Sacha Zimmerman
Sacha Zimmerman
Sacha Zimmerman is a senior editor at The Atlantic and the author of Unwasted: My Lush Sobriety.
  • Opening Up to Poetry With Rachel Zucker's ‘I’d Like a Little Flashlight’

    Jon Nazca / Reuters

    Rachel Zucker is a unicorn: She is a famous living poet. Or maybe I should say, famous for a living poet. Obscurity is a badge of honor among many poets I know, who seem to see their art as operating on a unique ethereal level. In my MFA program at NYU, the poets always look at the novelists the way a selfless social worker might look at a craven hedge-fund manager. The poet’s art is for art’s sake, and their obscurity is the ironclad proof.

    Thus, when Zucker was invited in January 2015 to speak to our low-residency MFA class in Paris (Paris, I know; I try not to ask a lot of questions lest NYU realize how deliciously extravagant it is), a ripple shot through the circle of poets. “Who is she?” a few of us novelists asked. She, it turned out, was a poet so dizzyingly famous that she had earned a profile in The New Yorker—this was imparted in the hushed tones of both awe and scandal. Having missed the profile, myself—and, well, almost all poetry and poetry-related happenings in their entirety in the modern era (and if I’m being really honest, in any era)—I came to Zucker a tabula rasa.

    Or so I thought. For I also came to her as the hassled mother of a small child. The week before, as I prepared to leave for Paris, I had fetishized my flight—eager to be alone in a steel tube hurtling over the ocean, unable to nurture another soul for a solid seven hours in which my only “job” was to sit quietly in a chair. Heaven. And when Zucker began to read “I’d Like a Little Flashlight”—

    and I’d like to get naked and into bed and be hot radiating heat from the inside these sweaters and fleeceys do nothing to keep out the out or keep my vitals in—some drafty body I’ve got leaking in and out in all directions I’d like to get naked into bed but hot

    I knew then: Not only was I not a tabula rasa uncompromised by knowledge of her, I was in fact Zucker’s long-lost sister. We’d never met, but I knew her in my bones.

    As she read, I was rapt. A wrenching detail about a sensory-deprivation tank (a place “to do what? play dead and not die?”) brought my tears forward. And by the end, Zucker had given me exactly what she described—“oh look here a bright spot of life, oh look another!”

    She opened me up to her work and to poetry more broadly, which in this month of poetry is something I am very excited to honor. Because now, I think, maybe it is true: Maybe those poets do operate on a higher level:“But hot.”

    “I’d Like a Little Flashlight” is certainly worth reading, but there’s something about hearing Zucker read it that, for this overcommitted writerly mother, was quite simply transcendent.

  • Rick Lord / Shutterstock

    At Work in Two Genders

    Observations from accomplished trans women about power and leadership in the office

  • Brennan Linsley / AP

    Donald Trump Doesn't Need an 'Intervention'

    The hope of an intervention is that treatment can restore a person to who they really are. But voters already see exactly who Trump really is.

  • Tokophobia. So There’s a Name for It.

    I always thought I was missing some important maternal chip in my system, some crucial feminine widget in my consciousness that was supposed to look at childbirth as simply beautiful—as the most natural thing in the world. Instead, long into adulthood, my overwhelming feeling toward the act of giving birth was something along the lines of: You want me to push what out of where?!

    Ashley Lauretta’s wonderful piece for us this week, “Too Afraid to Have a Baby,” mentions that Helen Mirren was scarred by a childhood viewing of an educational film on the topic. I feared childbirth from the moment I heard how it was done; I don’t remember ever not thinking it sounded ghastly. But I too had my own filmstrip moment that pushed me further over the edge.

  • Track of the Day: 'Purple Rain'

    1984. Syracuse, New York. The Carrier Dome.

    Tens of thousands of people are holding up lighters—frighteningly close to enough hairspray and oil-based makeup to level the whole city. The lights have dropped and in the edgy, anticipatory concert buzz, there is an occasional cheer or whistle. Glittering purple light and smoke slowly fill the stadium. The crowd is going bananas. A guitar chord is struck and the screams become even more urgent. It seems like it lasts minutes—glittering purple, the smell of dry ice, a chord, screams. Over and over. But then:

    “I never meant to cause you any sorrow…”

    At last. It is magical. That little Minnesotan maharajah holds everyone captive to his truth: The color of the rain is purple, people.

    And we are better for it.

    I was 11, and Prince was my first concert. (My friend’s much-older sister took us with her. It was a real Cinderella-at-the-ball moment for me—if shoulder pads were ball gowns and the prince were Prince, and more of an androgynous oversexed nymph with eyeliner.) I had internalized the album, of course—the straightforward insanity of “Let’s Go Crazy,” the quixotic “When Doves Cry,” the dry-humping cri de coeur of “Darling Nikki”—I knew them all.