Ventures

Ventures (a poem in two disjointed parts)

I

In Grand Rapids, Michigan
craft beer and gourmet food
in Windsor, Ontario now, too

You don’t have to go to London
New York or even Chicago
to try the finest contemporary food

But if your soul seeks more
that is, an authentic slice of Americana
or wholesome Middle American
the Rust Belt ruinenwert is a plus
as you can post your pics
to show your friends
while you hoist a stein.

Great modern ruins
industrial age relics
in places where there is still life
not just ants or roaches or grey dye-in-the-wing moths
ailanthus and sedge and other weedy species
but honest to goodness humans

People going about their business
scattering towards the light
of any camera that can find them
promoting the next big thing
whether culinary, high tech or architecturally related
so as they might rebuild

(In English-speaking North America you actually must replace;
as Chrissy Hind has said: ‘I stood on the back porch/ there was nobody home’)

In Detroit, urban gardens
in Cleveland, local gourmands
and a Cuyahoga that no longer burns and seldom stinks
middle American destinations where Akron is pleasant
and Youngstown quiet and quaint
both venture investment opportunities.

Take in the local ale
sample deep fried reinvented
bad for the heart but good for the soul
and didn’t it just sustain the greatest generations
dontcha know
this food of the great gone by:
steel lunch pails, stay at home mothers
and by golly, union protections.

II

Don’t tell me today how it’s more individuals that we need
what I hear and see is an ongoing call for solidarity

If we are bowling alone and staying home
watching movies in our bedroom

If we are denied our right to organize
to sit beside others who don’t look like us
in classrooms and home owner associations

If we are building gates and building walls
and pipelines with ample throughput
but fewer folks to read the dials

If we are -some of us- coming out to dutifully cast
annually, biannually our ballots
but don’t then see our lot improved too much
don’t go and say to us it’s less democracy
that will assuage our rage

I say, it’s solidarity.

I say, it’s not being deceived.

I say, it’s transparency:
show the whole sordid story
of who got the land
and who runs the boards
who sets the membership
and who calls the tune
who drives the prices
and who makes the markets
who got the land
and who then defended it
how the land was won
and what wars were needed

I say, it’s not waiting for
work to come down
passed along by beneficent hands
it’s not philanthropists
and their foundations
helping us acquire
(when they feel inspired)
what there is to have and to hold
essential goods
those items of dignity
those emblems of what was once
and what must always be
the terms of American posterity

You know,
those things without which
we become leaches
welfare recipients
non-producers
forty-seven percenters
barely worth the price of our human rights

Some mandarins have said they should let us die
to applause
and then there’s the likes of the Mr. Kevin Williamson
who from his high position at an elite online publication
insists that those who can’t adapt
who are mired in dependency
outmoded thought processes
(wards all, really)
that they (we) should be allowed to just drop dead
like President Ford said to NYC in the mid-1970s

But I want to say how it’s not worth listening
to this they,
those who tell you that anxiety
is what you simply must own and overcome
as you are its origin;
that your biological instinct really is to kill
and conquer
that to stand together
is unnatural, atheistic, likely some red error.

And alas, riddle me this?
Where are our poetry journals
willing to tackle
inelegantly perhaps
the great groaning grotesquerie
that needs raw infusions
of solecisms
and ugly, gaping, grasping illusions
to beat against the skin and skein
of craft and polish-

I suspect the answer isn’t that it’s now some sin
to be producing agitprop
as it could only be a farcical rerun
of Soviet formalism;
that in America we have to be more sophisticated
than that
and grasp the nettle with positivity
evasion and elipsis
otherwise we forfeit our chance
to be Dedulus
calmly, cooly and then in epiphany
moved on to other pastures
ever in exile
ranging beyond the dull, drear
rage and despair
of local, native pastures

Forgive me if I believe that a call to arms
is one of the Janus faces of art;
art as Madonna, maybe

So to see choosing sides,
that is barricades, fronts and frontiers
parties, cliques, claques
even caches
rather than simply voicing internal monologues
and coded dialects
as, well, once again, merely lifeless, meretricious agitprop

To me, that’s a lot of MFA
post-graduate slop.

Jeremy Nathan Marks

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The Alex Jones Presidency (Shadow Puppetry)

The Alex Jones Presidency (Shadow Puppetry)

The man with the codes
is listening to Alex Jones
while those in the know
watch his nose continue to grow

Who will tell the people what the people are supposed to have seen?

That the man in the robe and with the sceptre believes
that the tools of his presidency are tools whose power could be deposed
provided that the people and their servants stop seeing those devices
as instant, spontaneous killers rather than instruments that charge like batteries.

Who will tell the people that the dimensions of life on the screen
phone, television, tablet or computer
are not the dimensions within the school, the store, the shopping centre
even the home?

Who will tell them that what is seen is not necessarily what is
and that what makes a human human
or a citizen a citizen
is not fealty to symbols
but work, will, initiative
even a sense of commanding destiny
personal and collective?

Provided that reality is actually seen.

But how will it be seen if people look at the man and his codes
only through a screen?

Who will tell them that much of what they are witnessing
is an art: shadow puppetry?

Jeremy Nathan Marks

American wars

American wars

In my life I have seen a war launched on a lie
watched a sovereign nation dismantled in my name

I have watched from a distance a sniper and his assistant
shoot up, wound and kill men, women and children
at bus stops, schools and parking lots
across the roads, streets and neighborhoods of the community
where I grew up

Now, this did not make me rise up and declare myself a black man
even if I learned the hard way what it means to have my home turf
turned into a shooting gallery with too many innocents taken
I didn’t try to say that it was war against me or my kind
on account of bad shit befalling me (actually, it was befalling
the wounded and killed, their family and friends)
I didn’t go and make what was happening any more about me than it was
since it really wasn’t about me at all

In my life I have a seen a war launched on a lie
call it “culture” but that does not make it any less of a war
for as we have seen, there are plenty of casualties
even if not all of them bleed their blood to the same degree

My aunt recently told me that when her European brother
came over to our shores
he was struck by the loneliness, despair and anomie
in the gas stations, trailer parks and diners
he seemed to be experiencing what dear Gil Scott called
“Winter in America”
with the delicious irony that everything in our American winter
simply gets hotter.

Jeremy Nathan Marks

Calling it a day

Calling it a day

Gil Scott Heron was right when he wrote
that the revolution will not be televised

So, my friends, here it goes:

I say no to the word on the street
that unless you place it in a screen
you will miss it
that it never happened

Gil Scott Heron was right when he wrote
the revolution does not go better with Coke
that it won’t tell you what to do about the tiger in your tank
or the giant in your toilet bowl
how it won’t tell you what you can do with your iPhone
whether you should Uber
dress up in drag
push your legislature for a gender neutral bathroom

He simply said it would be live
that is, not some feed on CNN
no Reddit room.

Again, my friends, I am tendering my resignation:

You won’t find me looking at anything ‘breaking’
no more alerts
look for me watching rain fall at high latitudes
in midwinter
counting automated supermarket checkouts
classrooms with software programs rather than teachers
conservatives blissfully, blatantly lying
as liberals enable by conveniently forgetting.

You won’t find me looking at things far away
when what is inside or beside screams
shouts
a fieldworker watching every last cent
of what she makes
on somebody’s take
applied to a tab
a summit of debt
at the company store where the owner says
surrender yourself to impulse
and leave the complicated, fretful matters to us.

My friends,
please don’t listen any longer for me to talk about myself
show you photos of my daughter
tell you what my vacation was last summer
or gauge my reaction to the latest spate
of mass American shooting deaths

Don’t wait for me to log my dissent,
assent or disapproval
better yet, don’t wait for me to vent my praise
over anguished plaints of our collective guilt
because it really doesn’t matter with me now
not in any sense that I’ve been prepared for
by a dauntless belief in our inexorable greatness
divine patrimony

For you see
I am in a beyond America phase
inured to the promises of Washington, Winthrop
Reagan
what I see instead is how God’s vernacular promise to us
is decency’s auto da fe
that’s the new state of play
whiteness(?) all the way-

Please, don’t come looking for me
for I have no brand, no logo
no calling card, business card
no cookie or signature
no byline in some seldom read magazine
trying to bait its clicks.

Please,
I just don’t have a name
save the one my parents gave
(and my intimates have permission to use)

Unless you are the NSA
you won’t find me
I’ve called it a day.

Jeremy Nathan Marks

The truth of intention

The truth of intention

I

I sit down to take tea in clear glass mugs
with a retired Polish doctor in his den

Born in Warsaw before the war
he is old enough to remember
the guns and bombs of thirty-nine
the guns and bombs of forty-three
and the Iron shutters of the Red Army

Shaking his head at what is on the tv
I notice his blue eyes dissolving
like bolts of Arctic ice
buoyant over a profound deep:

‘I fled communism because I valued
knowledge from experience
but what I learned while in Paris was
that the pennant of change is royal.

‘The tyrant will shoot the general
just as sure as he disdains the writer.
But it is one thing to sit across from a man
who doesn’t want to know the facts
and quite another to sit beside a man who
doesn’t know what facts are.’

He finishes his tea
as his wife wheels in the samovar.
Noticing my admiration for its burnished brass
he remarks:

‘A gift from a Russian diplomat friend.
The irony, sometimes, is too much.’

II

‘I want to tell you of a dream I’ve had.
You might think it strange,
but for years I contemplated psychiatry
choosing instead to cut the brain
rather than ponder at it.’

He chuckles.

‘I am in a warehouse
brought from my cell.
One of my fellow prisoners says
to the guards how they must hit him
hard on the shoulder.

‘“Beat me! Beat my arm!”
He screams at them.
“You have to see what I can do!
What it is that I know!”

‘For many minutes they pound on him
turning his deltoids black and blue
and he laughs the entire time
choking on his message:
“Just wait! Just wait! Wait till you see!”

‘And then it comes:
he defecates.
Copious amounts of shit fill his pants;
there is so much his trousers start to sag
and I, standing on the far side of the room,
nearly double over with nausea.

‘Every guard turns away,
several of them retching.
His laughter never ceases;
he says: “See! What did I tell you!”

‘He is rapturous.

‘“My God! My God! Oh, how good it feels!”’

‘The guards would approach him
to beat him for his foolishness
but they cannot reach him.’

III

‘A free man now
I am in an underground dungeon
being shown what the regime has done
with its dissenters.

‘There are twenty cells
filled with leading writers, artists
and intellectuals.
They gaze out at me
elbows resting on iron beams
their arms woven between the vertical bars.

‘In the middle of the beams are red circles.
They radiate a certain energy, shall we say
and I feel it.

‘Two hooded figures enter the room.
One is a man and the other,
I think,
a woman.
Their robes are pewter grey,
their skin ashen,
hair long and salt and pepper colored.

‘As they approach I feel them force
something onto the dissenters.

‘They do not move their arms.

‘There is silence; no one is speaking
but their force is something that I feel.

‘It is harmful.

‘Then the red circles start to become blue;
the blue moves across the red in phases
like a lunar eclipse.

‘As soon as the blue is in half moon
I begin to force it back;
concentrating all of my energy against it,
feeling the strain of my effort.

‘The blue is checked
and we become locked in struggle.

‘It is at this point that I see my wife
enter the room.
She is approached by a man,
an American Senator who is trying to coax her
into accepting what the hooded figures
offer. He is not to be trusted, I know.

‘She turns and looks at me
in confusion,
her body language suggesting that she needs
answers: “You have been here longer,
what do you think is best?”

‘I turn and tell her: Resist!
This is difficult as I cannot break concentration
from my fight to keep the blue at bay.
The Senator says that it is better to die,
to follow their way forward.

‘No, I tell her. No.
You cannot believe what he says.
It is never better to die.
I know.
The hooded figures are sending her and me
nonverbal messages;
I hear them in my mind but believe nothing.

IV

Before he asks me what I think of his dream
we hear the president on the tv.

‘He is in my city
and look at how he thinks my people
value what he has to say!
This man. This man who colludes with one
of the two greatest enemies we, Poles, ever had!

‘What to say! What to say!’

I ask,
do you believe the people in the audience
are there because they want to be?
Or is everything staged?

‘What to believe?’
He takes a sip of tea.
‘After more than eighty years
if you ask me what is the most precious
thing a person can possess
I would say that it is this: a true memory.

‘I hated the Russians
but Tolstoy, him I read.
And he said that there is no reliable account
of what has happened.
But still, there is truth!
The truth of intention!’

Jeremy Nathan Marks

“Message from Bongo Brown” -in print

I am very pleased that my poem, “Message from Bongo Brown” has been published. I am posting a link to the piece, which is formatted differently over at The Blue Nib from the way I formatted it originally. I offer you both versions:

http://magazine.thebluenib.com/article/poetry-by-eileen-hugo-wanda-morrow-clevenger-and-jeremy-nathan-marks/

Message from Bongo Brown

‘Detroit is just like everywhere else, only more so -a lot more so.’ -Jerry Herron

‘He was the spice.’ -Uriel Jones

‘But in the end it wasn’t up to me. The big things never are. Birth, I mean, and death. And love. And what love bequeaths to us before we’re born.’ -Jeffrey Eugenides

I

I nearly always believe what I hear if the singer is sincere

Driving westbound
past Dearborn on the 94
I hear Diana Ross shout Stop!

In the name of love turn about go back and say
the best is yet to come
and this is my kind of town

Since ‘There’s plenty of work and the bosses are paying.’

II

Eddie Brown came up from Clarksdale
drawn like the folks Jacob Lawrence drew
he went from being Marvin Gaye’s valet
to making music history

Sitting in on instinct
unable to read music
he made Boston-Edison
and then the Donovan
a centre of percussive innovation.

III

Here, too, that Mexican
Rivera
portrayed as no one had previously
that American transubstantiation
must be taken seriously

And Ford said
it’s a blessing to welcome a Red
into the cradle
of the American fable.

IV

Detroit,
should we take it to be
a city of men
or a metropolis of women

Or if that distinction puts us in a fix
how about calling it
a city of the middlesex?

V

Woman now heads a plurality of houses
so shouldn’t she be the one to issue promises
on behalf of the city Fathers
to the nomads delinquent in their payments?

But the best minds haven’t found a formula for an era beyond the auto
and ingrained civic habits try and pull rabbits from hats that don’t trick

There were so many patrons to fill the Hudson’s on Woodward
and the Grand River busses teemed with shoppers

But even then
the real estate boards,
brokers, and city councillors
the sheriffs and the county executives conversing over their lake perch
and filet mignon dinners
said they had to maintain the integrity of their investments,
that American right to property

So what if that property now is, in some ways,
a salad of weeds where coyotes and geese graze and feed
off the land Ford wanted so badly to turn into concrete?

Much of it has reverted to that same Michigan mud he used to curse
and pick from off his feet.

VI

The people I meet are more eager for belief
than they are for relief

Their hope is as driving
as the winter rain
which keeps Lake St. Clair open water

They make the rent go for groceries
brave the bus
lock the window then the door
then the fire escape
until there are more
than five latches
barring even the landlord

They can tell you which lights have to be run
red and green, either one

But if you think that this is a new phenomenon
just listen to ‘Bongo’ Brown’
or Marvin Gaye and his Twelfth Street sound
they told you what was going on-

I almost cried
when I thought how they died
but was revivified
listening to Bobbye Hall eulogize.

VII

As smoke from the Rouge reaches the sky
a long line of Sheeler’s shadows
draws the eye towards the tambourine
its metal mimicking a rhythm local musicians learned to tame

I go and listen again
to a recording of a Mardi Gras Indian
whose brother made his migration
out from a grove of strange fruit
to the lights of Muskegon,
Toledo, Flint, and then Wayne County
come to the open stoops,
bling pigs,
and testimonials
of Black Bottom and Paradise Valley

He heard his gospel translated from the feathers
and taut skin slapping
of his hand
the roll of the cymbal
a shake of the wrist
and every thumb print left
by a bent back digit impressed with beeswax

Historically, ancestrally
I cannot help but see
in the Penobscot, the Book,
the Fisher, and the Lee
a reminder of the shopkeepers who scrawled ‘Soul Brother’
on their windows and doors
calling to mind the paschal lamb, the bitter herb,
but also every untutored player: field shouters, barrel kickers, harp blowers
who jigged the streets with sequins and lace.

Untutored they were
but not unschooled
for while the Muse may be rude
her fruits are hardly crude.

Jeremy Nathan Marks

On time

On time

When the sun raises the breath that pushes the blades
of the tri-corner towers
labourers who live within those shadows
rise to assume their place

Time is not theirs:
on whatever task they are required
just as quickly must they stop
and resume another

There is no completion
no personal competency
neither will nor choice nor even discipline of self
so that when the sun drops the breath that drives the blades
day is over, all bodies must cease.

At dawn the rotation resumes
engineers inspect the blades
while children are gathered to admire
the accomplishment of men (and some women)
who have gathered the winds and put the sun to work on time

They are taught the lesson
that there is an admirable elegance
to two things which ever are the same:

The sun always rises to meet its task
and men assigned it the terms of its rest.

Jeremy Nathan Marks

The rest of the story

The rest of the story

-for Colonel Kriste Kibbey Etue

This Yom Kippur
what am I repenting for?

For failing to be counted one among the degenerates

Whose indictment of the privilege
of becoming just another
not chalked body
with a pension and a Maserati
and a place at the table
with the Great White Father

Whose eagle-eyed apprehension
of the declension of the merely making sure
that a child and a mother don’t lose the father
3/5 of a provider, he
in homes that surely would be prosperous
and market ready
with more personal responsibility
no time wasted on grievance and history

(where I live now -Canada- just sub in the nouns ‘Reserves’ and ‘Aboriginals’)

That not so silent song of all the scorned sheaves
Fanon and Baldwin, James and King
a melodious murmur of the don’t belongs
whose genuflections on the fields of sporting battle
(as my conscious Catholic friend noted)
is some abomination before God and Reagan
and the Constitution
never to be afforded absolution.

But I’m reminded of another coloured man
Esther’s father, Mordecai
a penitent who said, no,
I won’t take a knee before a false idol
this king believing himself to be a deity

So Mordecai nearly died
but then again he didn’t because
his daughter was
royalty

And isn’t that the rest of the story?

Jeremy Nathan Marks

Take a knee

Take a knee

I am willing to take a knee with thee
and imagine I am sitting at counter in a Kresge
on a lukewarm late winter’s day
in Raleigh, Greensboro, Winston Salem
or Hampton, Virginia

I am willing to take a knee with thee
to hear the aroma of fear turn sweat into scent
and think that the things I buy
I buy with the currency
not of my body
but of my mother’s father’s mother’s decision
to keep reproducing a blanching pigmentation
rather than letting things go another way.

I take a knee with thee alone in my room
knowing that while no one can see me
I have to be willing first to see myself.

And I see myself and say
it is not the spiritual symbolism of my act
that is what must be brought out into public spaces
-actually physical places with truncheons
and kevlar and insults that can be heard up close
even if they are streamed in from afar

I see myself and say
it is not the fear and trembling of my bowels
or an anger so pure in both its shame and dignified
outrage it makes me chant shame shame damn damn
fuck fuck inside while wanting to turn saint
and murderer alike

I see myself on my knees and say
why is it so delicious to long for this day
to count where I stand among thee
while in my heart, in my head
I reach for words in anger that will betray me
so that thou shalt rightly call me
hypocrite

Hypocrite lecteur,
témoin blanche maudite
or whatever exotic words I seek
to shout from the rafters of my bought intellect
that profound self-suspicion about my own voice’s
use.

I take a knee with thee
so you can wrap me in the colors
and shield me from the knowledge
that the undoing of what has been done
we have barely begun.

Publius

Balthazar Cycle

Kaddish

‘Vanity of vanities. All is vanity.’ -Ecclesiastes 1:2

‘. . . he threw his arms around the neck of a mare
that had just been flogged by a coachman.’ -Walter Kaufmann (Nietzsche)

The ass must have its kaddish.

From ditch to hearse
I count my steps
hale the carcass
wear a mask

This will be a secret pass
through a town where clarity
is absence

I’ve greased the axels
for a silent stretch
hear the switch and gasp
at the shank’s grace

There is so little remorse
and suffering so boundless.

Crows and buzzards gather
along my plodding pace

I offer obols to the chaws
but the buzzards are senseless

Prayer is limitless
I seek Kavod.

The turnabout

If a man live a year or a thousand years, what profiteth it him?
He shall be as though he had not been.’ -Tzidduk H’din

A penny paid offers but paltry pleasure.

‘Five will get you ten!
But a quarter. . . fifteen!’

‘Two bits permits
a full night in the stable!’

In July’s ripe rank
the fair is where
the wares and cares
of husbandmen
are driven in droves

A market for yearlings,
suckling pens marvel
to the teat

Halter is a top
to make the breasts scream
gander your grok
from a blindered ass’s eye

Children ride these beasts:
wooly, blinkered, muzzles bowed
in pious -heard tell, mindless- effort

The turnabout.

Jument

‘Then the LORD opened the donkey’s mouth, and it said to Balaam,
“What have I done to you to make you beat me these three times?”’ -Numbers 22:28

Heart so full I had to look away
to allow my head to regain sway:

The quirt falls on the kulan’s back
in rhythmic command
it’s a tool I am told
and only a fool turns one down
cruelty never being a rule
merely utility

The harvest comes in fulsome
its price handsome at the exchange
if the feed allotment stays the same
it’s to keep the jument trim

A portion of profits will go
to an NGO
that looks after asses
in foreign places
their donors receive picture postcards
pinned to receipts
lustrous fur, ample feed
and gentle leads

501c3

In dawn’s heat
the threshing now complete
I think of that kulan
his fur’s lambency lost

We’ve tapped the sweet seas
greened the plains
grown cotton in the desert
and what does him honor
save eternal rest, now

It began with a furrow
and Cain recalls
his brother

Riding an onager
out at first light
toward the ochre
in the east
knowing all the while where
the tocsin is buried.

Jeremy Nathan Marks