muzzles, bumping flanks
  • To embrace in their own way.
  • Together they prance to
  • The choicest pasture,
  • Standing together and apart,
  • To be glad until
  • They can no longer be glad.
  • Zimmer Envying the Elephants
  • I have a wide, friendly face
  • Like theirs, yet I can’t hang
  • My nose like a fractured arm
  • Nor flap my dishpan ears.
  • I can’t curl my canine teeth,
  • Swing my tail like a filthy tassel,
  • Nor make thunder without lightning.
  • But I’d like to thud amply around
  • For a hundred years or more,
  • Stuffing an occasional tree top
  • Into my mouth, screwing hugely for
  • Hours at a time, gaining weight,
  • And slowly growing a few hairs.
  • Once in a while I’d charge a power pole
  • Or smash a wall down just to keep
  • Everybody loose and at a distance.
Paul Zimmer

Paul Zimmer (1934-2019) was an American poet and director of several university presses and helped found the Pitt Poetry Series. The winner of the National Poetry Series award in 1998 for his volume, The Great Bird of Love, Zimmer also won two Pushcart Prizes and was awarded two NEA fellowships. His poetry, often characterized by the self-referential “Zimmer” in both title and content, evokes the same sort of self-reference found in Walt Whitman and Catullus. Like the former, his poetry exhibits a generosity of spirit; and like the latter, his work exudes sharpness of wit and exactness in diction. The present editor only met Mr. Zimmer once in person (although many times in his poems); his incomparable warmth and kindness left an indelible impression.

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