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SHJ Issue 12
Spring 2015

[Poem + Commentary]

by Al Zolynas

Under Ideal Conditions

say in the flattest part of North Dakota
on a starless moonless night
no breath of wind

a man could light a candle
then walk away
every now and then
he could turn and see
the candle burning

seventeen miles later
provided conditions remained ideal
he could still see the flame

somewhere between the seventeenth and eighteenth mile
he would lose the light

if he were walking backwards
he would know the exact moment
when he lost the flame

he could step forward and find it again
back and forth
dark to light light to dark

what’s the place where the light disappears?
where the light reappears?
don’t tell me about photons
and eyeballs
reflection and refraction
don’t tell me about one hundred and eighty-six thousand
miles per second and the theory of relativity

all I know is that place
where the light appears and disappears
that’s the place where we live


—Previously reprinted in Russian Globe online (No. 12, December 2005)
—First published in Under Ideal Conditions (Laterthanever Press, 1994), the collection by Zolynas which won The San Diego Book Award for Best Poetry in 1994; poem is republished here by author’s permission.



Commentary on “Under Ideal Conditions” by Al Zolynas:

As a long-time practitioner of Zen, I’ve been trained to pay attention to “what is,” what’s “just so” in this moment—our perceptions, our emotional states, our thoughts, our resistance, the ceaseless change occurring around us. In so doing, over a very long period of time, we come closer to simply appreciating the mystery that we dwell in and that we are. As a poet, I want to “record” some of that appreciation in language that is alive, interesting, and accessible. Doesn’t the best poetry point us in the direction of that mystery? And doesn’t great poetry help us to actually experience it?

—Previously published in Russian Globe online (No. 12, December 2005); republished here by author’s permission



SHJ Issue 12
Spring 2015

Al Zolynas

was born in Austria of Lithuanian parents in 1945. After growing up in Sydney, Australia, he lived in Salt Lake City, and in Marshall and St. Paul, Minnesota.

He has a BA from the University of Illinois and an MA and PhD in literature and creative writing from the University of Utah. At various times, he has been a poetry editor, resident poet in the schools, Minnesota Out Loud Traveling Poet, volunteer for the Hunger Project, and Fulbright-Hays Fellow to India. Retired from teaching since 2010, he now has emeritus status from Alliant International University, San Diego.

Work by Zolynas has been widely published in journals and anthologies; and his books include The New Physics (Wesleyan University Press, 1979); Under Ideal Conditions (Laterthanever Press, 1994; San Diego Book Award, Best Poetry, 1994); and The Same Air (Intercultural Studies Forum, 1997). With Fred Moramarco, he is co-editor of Men of Our Time: An Anthology of Male Poetry in Contemporary America (University of Georgia Press, May 1992) and The Poetry of Men’s Lives: An International Anthology (University of Georgia Press, 2004), which won the San Diego Book Award for Best Poetry Anthology in 2005.

His works have been translated into Lithuanian, Spanish, Ukrainian, and Polish, the last by Czeslaw Milosz. He recently completed translating (from Lithuanian) the memoir, The Parallels of Dita: Surviving Nazism and Communism in Lithuania, by Silvija Lomsargytė-Pukienė and is seeking a publisher for the book.

Zolynas practices and teaches Zen meditation in Escondido, California where he lives with his wife and two cats.

“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose
is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury