Wall of sound

Wall of sound

Marcus noticed that Lucky was watching
him closely. Emmie kept leaning her lips in
toward his hand and each time
she did he dutifully produced the zippo.
Emmie would look up at him
and giggle then shrug her shoulders.
Vanilla, he’d whisper and chuckle.

As she then walked over to the stereo
and began leafing through the records Marcus
turned toward Lucky and raised
a joint. Lucky shook his head slightly but walked over
drinking a beer he’d found in the back
of the fridge.
Where’d you get that?
I think it’s the last, Lucky said. The only one.
Marcus shook his head. I can only drink so much wine
in one evening. Besides, man, it’s getting
really hot in here. Lucky took a sip but didn’t offer
any to Marcus though he knew he’d
accept it if he did.

I don’t think all this smoke is helping much
and he glanced up at what was then swirling
around the stilled ceiling fan.
Marcus took a puff and blew smoke out his nostrils.
This is a cigarette bro. He held it out
for inspection. I take my time. I don’t overdo it.
Lucky raised an eyebrow.
Marcus pulled the pack of Chesterfields out of his pocket
and with the flick of his wrist brought one out
of its open corner offering it up.

These are just smokes-
Lucky said taking it tentatively.
I’m not lying, man. Swear it.
Marcus produced his zippo again but Lucky
whipped a matchbook
out of his own pocket. I didn’t know athletes were allowed that
and he nodded as Lucky drew a long drag.

You’ve been listening to your brother,
Lucky inhaled. The rule follower.

Marcus laughed. Yeah, that’s my brother.
Hey bro! Come over here
he shouted at Lou who was looking at an album
carefully on the couch. Put that Miles record down
and get your ass over here!
Lou gently laid the record down on top of the phonograph
avoiding close contact with Emmie
as he did so. She had placed her ear next to the speaker
and was mumbling something about
waiting for a wall of sound to come crashing down.

Have a smoke, brother. Have a smoke.
It’s not going to do you any harm. This isn’t one of those
and he flicked his wrist again
to reveal one fresh and clean. Lou looked at it
a moment but then took it. Marcus lit it for him and said
You know what they call these over in England?
Fags. He shook his head.
I never did understand those English cats. My father used
to have them over to dinner when they’d be
visiting his department. The younger ones
they liked mama’s “soul food” and always asked Dad
if he had any Muddy Waters or some
Chicago blues. You remember that one cat,
Willoughby or Barnaby.
Shit, Lou. What was his name?

Lou chuckled and said Carnaby.
His name was David Carnaby and you and I laughed
about that tweed name every time we went to church.
I’d put on my suit jacket and you’d call me
Carnaby and act snooty.
Yeah, Marcus laughed. But that cat was alright.
He knew Dad had Muddy Waters
and Big Momma Thornton and Howlin’ Wolf
and Lord knows what else. Then Mama asked him if he ever went to church
back home and he said all deadpan: “I’m sorry, ma’am (which sounded like “mum”).
I’m an Anglican.”

Lou smiled. I don’t know if mama got
that joke but dad seemed to.
He took a drag.
Dad always brought interesting people home and-
Marcus cut in -He even pretended
to find British culture interesting! I couldn’t do that,
not for money! But they do like our music.
Isn’t that what the dude said: It’s your music, guvnor.

Lucky finished his cigarette.
If you want to hear about yours and mine
you should come and drink with my father. He’ll tell you
where to get yours.
But not you, eh? Marcus smirked. Not you?
Lou shot him a glance.
Lucky shrugged. I’m a cracker. And I know it.
But my father’s the one who’s proud
of it. He only wanted me playing football.

Lucky eyed up the Chesterfields again
and Marcus flicked him one.
They were silent for a moment then Lucky said
What the hell are we listening to, anyway?
The three of them turned and watched
Emmie gyrating by the speaker
but it was another moment before Marcus said
It sounds like the record’s skipping, man.
He looked at both of them.
Am I crazy?
No, Lou laughed. It is skipping-

-Jeremy Nathan Marks

Loose

Loose

Laura stood at the sink and filled
her glass with water.
Her eyes felt quite dry and she knew each time
she closed them that they
were red from the smoke thickening in the next
room. She could hear her mother
laughing at practically everything Marcus said but she
did not hear Lou enter the kitchen.

Don’t hate him, he told her
His charm, that’s for real.
Laura turned and looked hard at his face
It is. Lou held her gaze.
She took a drink of water then stood over the sink
watching the heavy snow flashing past in the backyard light.
Lou started to speak but without turning
around she held her hand up
to silence him.

The room suddenly felt like the inside of Claudette’s
oven where she was broiling Baked Alaska.
Lou felt something tighten in his chest
and his tongue tasted sour
and dry. He could feel his
temples dampening.

In school there was a math teacher
who often stopped Lou from fully answering
questions in class by wordlessly holding up his hand.
Often this man,
a Mr. Smathers, was facing
the blackboard and he didn’t feel the need to turn around.
If the teacher ever did this
to any other student Lou had not seen it. But when he saw
the man in the hallway he was always friendly.
And since Lou was a stellar student, the teacher seemed to go out
of his way to be friendly.

Except at those moments.
The word “gamesmanship” meant something
to a young man with an older brother
like Marcus.
Whenever that hand went up it was like Lou
had entered a ring.

Laura was holding her hand up
in practically the same manner. Lou saw something
in her just then he had also seen in Emmie
that night for the first time.
She was peering –or was she leering-
out from the corner where she had corralled Lucky.
Whenever Marcus flashed his grin
or talked some jive to make Laura’s mother laugh
Emmie lifted her head and looked out
into the room with this acid blooming in her face.
Either she was leering or the word
had no meaning.

Lou began to walk away
as Laura said Don’t you think he should know
when not to show what he can do.
Lou looked at her and thought That’s rich,
you telling me that.
But that isn’t what he said.

In less than a month my brother is going
to Vietnam. Lou picked up a glass of water
and left the kitchen.
She could hear Marcus laughing again but
Emmie was laughing too.
Claudette wasn’t the only one loose now.

-Jeremy Nathan Marks

Vanilla

Vanilla

Alright, y’all
Gather here. Gather. Gather.
Marcus stood in front of the stereo
raised his voice and made circles in the air
with his left hand.
He had put his leather jacket back on
and gone rummaging in it only to find a comb
in one of the pockets which he promptly
shoved into his hair.

Lou smirked and Claudette laughed
and he said again Alright, y’all
alright. Think about what Freddie used to say
before the cops came and took him
away. What Freddie said got ‘em dead and tonight
I want to do something
for the man.

He pulled a small plastic bag out of his pocket
and a book of matches and then to Lou:
Now Louis, now Louis, brother. Brother, brother
you’re gonna have a smoke with your
brother before he has to go off into the shit
like no man should.
And I don’t mean back to Chicago, bro-
Have a smoke with me. Then looking around the room:
You too, y’all.

Claudette made Laura blush
as she rushed right over forgetting herself
by letting Marcus place a full joint
into her pert open mouth.
Lou asked Is this for Fred, Marcus-
are you serious

Marcus set the matches down
on the table, pushing one wine glass aside
and pulled his zippo out again.
Looking up at Lou as he lit what dangled from Claudette’s
mouth he whispered
For Fred, brother, for real
then looked around the room to see who
was actually listening.

Laura turned quickly away
but then he saw Emmie pushing Lucky further
into a corner and shouted
Hey Vanilla! Vanille –yeah, you baby
Emmie turned toward him brushing
a strand of hair out of her face.
I’m asking who is listening to me right now.
He held up the bag. You want in on this?

To Lucky’s surprise, Emmie peeled herself
away and said Alright.
Alright! Marcus intoned, lifting his chin toward
the ceiling. Alright! Vanilla is down!
He nudged Lou in the ribs. Get your chick over there
interested, bro. He cocked his head at Laura.
Look at her. Have you ever seen one
needed this so bad?

Lou saw Laura standing in the doorway
of the kitchen, her back turned toward the room
and he knew better. No. No, she doesn’t
need this and I’m not sure I do either.
Marcus looked into his brother’s face for a moment
locking eyes with him.
He scowled first but then broke into a wide grin
You’re alright, Lou. You’re alright.
Give her time. Give yourself time and then
you see what happens!

Emmie took a joint and held it loose
between her index and ring fingers which made Marcus
laugh and as he lit it said
Now take it slow, girl. Remember that you are vanilla-
What does that mean, vanilla
Emmie asked
and Lucky, who had walked over said
It means your whiter than white,
you’re light and this stuff is something red and maybe
mean. Watch yourself.

Emmie eyed him.
How do you know that? She leaned her face into his
and said Where’d you learn to speak like that?
Lucky looked at Marcus who had a small
smile edging out the corners of his mouth and nodded
back at him. Lou told me about you
and he winked.

-Jeremy Nathan Marks

Letch

Letch

The party was moving in circles.
Cycles. Bicycle wheels with melodic spokes.
There was an urge to dance mingling
with each one of them.
It felt like a bodice breaking
tantalizing the women and the men.

Everyone knew that her sweat could slide
buttons out of lapels, turn the night
into a July jungle of inky darkness, roaring cicadas
and drums beaten by hand.

Laura heard the crickets and the locusts.
She thought the wine was a clear,
sweet trickle dripping from the breasts of Earth
that hikers stooped to taste
sliding packs off of backs and tents and bedrolls
onto damp earth.

She had only had one glass and a half
So she feared that her mother had lit something
in secret to cloud her senses,
making her perceive things not actually in the room.

Emmie felt it too
but not as some set of spectral objects
but as a letch inhabitant
who was moving her hands towards Lucky’s
concealment, a petard she wanted now
to pop.

And Lucky, who felt neither lusty nor coy
watched Emmie change inside her sweat. He could not
remember when he had last seen her do this
and the tap of pumping blood
at her temple, the flush in her cheeks kept her eyelids
half open, her lips pursed and her body
in pursuit. It was time to repeat an old ritual
make it new again.

The house felt like foreign territory
but familiar; it was a place he had seen in his sleep
once or twice, just enough
to remember it.
Emmie slid her hand inside the front of his slacks
with force and he pulled it back,
now surprised by her honest lust, wondering at
her former fierce disapproval of everything
at large in that room. He sensed her self-concealed
hypocrisy, how she might never forgive him
for letting her become that Emmie

He could not know that this was the one
she had already seen in the mirror
that afternoon.

Can you believe,
she whispered hot in his ear
that they are playing jungle music in here
and left a touch of saliva
on his lower lobe.
Do you know what these people are capable of?

She tried cornering him
by the back door, never taking her widening
crystalline eyes off of his face
or raising her right hand from its orbit
near his crotch.
He looked at her closely and said
What are you trying to-
But she raised her other hand -her left-
and cupped it over his mouth.

-Jeremy Nathan Marks

When traffic lights turn red

When traffic lights turn red

When traffic lights turn red
storefronts glint
like flintlock

It is second nature again.

From canyon into canyon
from beneath a banyan to the lips
of the silver pits

And the armies for tin.

Then past the intersection
things flare; go un-collared

Gone to ground. Hip-loose with stomping
claps, the worship house hits
in the street.

Now who could really fancy that they
are a caballero when the bolas
are bullets:

Shotgun “shoot em for he runs now”
digs out the boulevard for the dead

When traffic lights turn red.

-Jeremy Nathan Marks

Note: The quoted lyrics are from Junior Walker’s 1965 hit “Shotgun.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FI7CtxlisCk

Its ghost alights nowhere

Its ghost alights nowhere

No one talks about the ugly farms.

Barns that are antique; rubbish heaps
in the woods filled with useful scrap.

A coyote trap.

But then what about the bonfires,
the bees and that quiet apart from the city.
With some drink always this life too can grow soft

Then turn slick as a creek.
Stir the well once more.

But the individual tree
like one seed or kernel or bean
who sees it-

Its ghost alights nowhere.
Crackling no longer. Without a lingering
flavor of an apple in the mouth.

So many apples; so many falls; so many
feasts for so many saints and the dust
that makes nervous promises waiting in line

At the elevator.

-Jeremy Nathan Marks

A point of politics

A point of politics

The enigma of the river
and of calendar time applied to a
vein bowls rocks into the basin of the lake.

Boats of dry bottom rivers
with sails and logs of furs. And the
cottonwood snow; they are all a collection

Of forks. In history books.

The new geysers too
applied like canons against this –this
instauration of twice cut timber. Of burned

Over memory. Logs that
are redolent of green beetles and other
travelers from further across the pond.

Play the fiddles and hosannas
but nothing stands still here even in
prayer.

So I saw men driving mules
yesterday. But it might have been a joke.
Or a point of politics.

-Jeremy Nathan Marks