Expressions From The Pale — Poetry by Nate Maxson

“Station Zed”

Is a military term

For the last friendly outpost,

In an unfriendly place

An Americanism

Related to the older phrase “Beyond The Pale”

But it is a misconception to assume The Pale just divides the nation from itself

Or even the desert

Station Zed is a place just a few measurements removed

A quiet alleyway with no crime but a wind

Present

Where some mechanism keeps you from leaving,

It holds me back as well, though I am curious

Some instinct orders: not one step further, not a one past this place and so far I have listened

But I’ve also maybe made a little peephole in the subtle fabric and do you know what I found?

The gone years, I found them

They exist like stars out there

An optical illusion:

Laika, the first dog in space and her horribly disfigured cosmonaut owner Vladimir

Play fetch with vinyl records and bones

Or something like that

Whereas our astronauts,

When thirsty

Have to remove their helmets and drink the sweat

Eternity is not merciful

But it is just

Beyond the trenches

I assume the phrase

“Station Zed”

Was invented during the First World War

To mean the light before no man’s land

Where you could not

Return

There is a mathematical consistency with other phrases from the time

Station Zed was the last safe hole: the barrier before The Pale (later renamed The DMZ) and after The Pale was the shifting sea, the boneyard (though amusingly both sides dug trenches as if to trap the unknown between them where it would rage itself into dust, like a caged tiger)

If you had to go over, you might have said, “I’m going to meet the tiger”

This is also where the phrase “The Whole Nine Yards” originates (though it was also used in Baseball)

There were said to be nine yards between The Pale

And The Tiger and the language of Tigers (which no one speaks anymore)

Language gestates in these places, in clammy and eyesclosed places the same way a virus does

One imagines digging down with a spade into the scarified mud and resenting the birds that still sang through calamity

Because this was before we knew how to hurt the clouds

Eternity is not merciful

It just is

The Orthodox Jews who, if on an airplane feel the need to wrap themselves in plastic in case they fly over a graveyard

They probably understand this

But all I’ve got is anecdotal evidence

With which to present my case

“Station Zed”, of course soldiers would give such an obvious name to the pre-unknown

Of course

There’s something buried beneath our feet, you know

All the wheels from all the wagons that brought us here

Of course, some of these phrases (I won’t say which)

I’m not actually one hundred percent sure originate from The Great War

Oh they originate from a war, make no mistake about that

But it might be one that comes to me in dreams

A hushy little conflict that comes to me on cool, blue wings at the end of winter

What happens?

If I were to go there,

Open my eyes when the night-terrors were all around me

I might have done it once, I don’t quite remember

Anything but the dust

I get a good lungful of it every once in a while,

Of the dust

When it rains

Eternity is just

A swallow





Nate Maxson is a writer and performance artist. He’s the author of several collections of poetry, most recently “The Age Of Jive” from Red Dashboard Press and “The Whisper Gallery” from Lit Fest Press.

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