The truth of intention

The truth of intention


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.’


‘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.’


‘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.


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:

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 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.’


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.


Here, too, that Mexican
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.


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?


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.


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.


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

Balthazar Cycle


‘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.


‘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


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

Shrewsbury Street

Shrewsbury Street

I suppose all that I really want some days
is to walk into a corner market
with a lunch counter and a juke box
order an ice cold Coke
and listen to men talk about baseball
faulty starters and local politics

If you think I’m kidding I swear that I am
sincere as this is a kind of American zen
I can practice and not feel entirely phoney

Even though it’s a wish I probably picked up
from some novel or old film
and though I’m sure to be disappointed when
it isn’t as photogenic an experience as I mean
it to be, it still won’t matter

There’s always the clatter
of coffee cups and faux porcelain plates
in an old diner
on Shrewsbury Street in Worcester, Mass
which I do remember

A diner with 6 booths
and hometown brewed Polar root beer
where you could order a plate
of Boston baked beans
a wedge of pie and refillable coffee
and the short order cook
who was a card
would let you stay late
talking about what a good man was
so long as he got a few words in
and you managed not to praise the Yankees.

Jeremy Nathan Marks

This poem has recently appeared at Ariel Chart:



-for Aubrey Pollard, Fred Temple & Carl Cooper


The stories we tell ourselves
sincere as they seem
mostly overlook the stories others
live individually
so we live in worlds where blue is green

While buildings burn
while freeways are built
through cramped campuses
of what was simply available
While civic leaders bruit
about promises they cannot keep
While imagination remains the true
invisible hand making its porous
palm felt across the land

The heat from the streets
from locked gun cabinets
and pockets not deep enough
to do something enduring
about the Jones that grows
so it is that confessions
and intentions pale beside
predilections that hardly
can be called
the snows of yesteryear.


Congressman Conyers
standing on the hood of a friend’s car
implores the rioters, looters
to return home before the first molotov
cocktail is thrown
before the first child is acquired
by scattered fire

These are his people, or so he believes
they put him in office
assured him of his status
respected that he bought his own place
just a mere two blocks over
from the worst street of sin in the city

So it is a genuine rebuke when they say
‘We don’t want to hear it’
they might as well have called him a honkey
or an ofay
and as a bottle shatters on the street
mere inches from his aide’s feet
he stands down, shaken

‘You try to talk to those people and they’ll knock you
into the middle of next year.’


They had the best mayor in the land
the one who came in on a promise that
he’d put in a chief of police
one who understood the nature of the stress
the black man experienced
merely trying to walk to get a late night brew
on streets familiar enough that he should have been
known to any uniform
vice squad or unmarked cruiser patrolling that beat

The folks said the mayor’s appointment
of Justice Edwards as the new chief
was as reassuring and prideful a moment
as President Johnson’s placement of Marshall
on the highest court in the land

Edwards, it should be said, was himself
a white man.


Three young men
all suspect
by virtue of the color
of their skin
were simply dining late
and taking it all in
when a mysterious act
on the floor below
led to shouts of sniper!
and the arrival
of the police and the Guard
so that within a couple of hours
all three young men were dead

Should it be said
that it was fitting that
these deaths occurred in
a motel known as the Algiers
a city famous for a colonial war
that had been lost by the same power
that had passed the baton of its flailing
effort at curbing insurrection in another
formerly colonial land
and that these United States had taken up
a similar mission civilatrice
in that other corner of the brown and yellow world
only to find that bombs and martial superiority
couldn’t cure the clear intent of those yellow ni&*^rs
to no longer take orders from a white Christian face
if it could be replaced by a party or committee
that preached power and proffered proof
that power is still power
even if means to be lord of a pile of rubble.

Jeremy Nathan Marks

Fold’s point

Fold’s point

When I was thirteen and we first went to Boston
I met RFK’s silhouette

What the impact was
what that profile meant
introduced a certainty that
I could go on to The Kennedy School
staying true to kismet

My father said get perfect grades
you should never err-

Yes, dad.

But none of it happened;
the tests didn’t ask rhetorical questions
such as

Is it right to hold private what
your public plan


Is want a foot pressed down
like a blindfold

I was merely a teen
and thought I could gain hold
of a disposition

But disposed to further dreaming
I see the fabric’s fold from the fold’s point
of meaning.

Jeremy Nathan Marks

This poem appeared in the Spring/Summer 2017 edition of Word Fountain. You can hear me read it here:

Wrinkled Legacy of Elder Hands -Kevin Ridgeway

Wrinkled Legacy of Elder Hands

made of paper
from depression era grit
and hard fought survival in the
of their raspy breath,
survivors of tent cities
and bread lines and proud
their sweet rock candy
mountain optimism
their don’t get fresh sense of
their cosignature of the New
and their gypsy bonnets in
black and white
scrolls of their humble houses
built with
their bare hands
triumphs over greed
that gave me something
to worship,
their medicine show
power of the people
who built the great nations
and their unwavering
optimism in the
face of bad political machines
they fought
to dismantle from the desire
bury what can never be
undone in the minds
of grandchildren who cast
ballots and remember,
always remember what the
old folks said
was right and just and for us

Kevin Ridgeway

Kevin Ridgeway lives and writes in Long Beach, CA. A two-time Pushcart Prize Nominee, recent work has appeared in Chiron Review, Nerve Cowboy, Trailer Park Quarterly, Big Hammer, San Pedro River Review, Lummox, Spillway and Cultural Weekly, among many others. He is the author of six chapbooks of poetry, including All the Rage (Electric Windmill Press), On the Burning Shore (Arroyo Seco Press) and Contents Under Pressure (Crisis Chronicles Press).