Daniel Zebert

  • DanielZebert_webDaniel Zebert, Academic Transfer

    Daniel dazzled readers of Volume 15 with two linguistically nimble poems and an intriguing charcoal and soft pastel art composition. In his discussion with us, he describes his devotion to a life of art, his intuitive creative process, and his thoughts on why SCC needs Illuminations.

    Illuminations:  Hi, Daniel! Your poems, “Black Monitor” and “Thought of Omaha,” have grittiness, bite, and eroticism to them, which is delightful to see. Is this your typical tone in poetry? Where does it come from?

    Daniel:  I think the tone you mention is an honest aspect of some of my work. As far as where it comes from -- who knows? It was more of a latent side effect of the writing process.

    I:  “Thought of Omaha” is a narrative poem presented almost entirely in dialogue. It has a strong noir feel to it. Where did the inspiration for this poem come from?

    D:  “Omaha” was dedicated to Jim Thompson and informed by writers like Richard Stark, Raymond Chandler, and Dashiell Hammett. Billy Wilder’s noir films also lent their DNA to the poem.  The works of these writers overlap, and all of these guys share a common thread that can be traced back to Nebraska in some respect, so the piece naturally had to take place in this state.

    I:  Naturally! Your artwork, “Gray Man:  Variation 4,” was also published in Volume 15. This one seems ectoplasmic. What was your creative process with this piece?

    D:  My method with artwork is purely intuitive. I trust in the process and let go. Along the way, I make design choices, but I can’t get bogged down imposing some high concept or micro-managing the medium I’m working with. Our world is saturated with content that’s deliberately constructed to sell an idea or shove something down our throats. In response to that noise, I feel my role in making visual art is to facilitate a process that gives the work room to breathe so it can organically grow into something inherently authentic.

    I:  You mentioned in your bio for Volume 15 that you hope to someday publish and illustrate your own writing, particularly a collection of illustrated poems. Do you have any themes in mind, or do you see this as a random collection?

    D:  An illustrated collection of crime poetry is knocking around in the back of my skull. Any other collections wouldn’t be randomly pieced together. Like any good album of music, I think each piece in a collection should inform one another, and the work as a whole should follow a trajectory that makes sense within the logic each part constructs.

    I:  I like that philosophy. What advice would you give those who find themselves “stuck” creatively?

    D:  Keep fighting until you’re not stuck. Grind it out.

    I:  Sometimes it IS as simple as that. You’re in the Academic Transfer program. Besides writing, what do you see yourself doing professionally in ten years?

    D:  Making art.

    I:  On the “arts” issue, why do you think a publication like Illuminations matters to a school like SCC?

    D:  Illuminations is the voice of SCC. It’s a publication that can alter public perception about the legitimacy of community colleges by showing the quality of talent that SCC attracts. Illuminations shows that SCC isn’t a black hole for student loan debt or an excuse to subsidize a sports program, but a place where students purposefully engage in a serious learning process to expand their minds and improve their lives through practical application of skills attained from intense coursework.

    I:  Agreed! You mentioned in your bio that you work two jobs while going to school. How do you find time for creativity?

    D:  Creativity is a continuous process. It’s either a priority, or it isn’t. I’m constantly evaluating my life in respect to finding a balance between comfort and true aesthetic freedom. In the long run, I know I’m going to have to sacrifice comfort and stability to get where I’m supposed to be.

    I:  And finally, the silly question of the day:  At the movie theater, which arm rest is yours?

    D:  It doesn’t matter. I’ll yield either arm rest to a companion as long as I get one, but if I’m watching a movie alone, both of those suckers are mine. 

    Thought of Omaha
    for Jim Thompson,
    by Daniel Zebert

    Drinking muddy roadside
    diner coffee and chain-smoking
    unfiltered American Spirits.

    Kennedy, stubble and a grin, across the table
    blowing bubbles in his Dr. Pepper with a straw.

    “Where will you go?”
    he asks over his soda.

    “The farm in Ord.”

    He nods.

    “Omaha first.”


    Thinking of the last time I saw her.

    On her kitchen floor, curled up
    clutching her arm, flashing
    wet gums at me like a dog.

    She refused to cry when
    I snapped her wrist like an icicle.

    Remembering that pisses me off, so
    I stick a finger in my drink.

    It’s gone tepid and won’t bite.

    The Kansas job went tits-up.
    Kennedy had to shoot Polish Bob
    after he caught a slug in the gut.

    He would’ve slowed us down.
    A wounded man would rather live
    a rat than die a criminal.

    Occupational hazard of robbery.
    Even a plumber understands he’ll
    eventually get covered in shit.

    One less man meant my
    share of the score was bigger.

    “This was the last one,” I say.

    “What are you going do?”
    “Finance another film,” Kennedy says.

    His idol Billy Wilder.

    I met Kennedy sixteen years earlier
    in San Francisco.

    He shot a fake movie that stopped traffic
    so we could hijack an armored car.

    “I’m going to paint,” I say.

    “Sip Booker’s and paint all day.”
    “Until ya start ta itch,” Kennedy says smiling,
    crunching on ice cubes from his drink.

    “Nope, I’m done.”

    “A lotta uncertainty in our line of work,” he says.

    The waitress, a mummy with a fiery perm, brings the check for our drinks.

    “I’ve had a good run,” I say. “It can’t last forever.”

    “You telling me ya wanna die an old man?”
    “I want to live without looking over my shoulder.”

    Kennedy peers through me from his side of the booth.

    “Sometimes the biggest threat is right in front of you.”

    His hand slips under his jacket.

    I tense, wondering how fast I can draw the
    Remington Rand semi-automatic from my shoulder holster.

    “Forget Omaha,” Kennedy says.

    “You’re alive because you’re professional.”

    Heat crawls up my neck.

    His hand in his goddamn jacket.

    “Omaha is full of personal business,” he says.

    “It’ll getcha killed.”

    Kennedy pulls his wallet.

    I nearly squeal.

    Crisp bills lay on our receipt.

    He stands and grasps my shoulder.

    “Drink bourbon until ya go blind,” he says before he leaves.

    “Forget about that whore in Omaha, and gimme a call when ya get the itch.“

    My coffee is cold slime.

    I drink it anyway and think of

    Omaha, lighting my last cigarette,

    crumpling the foil wrapper into a ball,
    stuffing it in the bottom of my coffee cup.