Wreck my spontaneity

Wreck my spontaneity

Emmie found the smell of coffee
coming from Claudette’s kitchen to be
remarkably reviving

She thought at first that the sun was shining
for something felt like summer
there seemed a freshness in the house
Emmie would never have assumed she had caused

Claudette awoke early after getting to bed late
her enthusiasm was difficult to contain
when she saw the clock say four thirty she didn’t
despair that she had slept for barely three hours
there was a guest in the house
food to be prepared

Before beginning her preparations
she sat at the dining room table drinking a dark roast
she personally selected from a little French market
that imported their beans from Martinique
she had never been to the island but when she placed a croton
tree in the kitchen she began to feel that she would not
remain in this town forever

She sipped and was revived
thought about Aimé Césaire whose poetry she adored
then Frantz Fanon who frightened her a little
all while looking at her plant
and idly marveling at her own imagination
the links she could make, her penchant for work thoughts
at all hours

Emmie came down in a bathrobe her mother called
a housecoat and said Oh, everything smells like a restaurant
and Claudette said That is what’s intended
handing her guest a coffee mug and offering
You can stay in here with me or go and sit and enjoy that
in the dining room

Emmie lingered admitting
I feel so rested and we were up so late how do you figure
Claudette raised her mug and said
The wonders of good coffee is how and turned over the bacon
Laura won’t be brought down here by scent
so I think I might have to go wake her

Emmie took it upon herself to set the table
knowing as she did where all the plates and utensils
were kept. She admitted to herself that she wanted to please
Claudette who had obviously gone to some measure
of trouble here though of course
she would deny it

Claudette knocked and said Laura
I have le petit dejeuner for you and Emmie downstairs
whenever you are ready
I will be down in a moment, maman
she answered and Claudette could hear her closing
her closet doors then throwing the sheets over her bed

The morning outside was wild
Emmie had been right when she felt sunlight in her room
the wind was scattering clouds like a March day
and one moment the snow came down copiously then it was
clear and a deep blue appeared above the trees
bewildered birds came to the feeder at the kitchen window
some riding out a strong gust by clutching the perch
the little structure rocking fiercely back and forth

I am looking for the bluebird
Claudette told Emmie, pointing out the window
I put that up last winter and kept it all year hoping
but now it is mostly chickadees and sparrows
the man over at hardware told me to be more selective
about my seeds but I just don’t believe him

Emmie noticed a pair of cardinals
male and female on the branch of a maple tree
awaiting their turn
Sometimes feeders remind me of an airport
she remarked and Claudette nodded then noticed the red birds
Cardinals, she smiled
I don’t know why but I think that this is good luck
I want to call him the “poinsettia bird” because as you can see
she gestured at her croton
I have plants on the mind in this dead time of winter

Laura entered the kitchen and said
Is that le café Martinique you like so much, maman
she turned to Emmie
You know she only brings it out on special occasions
this is no mere breakfast brew you understand
and bacon! Laura turned to her mother in mock shock
First you give me a menorah and then you
make bacon like I am some Marxist juif
it is all so hard to keep up with

Then none for you since you’ve turned kosher
Claudette winked at Emmie
more then for us. And fille, she looked her daughter over
why are you dressed already and we are still
in our night clothes
you are in a hurry on the last day before the holidays
this does not make sense

No questions, maman
or you will wreck my spontaneity.

-Jeremy Nathan Marks

Comprehensible pain

Comprehensible pain

Laura lay in bed amidst total silence
for a long time she held her breath until she could not
then took a quick, shallow gasp of air
and held it again

She couldn’t bring herself to move her limbs
at all. Every last acre of her energy had been harvested
by that one burst of adrenaline when she had leapt
up and out into the empty air

She couldn’t recall if she had shouted or spoken
or even whispered anything at all to that phantom
now the exhaustion was overwhelming
it dragged down her memory and induced a kind of amnesia
but still she knew she was afraid, consumed by a fear
paralyzing everything

One moment she was cold and began to shiver
the next a hot flash of humiliation
crawled into her face and she went beet red
her eyes wet

The night sky slowly lightened
turned dun and looked old despite being the beginning
of something: was it a new day?
With the first light Laura felt her limbs unfreeze
her skin begin to thaw and she could roll onto her side
and breathe more comfortably

It must have been another hour
before she stood and felt nausea rocket up her throat
and out her mouth onto the floor
she stumbled to the bathroom, closed the door
and ran the water in the sink while retching violently

She could smell the lining of her own stomach
with every nasal intake of breath
her throat burning with bile she retched again and again
until she was empty then began to weep over a terrible cramping
that doubled her over

She stood up slowly and thought about the rouge
in her room –she would use it to cover up the green she saw
in her pallor. She turned on the shower and let the steam fill the room
then when leaning forward almost dizzily to accept the hot water
she stubbed her toe on the claw foot tub
a welcome distraction this
localized, comprehensible pain

Under the beat of her heated wash she began to relax but then
felt a widening ache spread up her back and into her shoulders along
a river of sore muscles, of twisted cords fastened together
by her every movement
this was not violent pain but something akin to sorrow
and Laura wondered where all of this physical umbrage, her body’s outrage
was coming from. Some part of her had been unduly harmed
and now was setting its companions on edge.

-Jeremy Nathan Marks



Claudette was prone to snatching stray bits of melody
and tiny shards of lyric
sometimes they stayed with her for days
like the time she heard Coltrane’s version of
My Favorite Things
day after day it played on her mind so she bought
the record nearly driving her daughter crazy with its incessant play

Standing before the bathroom mirror she hummed
We’re so sorry, Uncle Albert
We’re so sorry if we’ve caused you any pain
while brushing her teeth
she gargled then smiled and felt content
Laura is happy and Emmie is here
The kettle’s on the boil and we’re so easily called away

Emmie was asleep in her room
beside the bath and Claudette poked her head
in the way she used to when Laura was very young
she wanted to be sure that everything looked alright
that she was breathing

For a moment she had to resist the urge
to check on her own daughter
but she knew that Laura fiercely valued her privacy
and since the light in her room was still on
it would be a mistake to look in

Instead she lit a candle beside her bed
and opened the window
waiting to see her breath form clouds of meaning
but before it did she was asleep

Laura remained awake for awhile
trying to resist an urge of her own: to walk over to the piano
and play ferociously
she picked up her bedside notebook instead
and jotted down thoughts in a flowing flourish suggesting
that her private feelings were melodies of their own
and the closer sleep approached those melodies became more baroque

She thought she saw
through drooping eyes a man standing in the hallway
with two brilliant beams of light emanating from his sockets
but she chalked this up to alcohol and exhaustion
and nodded off

It happened after three in the morning
she was stirred by a growing heat that began on
her eyelids. Feeling herself wakening
some instinct whispered Keep your eyes shut

The light grew in intensity and she could see two saucers
of red through the closed lidded dark
gradually red became everything and she ached to look
but felt springs of fear dampening her back, moistening the space
beneath her arms and trickling down her temples
to become tears

For a long while nothing else happened
the red light peaked and faded
but only just
her body accustomed itself to the heat
and she was not sure how long she had been lying
there when a mouth, cold and damp
suddenly covered her own

She had to resist her body’s urge to rise
her lips’ reflex to recoil
the kiss –which is what it was- was too cold
too uninviting
and yet oddly persistent
whosever mouth this was would not move
did not need to come up for air

Laura surprised herself by not feeling any urge to scream
there was a numbing peacefulness in this kiss
it seemed to be without passion
it was not formed of affection
nor was it meant to soothe
it was a disembodied kiss whose lips held hers so that she breathed
silently through her nostrils

Then when her back began to throb
and her neck to itch
her fingers starting to twitch she braced herself
for terror and rolled over
onto her stomach, turning her back on whatever
or whomever this was

She waited in fact to be struck
or gripped by the shoulders and rolled over

But nothing happened

How long she lay there
afraid to move, thinking perhaps the stranger
chalked her sudden motion up to sleep
she could not be sure
it(?) seemed content merely to watch her
perhaps checking for her breath

Laura’s face was pressed down into the mattress
her entire body waiting to be touched
she listened for sound, any sound at all
but heard only her pulse

Finally, when her face could take the hot darkness
no longer, when her cheeks became parched
and her lungs had to breathe cool air
she rolled over, opened her eyes and was prepared
to leap into the air
shouting Ha!

But there was no one there.

-Jeremy Nathan Marks

Turn of phrase

Turn of phrase

Lou’s invite came at lunch the next day
Lucky got a brief hello and a Can you come
in the hallway between periods

They both said yes
though Lou said I just want to see when
my brother is scheduled to get in
Laura said That’s great let me know
Emmie said Okay and quickly walked
the other way

She came over just a few minutes after Laura
told her mother It will be crepes and wine
Claudette was happy when her doorbell rang and Laura
bowed low and said
Allow me to show you to your room, Madame
and didn’t act surprised or ask
So soon? Why now?

She took Emmie’s bag and led her
to the guest room which was the last door
beside the bathroom upstairs
Emmie sat on the bed while Laura opened
the curtains. You’ll like it, Em
Mom calls it la salon blanche and comes in here
often to think or wallow in her adultness

Emmie smiled and said
That’s an interesting turn of phrase
Well, you know, Laura said, when you live
with a professor you quickly learn
that there are too many ways to say too few things

Emmie thought Laura was being a bit smug
even acting affected
she still had not recovered her own sense of balance
in their relationship and the conversation they had just had
that afternoon –her admission of need
still smarted

She doubted that Laura had any inkling of this
something had changed in their relationship
but she decided that whatever it was
she was not responsible
and she told herself a few minutes later
standing in front of the bathroom mirror
that her friend meant well

But this explanation
it was a rationalization, really
did not satisfy and it dawned on her that
believing that people were essentially decent could become
a fatal flaw if it continued unchecked
Emmie suddenly felt sorry for herself and wondered
with some dignity how she had remained so generous when
her parents taught her to be stingy

That thought or this new resolve to be hard
gave her temporary comfort
but she felt something cold come over her
a chill in fact
and she checked to see if a window was open

Claudette made a beef stew and some fried potatoes
and they ate a late dinner
(late for Emmie anyway) sipping
Irish coffees in the living room afterwards.
Once they were comfortable Claudette abruptly stood
and said I want you two to listen to something
and don’t laugh because I am sentimental

She walked over to the hi-fi and drew
a record out of the stained cabinet beneath
the phonograph
removing a black disc, title unseen
she placed it lovingly on the turntable and turned
up the volume

It was a song neither Laura nor Emmie
had heard before
a Brel song about a woman named
Marieke; the singer kept repeating her name
and sang of her in two languages neither
one of them English

No one spoke as the singer’s volume
and passion increased
Emmie thought I have not heard a man
sing with this kind of emotion in his voice before
and the coffee warmed her
Laura thought dreamily of her piano and lit candles
and waiting for someone

Claudette wasn’t sure why she
had put the record on. Perhaps it was the coffee
or a certain joy that Emmie’s presence brought to her
but she felt herself being swept up in the melody
felt too that she had understood these Flemish words all of her life
even though she did not literally understand them now

After the song ended they were silent
for several moments
Emmie was quite moved but could only stay silent
in front of others; she felt her heart was choking
Laura said Maman, that was so beautiful
and Claudette, whose eyes were wet, muttered to herself
Beau Dommage then looked at her daughter
and said, Oh, I am glad you think so

They sat for a couple more minutes
then Claudette said Refills, yes and I have some
beignets I picked up from a bakery on one of my secret
trips out of town
Emmie you must try them
it will be like our maison is some grand hotel
with colorful flowers, an open porch and a wrought iron
balcony in New Orleans where le beignet
is a specialty

She swept out of the room
and then it was midnight and Emmie
full of food and slightly lightheaded from the coffee
was lying in a bed as white as the snow
piling up outside the guestroom window

She was thinking about the comfort she should
be feeling and as she fell asleep
Claudette’s hospitality seemed a curious thing
like a shower of powdered sugar falling all around her.

-Jeremy Nathan Marks

Pas du tout

Pas du tout

Maman, I want to have a party
Laura dangled the telephone receiver
from her ring finger
its long banana yellow cord the most distinctive
color in the kitchen

I want to have a party as soon as possible
I want to do it tomorrow night
before Christmas Eve and I have a small list of people
in mind. A select few. Just four of us.
Also I want to serve alcohol
and I will make the guests swear to secrecy
I promise

Claudette called out from the dining room
This is not Quebec, ma fille
serving to minors is a crime in this land of the Puritans
and taken very seriously, you know that
it’s considered to be nearly as bad as underage petting.
Do your friends actually know what an oath is
or is it something limited to my generation

Of course, maman
the last thing I would ever think to do
would be to jeopardize you
Vous mentez, chère fille but I love you anyway
Claudette snorted, shook her head then lit a cigarette
Are those Chesterfield’s, Laura studied the slender white
stalk with interest

Claudette shrugged her off
I am not going to tell you and anyways
I’ve told you that wine is something festive
and full of life. You don’t need to explain what your
intentions are. It isn’t LSD. If we lived in another time and place
I’d have us say L’chaim! each time we took our sips
Claudette took a long draw and said
before exhaling You are a lost cause like your mother
then she let her breath loose in a rush

I want Emmie and Lucky to come
and Lou
this guy I met at the party last weekend
you will like him
his father teaches literature at the college
they came here from Chicago and even better
he’s not white

Le pauvre garçon-
Claudette rubbed her temple with her cigarette hand
in a town like this-
I wouldn’t say garçon
and oh yes, his brother was drafted this year
can you believe that-

Claudette did something Laura had never seen her do
she blew a smoke ring and said
I can believe anything

I didn’t know you could do that
Laura pointed at the ring but her mother shrugged
You should also know that I’ve invited Emmie to spend
Christmas with us and I don’t know
when she will show up, could be any minute
I didn’t think I needed to ask

No, you didn’t Claudette said
and I feel sorry for that poor girl. Her parents
I couldn’t grow up with that
she put her cigarette out. But then they look at you
and see something unforgivable in me
the mark, a star or something

Anyway, d’accord. What do you need me to do
is it make food or are you taking care of that-
I won’t ask you to make some plats
Laura cut in, but if you would-

Crepes with wine, is that what you mean
Claudette checked the fridge for butter and Laura laughed
They’ve probably never tried a crepe before
so if we have wine
which of course we do in this house

Claudette closed the refrigerator door
and said I might ask you what you mean by that
fille if I actually could think white
but I haven’t tried to keep to my ways for nothing

Pas du tout
they both said in surprise then laughed
and laughed.

-Jeremy Nathan Marks

loneliness and the brightness of being

Jeremy Nathan Marks:

This post speaks to me. Canada is not nearly so far away (or quite as foreign feeling) as France, but I have experienced some of this. And I know about loneliness too. Thank goodness I have my wife and our dogs and now my daughter. I highly recommend everyone read Alice’s definition of pain here. It is perfectly put.

Originally posted on Alice Keys:

A HORES AND BUGGY WOMAN IN A BIG CAR WORLD (wikimedia commons)I’m a horse and buggy woman in a town crowded full of roaring big trucks. At night, the dream world takes me to unknowable places. But awakening strands me on the shore of this world of walls again. Each night, I wade up to my ankles in the water of enlightenment. But my skin is dry before the morning is done.

I’m a wandering gypsy without a tambourine, a hollow stem without roots and bones without even a covering of skin for a tent. My crumbling drum makes less sound than I thought.

When did this lonesome road home, become my home?

* * *

I love this place. I love this house. I love my family and friends. I treasure the freedom I have to channel the creative spirit in the quiet morning while the night’s moisture still lingers between my toes. I’m on my knees in gratitude to…

View original 967 more words

A Devon family crime

A Devon family crime

Emmie had not waited
for her mother to resolve her dilemma
she had seen it there in her face
but she wasn’t going to make that her own

No more
not this time

Charlotte had abruptly cleared the table
and disappeared into the kitchen
and Emmie
not looking for an argument despite feeling the fight
growing inside her
went up to her room and made a telephone call

When Laura picked up the other end
Emmie said I am coming
what day do you want me there
and Laura, surprised by the word day
said You can come now if you really want, I think my mother
wants a second child
and might be growing bored with me

They both laughed and Emmie said
I will get back to you
You might see me tonight or you might see me tomorrow
night when vacation starts
You should just show up, Laura replied
show up and say nothing, come into our house like it’s yours
and chances are my mother will hug you and pick up
on whatever conversation the two of you have left unfinished

Emmie put the phone down and wondered
Is this actually a plan
Can I really do this
Do I care that my father will go off recklessly
or that mother might not forgive me because this is Christmas

But then rage
genuine rage welled up and she actually said aloud
To hell with them. Both of them.
She abandons me to him and he abandons both of us for himself
they can spend Christmas with themselves
it’s whom they most deserve

And right then she resolved to leave the house
Tonight. No, in five minutes
if she could just get her things collected
Do I go out the front door or the back
Do I say anything or not
Do I pick a fight
Do I try and finish our conversation

No, she thought
No, I don’t feel like doing anything right now
but leaving
and at that moment her anger at Lucky returned
she didn’t see him like her father anymore
and he obviously wasn’t her mother

But he was guilty of a Devon family crime

Lucky, she decided, wanted to be understood
without taking the responsibility of
understanding himself first
and how many lives will that stance cost

Emmie felt bitterness
even acid clutching at her heart
burning her throat
and knew that it must be right now.

-Jeremy Nathan Marks