Man vs. Sky
YesYes Books, March 2013
Corey Zeller’s Man vs. Sky is what happens when you bust your fist through the gut of elegy, grab on, and turn it inside out. In memory of the poet’s dear friend, Jeremy Quezada, this collection of prose poems delivers the musical harmony of Zeller’s poetic intuition coupled with Quezada’s memory and perspective. Man vs. Sky elegizes Quezada with his own voice from another life, an after life, and other place. And in turn, the book is Quezada’s elegy for the world and life we know.
As the pages stream by, we get to know Quezada, we get to know Zeller and their friendship, and we’re given blazing glimpses of a world after, where all bets are off. We shut our eyes and strain our ear, to hear and understand Quezada’s translation of a place after this one. His voice tells us early on, “You should see it here, be here. The trees sizzle like long stems of broccoli inside a black pan. The glass leaps into the ground and vice versa. Everything blurs but you” (“When the rest of you were busy being children”). You know you still are, but where is foreign; it sizzles and blurs.
There are other rules and challenges, differences in the life after this. In “I’ll just bleed so the stars can have something dark to shine in” we learn:
I can’t tell you anything anymore. The world drifts from me the way ice drifts from the space where the water breaks through. It dissolves on its own, year after year, stitches sown out of the cold.
And with “A dream like a plaid shirt that takes forever to fall to the floor,” in a new body, a different manifestation,
What pushes inside me is not a heart. It is a hummingbird with tartan wings, a beak as thin and sore as a child’s broken arm. It is whatever you cannot imagine the air can do, a choice between all the air in the world and none at all.
It seems there is no way for us to ever truly understand this place, this way of existing, other than to one day go there or someplace similar. As the poems pass, one can’t help but wonder, “Is this heaven? Is this hell? Purgatory? Simply other? Is this the place I will know when I die? Or is this Jeremy Quezada’s life after?” We’re led to ponder what happens next, and if it’s universal, subjective, or imaginary. And we’re reminded that Zeller is the poet, curating these moments of Quezada’s afterlife.
As Zeller and Quezada round their voices we’re reminded what it is to sit in the emptiness of those we’ve lost; we’re reminded that we will one day be a void here, gone elsewhere. Quezada, in “There is a kingdom in the wind with no king,” calls to us, “I am held here, in this old life, like a cube of ice in a clear glass of water. The birds look up at me and not the other way around.” Metaphor, in all of its forms, leads us along Quezada’s trail, a neo-“Divine Comedy.”
In “Because none of you know what you want follow me” Zeller and Quezada pull back the curtain, sneak us a peak of what’s in store:
You will be here too, a slab on a clean surface, a final nakedness. Days will exist without your help, squinting at their existing, at fell things, an overture of figures[…] Even now, your life bites your death’s lip, parts its sleeping hair. You’ve grown apt at this waking, this opening and closing of doors. You will pass and pass. You will learn another way.
Zeller builds a world that only Quezada can really know. And in its elegy to this world, Man vs. Sky calls to us from that place of echo, or shadow within shadow, some place we can only glimpse with the aid of our guide. A place and state we will have to gain to know.
Quezada consoles Zeller, and Zeller consoles us. Throughout Man vs. Sky we feel the dead are elsewhere and here. In the final poem, “I am stiff like the amused wilderness,” Quezada speaks to us calmly. “After that, everything will burn as I do in your drained irises. I am jammed in you like a bird in an airplane engine. At the funeral, though, I am the airplane. People step into my casket with their luggage and disappear.”
Though we disappear, we remember ourselves, and the life before—and we learn a new place without the familiar. And when others disappear from our sight we must learn this world again, without them.