Fitzgerald and Zelda, February 1921: Poem

“All good writing is swimming under water
  and holding your breath.”
—F. Scott Fitzgerald

In the photograph, Zelda wears a fur and hat.
Scott has on a top coat and gloves. It’s winter.
He said Zelda had “an eternally kissable mouth.”
Said that he loved stories of her in Montgomery.
He’d begin: Montgomery had telephones in 1910.
It’s April. A warm day. Magnolias are blooming.
Zelda—ten years old—has rung up the operator

to dispatch the fire department. She climbs out
onto a roof to wait rescue. Lots of white blossoms
are falling on small shoulders. Landing in her hair.
She’s sitting, smoothing her dress when they come.
Whatever else, they looked swell in photographs.
He’d say, Zelda drew flyers from Camp Sheridan
who did figure-eights over her Montgomery home.

They crashed their biplanes trying to impress her.
What he would never say: Then she married me.
As if what happened to her later was his fault
or a series of regrets for which he was to blame.
In 1921, each existed to watch the other move—
This Side of Paradise was a hit, he was soaring.
Zelda wanted to soar herself. Float like a ballerina.

At the end of the day she wanted what she wanted:
a ticket out of Alabama. Excitement. Breathlessness.
After her third breakdown, the years in sanitariums,
visitors whispered, She was a beauty once. Trapped
at last in a burning asylum, the fire real, Zelda Sayre
Fitzgerald died locked in. Screaming to be rescued.
He would’ve been dead, buried, for years by then.

Roy Bentley About Roy Bentley

Roy Bentley is the author of Boy in a Boat (University of Alabama Press), Any One Man (Bottom Dog Books), The Trouble with a Short Horse in Montana (White Pine Press), and Starlight Taxi (Lynx House Press). A new book, Walking with Eve in the Loved City, has been selected by Billy Collins as a finalist for the 2018 Miller Williams Poetry Prize and will be publlshed in the spring of 2018 by the University of Arkansas Press. Work from that collection has appeared in Shenandoah, Pleiades, Rattle, Blackbird, The Southern Review, and elsewhere.


  1. Very disingenuous of the editors to redact a reader’s comment, particularly after it’s already led to a response from your learned contributor. If that’s the case, why invite comments? jbs

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