When the pulp on the block
was at last bled out
I looked past
the privy and shamble fence

To the clapboard church
and dog, chained yard patched in
burrs he having swallowed
the creek bank shard
and bones

When that pulp turned hollow
I saw the flint spark
of dry January nights red
eye dust on the sill
those stars counting four footed

So I chased the chain loose
from my porch and what stole
beyond the barrel bled
out in myrrh.

-Jeremy Nathan Marks



My friends’ invitation came
in the April evening
to tramp off down the sundown road
along lanes of un-fruit bearing cherries
and pears past purpling hills
their petals
falling onto damp stone

Talk was bounded by
the hillocks through late light
and staccato jokes
rutted stubble with gnats in tight
forming schools
-what the robins said was
damp as air.

In spring I used to withhold
for that saint about
to fall
could not bear to hear
winter’s stain flats of heaven hit and razed
by the miserere of rain
and pastels

That thickened blood
and waked it
with the gummed eyes
of seed

Then to go with ache
but not a plaint
just the way of my joints, skin and
nape, their creak
indistinct from the naked gray
tremors of the winding

That night though
by my open window breathing
at last like a pared fig
with my stink of fallow mud
I lit a candle to leaven
only dusk held back those curtains
letting in the lambent air

That allowed the room to become
the full field
how friends beckon
and a hand is in play at
my rib bone.

-Jeremy Nathan Marks

Note: The verse “stain flats of heaven hit and razed” is taken from the verse “the stain flats of heaven hit and razed” in Dylan Thomas’s poem “A Saint About To Fall.”


Surely, if you do right,
There is uplift.
(Genesis 4.3)

When the briars bloom their many seeds
spread about from our having
prodded them

And if the gesture draws a little blood its
ache is bathed within the marvel
of the act

In the basin where we wash our hands the
the color dissipates, the water
tastes brackish

It was the index finger that sprouted first,
caught but not bent. Then the
bleeding spread

To the ring finger. These two together
have gained by that funny act
a mingling of

The blood, their shared mark.

-Jeremy Nathan Marks

“For the Union Dead”

Since the latest unrest in Ferguson, Missouri Robert Lowell’s poem has been on my mind. I did not know the piece by heart but its title kept pressing me. Reading it again now I realize why. And with what has just happened in Staten Island I feel like the following words express the agony of our national moment better than anything you will hear or see on television, radio or in the social media.

For the Union Dead
“Relinquunt Omnia Servare Rem Publicam.”

The old South Boston Aquarium stands
in a Sahara of snow now. Its broken windows are boarded.
The bronze weathervane cod has lost half its scales.
The airy tanks are dry.

Once my nose crawled like a snail on the glass;
my hand tingled
to burst the bubbles
drifting from the noses of the cowed, compliant fish.

My hand draws back. I often sigh still
for the dark downward and vegetating kingdom
of the fish and reptile. One morning last March,
I pressed against the new barbed and galvanized

fence on the Boston Common. Behind their cage,
yellow dinosaur steamshovels were grunting
as they cropped up tons of mush and grass
to gouge their underworld garage.

Parking spaces luxuriate like civic
sandpiles in the heart of Boston.
A girdle of orange, Puritan-pumpkin colored girders
braces the tingling Statehouse,

shaking over the excavations, as it faces Colonel Shaw
and his bell-cheeked Negro infantry
on St. Gaudens’ shaking Civil War relief,
propped by a plank splint against the garage’s earthquake.

Two months after marching through Boston,
half the regiment was dead;
at the dedication,
William James could almost hear the bronze Negroes breathe.

Their monument sticks like a fishbone
in the city’s throat.
Its Colonel is as lean
as a compass-needle.

He has an angry wrenlike vigilance,
a greyhound’s gentle tautness;
he seems to wince at pleasure,
and suffocate for privacy.

He is out of bounds now. He rejoices in man’s lovely,
peculiar power to choose life and die–
when he leads his black soldiers to death,
he cannot bend his back.

On a thousand small town New England greens,
the old white churches hold their air
of sparse, sincere rebellion; frayed flags
quilt the graveyards of the Grand Army of the Republic.

The stone statues of the abstract Union Soldier
grow slimmer and younger each year–
wasp-waisted, they doze over muskets
and muse through their sideburns . . .

Shaw’s father wanted no monument
except the ditch,
where his son’s body was thrown
and lost with his “niggers.”

The ditch is nearer.
There are no statues for the last war here;
on Boylston Street, a commercial photograph
shows Hiroshima boiling

over a Mosler Safe, the “Rock of Ages”
that survived the blast. Space is nearer.
When I crouch to my television set,
the drained faces of Negro school-children rise like balloons.

Colonel Shaw
is riding on his bubble,
he waits
for the blessèd break.

The Aquarium is gone. Everywhere,
giant finned cars nose forward like fish;
a savage servility
slides by on grease.

-Robert Lowell (1917-1977)

You can hear Lowell read his poem here:


For Cleveland, Staten Island, Ferguson and other reminders of our shared living history:


The wound
inheres; from beneath its
tendrils look like a great tree

Breathing down
and drinking from the hard
rock and mud. It is night even

While the torches
are lit. The sounds we pass
are of water’s slow drip down

Into dirt that will
give ground. It will which
is what we are seeking by our gaze

Toward that open
cavern just past this place.
With a great fire growling in its center

And a floo above
open to the sky, the flames
tickle and lick the body but surely they

Cannot burn
for it’s a healing fire still.
We must be certain.

-Jeremy Nathan Marks

Sleeping man

Sleeping man
“They are you and I
forced to take the reflection
in the puddle for the sky.” –Fred D’Aguiar (“El Dorado Update”)

Tiny lights,
some red others white
flicker in the brume.

Will they wake
the sleeping man beyond
the bluff with their flares

It is still too soon.

Stars that go unseen
burn cold on the fitful face
just beneath the Precambrian rock.

A fox,
magnetized in her leap
searches the alpine banks for mice

She will be shot during a break.

The trigger hand
will turn and brush
ferrules of snow from a shoulder.

Ten million, million
crystals fall and splay a
searing magnification over frozen ground

But are rebuffed by this parallax of prairie.

-Jeremy Nathan Marks

This is my experience


This is my experience

At this rate of speed
things pass undistinguished.

It is customary
to watch for the orange line
with its purple overlay of dusk

And try
and grasp the garment that
a king let fall. It will either stall or
pull us across.

In a slovenly wilderness of second
nature we lose members of our party

One by one to congregations that flash
by like ambulances.

They have wheels
on their backs not wings
but still lead the young along
the furrow’s edge looking for torches

In some missing village.

-Jeremy Nathan Marks

Note: “Slovenly wilderness” is a phrased used by Wallace Stevens’ in his poem “Anecdote of the Jar.” The painting by Jacek Malczewski is entitled “Święta Agnieszka” (Holy Agnes) and can be found here: