My guess is that most adults have experienced the following, although probably not since the pandemic began: You meet someone and have an immediately physical attraction, and feel vibes that the other person is attracted to you, too. But one or both of you is involved with someone else, or the situation makes pursuing your interest impossible—one is interviewing the other for a job, or you are work associates, or one of you is with friends, or there is a strict regulation against dating a customer, or it’s your child’s teacher. Or perhaps the interaction is so transitory as to make anything beyond the moment impossible—interactions on a subway, at a food counter, on line at a grocery store while on vacation. Sometimes people attracted to one another in these situations will engage in light flirting of a very innocent and non-sexual kind. Sometimes it leads to unnecessary nervousness. All these adjustments seem to me to be sublimations of the basic sexual urge—and a sign of a civilized, socialized person. 


Several years back I devised a poem around three of these situations in which something else takes the place of a sexual act that would be anti-social: someone displaces sexual tension through nervous drinking; two people flirt over word play; one person teaches the other a morning exercise that approaches religious worship. The poem, “Instead of Sex,” was published in Cortland Review. “Instead of Sex” involves heterosexual situations, but I think the sublimation of sexual urges applies to all possible combinations of sexual identity, proclivity, and attraction.




All human activity is prompted by desire.

– Bertrand Russell


With A. B.

Whispered comments to the screen,

they scroll their burning fingers

up and down, back and forth,

colliding on the keyboard,

linger, pull away, touch again.

She grabs his water bottle,

sips from it, sips from it again, 

one hand fondling plastic base,

the other hand ascending and descending

camber, gulping lips and neck in fan-dance.

After swallows, each one longer than

the one before, they scrutinize the screen

and breathe their comments, each one shorter

than the one before: she drinks, they phrase,

she drinks, they phrase.  His throat is parched,

a thirsty sun in love with Vedic princess. 

He asks her for his bottle for a drink.

She sees it’s his and drops it to the desk,

scurries red-faced to her water

buried in the scatter of her things across the room.


With C. D.

Untouching walk through snow

ends at frozen wooden bridge

overlooking ice-cracked stream

under febrile blue sky mocking winter.

She leans against the railing mouthing steam,

twitching hands, fumbled body heat.

They look to ice and neither moves

until as if as one in thought,

they point to unfamiliar blue above

and try to capture it in words:


aqua… indigo…

faded Plumbago blossom…

child bright cornea washed in tears…

shimmering geode core…

Falling snowflakes send them running to the car,

pushing boot heels deeply inside

frozen footprints made before.


With E. F.

Another woman suns on flat rock

jutted into water, feet still wet from wading.

Above them pine trees grow together,

sunshade and canopy, cataract below

enamored crash and carnal silence

in their glances to each other’s eyes

and then away, to bluecurls, lupine, paintbrush,

and then she speaks, an exercise I do each day

goes like this: Clap your hands, eyes closed—

clap, clap, clap, clap, clap… 

Rub them hard until they burn,

she shows him as she says it,

and when your hands are fire,

hold them to your eyes, press down lightly,

rub your temples, think of nothing,

then slowly imagine appearances—

these trees, these rocks, this waterfall,

wildflowers and sky, or wherever you are,

your yard, the room in which you sleep, 

then draw back your hands like curtains,

open your eyes, swallow the world. 


Marc Jampole

Published in Cortland Review #46 (Winter 2010)


From almost the beginning of literature in ancient times, writers have toyed with the idea of alternate visions of reality: dream worlds, the reality after death, fantasy worlds, the world when under the influence of foreign substances, life at the royal court, the lifestyles of the rich and famous. Now, with the rise of the Internet and social media, most people have gained the ability to do what writers have always done—create their own alternative world over which they have almost total control. The instances of people pretending to be someone else on social media are widespread—the New York City police officer who assumed another online identity in which he made racist remarks is the latest example of a number of online hoaxes perpetrated by fake actors for the usual reasons—money, sex, money, ego, money, shame or shaming, politics, money, racism, hate…did I mention money?

If I remember correctly, we as a society first became aware of the widespread phenomenon of non-scammers pretending to be someone else online when the virtual reality websites such as Second Life and AvatarLife attracted publicity in the aughts. People would create their own life built around their “avatars,” which in this context means an online alternative being. They would assume a different name, profession and lifestyle in their online universe. They would interact with other avatars, sometimes form relationships, and even marry other avatars. Of course, you never really knew whether the handsome and vigorous investment banker you just married on line was really a middle-aged widow or an uneducated grocery stocker with face tattoos.

When I first read about these virtual reality sites, I started to add up the different selves someone could have online—accounts with different names on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, and WeChat, several different email addresses, several different handles for various online games, avatars for several virtual reality sites. From this contemplation of an ego fragmenting into many different selves emerged a comic poem called “The Self-Made Man,” which appeared in The Great American Wise Ass Poetry Anthology that Lamar University Literary Press published a few years ago. Later I returned to the character I had created in the poem, gave him a past and context for his seeking an alternative life, and slipped the fleshed-out version into the last chapter of my new novel, The Brothers Silver.


What I coulda been, what I shoulda done,
he speculates in peculated hyperspace
while waiting for his logged-on self to form.
Now I get everything I want and right away in cyberspace,

My avatars jet skis at Tahoe,
climb up walls at Jackson Hole,
motorbike Kahoolawae,

He’s posing with his posse,
chilling with the Chili Peppers,
onstage with Alan Jackson fondling chorines,
buying icon tambourines as souvenirs of best-of-times.

I am that I am, he exclaims in pixilated self-perfection,
while switching screens to check his email.

Adding up his passwords, avatars and handles,
he has more names than Arjuna,
more faces than a kabalistic god,
multiple windows of worlds,
and the permanence of love, his online wife,
more cuddly than that bitch who’s bugging me
to fix the dripping bathroom sink.

Marc Jampole

Published in The Great American Wise Ass Poetry

Anthology (Lamar University Literary Press, 2016)


Whatever the reason for being in recovery—be it from substance abuse, childhood trauma, violence, sexual abuse, or war—the feelings are similar: guilt and shame, as survivors of trauma and substance abusers both tend to blame themselves. Both often long deeply for a return to the bad situation—substance abusers for the fleeting pleasure indulgence provides, trauma victims because they often end up believing their abusers, especially if they are authority figures, victimized a second time by the so-called Stockholm syndrome. Often those in recovery have a panicked urge to take back a shameful action or statement—to delete the past. Their dreams and aspirations drown in a sea of “what ifs” and “if onlys.” Whatever the reason for being in recovery, overcoming feelings of hopelessness and inadequacy is often the hardest part of the process. Perhaps the similarities in feelings gives us a clue as to why so many survivors of childhood trauma become substance abusers and/or inflict trauma on others. 


Several years back I tried to combine some of all of the feelings that people in recovery feel no matter what it is they suffered into a poem that was published in Vallum.




Buddha surely felt this thirst

for self-annihilation end of pain


end of twitching memories

shaking shaking shaking


shameful when I said those words

shameful when I wrecked the car


came late left early shrank in corners 

missed it dropped it didn’t answer


stared at screen click and click

drag and paste delete delete


paced the porch bathed in street lamp

slapped child delete slapped child delete


those said and never said

those faller falling fallen


Did they do they will they

know care grieve forgive?


Christ must have seen a loathing glass

to hang and bleed deny the beast


and hate himself myself despise my empty

yearn to fill desire before hallucination


delete delete delete delete.


Marc Jampole

Published in Vallum, Vol. 9, #2 (2012)


Some years back, the University of Pittsburgh’s Frick Fine Arts Museum asked me to write a poem about its exhibition of Audubon bird prints and include it in a reading there.  I decided to do with words to Audubon what Coltrane did with sounds to “My Favorite Things”—to turn a well-loved work of traditional art into a modernist work. I used the language equivalents of the principles of cubist painting to deconstruct and then reconstruct the reality of Audubon. The poem is called “Imaginary Landscape with 29 Birds.” The first 28 stanzas of the poem each describe a specific bird Audubon painted. The 29th bird is Brancusi’s sculpture, Bird in Space. “Imaginary Landscape with 29 Birds” was published in my first book of poetry, Music from Words.





Reptile stalking snake legs balance

whiter feather arching cruelty ending eyes

black-brown scissors poking after lizard slither.

                                                            Hooping Crane


Water ripples moving sand dunes follow

white plumed body backwards happy

neck primed to suck a fly off surface.

                                                            Trumpeter Swan


Claws embed in dying bird flesh dripping

blood and liver morsels brooding watchful

screeches floating feathers settling cliffward.



Pale cerulean cover clouds with bloodlust cackle

steel spikes slashing deeply into rabbit quiver

huge brown crossing peaks and whitecaps.

                                                                        Golden Eagle


Blackened wing expanses stretching craw prongs

cradle deer head beaks a lover poised

to poke moist eyes sharing spoils making love.

                                                                        Carrion Crow


Yellow claws clutch and lean away

from air stream joyful pipes to airborne

wind spans whirling over faded branch.

                                                            Black-winged Hawk


Turned away from sea cliff yearning

fledgling squawkers black and iron slivers

sparse crest move to hidden magnet wind rocks.

                                                                                    Great Cormorant


Webbed feet fern leaves clutch rock

brown and golden furry side rosettes

swelling doltish black-spot flowering eye-ring.

                                                                        Horned Grebe


Six orange-headed white caw fly dead branches

bright green feathers move about conceiving leaves

at distance summer pecking hairy nuts.

                                                            Carolina Parakeet


Crest-hanging long white twists

wise considers distant farmer rice patch

yellow lances trample weed.

                                                Snowy Heron


Barnacle molds adorning branches

beak thrust in beak thrust ensconcing kisses

feeding flap wings blissful yawn.

                                                            Passenger Pigeon


One web foot like white clam sucking black

hook-hanging eggshell beak, ballooning bellows

below bill shore-receded light house.

                                                            Brown Pelican


Black and white caught spreading action

water curve evading throat curve

open beak lands dead tree leaflessness.

                                                            Black-bellied Darter


Roseated wing expanse drips carmine deep

spoon bill wobbles claw-gripped rock decline

to gnat soup distant islands dreary.

                                                            Roseate Spoonbill


Night vitreous orbs yellow and question

in love with black in plume a thousand

birds in flight toward thickened nape.

                                                            Snowy Owl


Contented spiteful dissecting trout

open beak eye yellow glee beyond

river edge chopped cap white fly town.

                                                            Great White Heron


Black and pallid angel wings command

blench blue sky rough waters shriveled red legs

dangling steady taut dilapidated sea swells.

                                                                        Black Skimmer


Pink-beak canopy on shore draws

over lesser bird isosceles carnelian

deeper than the water bleaching stand.

                                                            Scarlet Ibis


One slow red-legged paddles airborne snoot

green-quill cockade floating into lilies

one bullet flight aimed at marsh grass.

                                                            Red-breasted Merganser


Happy yellow compass comrade thrusting

back at turgid blue, darkly cobalt jets

ingot hanging wind endurance.

                                                Great Blue Heron


Stream stepping craning open beak

unwary insect dark bar feathers

balance spawn in waded crest immobile.
Green Heron


Flaming solid crimson arch of neck

in taper shoulder wilting tail marsh

soak fellow splashing travelers.

                                                            American Flamingo


Yellow lining red smear blue smear yellow

white orb black top looking out befuddled

bloated white stripe grasses orange needle.

                                                                        Atlantic Puffin


Cochineal seashell fear comb undergrowth

step softly craning pea-head panic perched

on purple candy-caned futility.

                                                            Wild Turkey


Long brown pods of honey-locust split

and seedless blackness pecks at bareness

clasps on pencil furling wing.

Fish Crow


One of many riding eastern hemlock

penetrating yellow bud other hanging

lanterns other flapping celebrations.

                                                            American Crossbill


Black oak’s grandiose green and tawny

butterflies unaware of to whip-poor whirring menace

set to pounce one already swallows colors.



World-weary dark grasses blooming

blue and auburn wrinkles drowsy curving

neck descent to ancient eyes watching ruin.

                                                                        California Vulture


Or instead a shining metal elongation

lusting, thrusting towards the sky,

blinding color abstract movement.

                                                            Bird in Space


Marc Jampole

Originally published in Music from Words (Bellday Books, 2007)


It’s easy to get into a rut during the Covid-19 pandemic, captive at home, apart from most family, friends and work acquaintances, unable to engage in virtually all of our favorite activities. Many describe our current situation as stagnant, stale, boring. But the ancient Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, reminds us that even during the statis of self-quarantine, the world is changing and we are all of us becoming different people. And I don’t just mean growing longer, unruly hair and packing a few pounds of blubber around the beltline.

Heraclitus believed that all of existence was changing at every instant. His metaphor for the universe was to imagine a river. If you stick your hand in the river, then do it again a minute later, that part of the river will have changed entirely. He didn’t spell it out, but he was right: new water, new set of insects, different bits of plant life floating along the current, different wind causing a slightly different wave pattern, a different angle to the sun. For us during the pandemic, the apparent sameness of each day conceals our various internal changes—aging, growing spiritually, learning, maturing, overcoming mental obstacles, but sometimes also declining physically, mentally, or emotionally. 

Implicit in Heraclitus’s emphasis on change is the idea that we can’t capture a moment—that all experience is transitory, a melancholy thought that gives a sad tinge to all experience. During the pandemic, happy times that pass immediately (and therefore too soon) may include a shared moment with a parent on Zoom or the burst of oregano that explodes in your mouth as you take a first bite into a piping hot piece of pizza that has just been delivered. Or the realization, once again, of how much you love a foible of your significant other—her habit of cleaning up while she cooks, his frequent outbursts of angry sarcasm at television commercials.

In today’s poem, “Heraclitus at the Water’s Edge,” I transform the outing of a man terminally ill with cancer into one more drop in that ever-changing river that Heraclitus said was the world of experience. The poem was originally published in Peralta in 2002. I then revised it for a chapter in my novel The Brothers Silver, which Owl Canyon Press is releasing on June 15th.  


Days after doctors pruned his time,

six months of life support,

we split a plate of oysters

and spoke of grains he loved:

kasha with noodles, barley in soup.


His hands, once precision tools,

measuring, numbering, 

now flapped like aimless claws.


His eyes, once sparkling mouths

that swallowed things whole,

now pursed in languor.


Outside, the Chesapeake sun

crawled along the brick walkway

toward cooing waves.


And I thought of Heraclitus

at the edge of another water:

His eyes pursue a head of spume

as it skirrs by in circular path


and dissipates to bubbles

one of which he tracks along the streamline,

gliding past rocks, between floating twigs,

around a leaf and disappearing.


Marc Jampole

Peralta Vol. 1 #2 (2002)


The argument that the rich deserve their wealth because they earned it serves as the basis for a lot of governmental social policy, including our taxation system. But even for the billionaire who started with nothing—and by the way, there are few of those—luck always has more to do with their success than anything they may have done. Drawing on the thoughts of Daniel N. Robinson in Praise and Blame, we can identify several kinds of luck:

  • Being born to a wealthy or connected family
  • Not being born in poverty
  • Not suffering frequent food insecurity, violence or abuse as a child.
  • Being born with a special skill or physical attribute. No matter how much you practice, you will never run as fast as Usain Bolt, block as many shots as Shaquille O’Neal, or crunch numbers as well as Alan Turing, because they were born with special skills that cannot be developed.
  • Being born at the right place at the right time. Having a degree in television production was worth more in the early days of cable than it was in the 1960s. Or think of a math genius with extreme vision problems, now correctible, back in prehistoric times.
  • Having a skill that is honored and well-paid by society, which is really part of being at the right place at the right time. For example, an investment banker and a taco stand owner put in about the same amount of work a week and they have similar ancillary skills (e.g., good with people, good with numbers, entrepreneurial). But society deems the investment banker’s contribution to be worth literally hundreds of times more than that of the taco stand owner.


I summed up this idea of luck mattering more than any other factor in a poem that imagines Willie Mays’s life if he had been born in Alabama a hundred years earlier, a heavily-worked slave, not a professional baseball player recognized as one of the greatest athletes of his generation. “Willie Mays in 1850” was originally published in Cutthroat, and later reprinted in Jewish Currents.  




Willie is always the first one selected 

when the overseer commands two slaves

to choose up teams for cotton picking contests

because the master gives a cup of sugar 

to the slaves on the team that amasses the most.


Willie is the only one who anyone remembers

feeding cotton into gins for hours on end

and pulling out his fingers fast enough each bunch

he never gets injured, not even a scratch.


Willie sometimes wakes from restless sleep

filled with yearning, something he can’t describe,

something with neither shape nor name,

so he steals away to Black Warrior River

and under moonlight pitches stone after stone 

into the air across the water and to the other side.


Marc Jampole

Published in Cutthroat #16 (2014); reprinted in Jewish Currents (Summer 2015)


The mind can sure play tricks on you! I remember years ago, when we lived in Miami during high school, my brother and I once saw a rainstorm three blocks away, moving in our direction like a forest fire or a line of attacking soldiers. We decided to run as fast as we could away from the oncoming storm. We were able to stay dry for about three long blocks before the rain caught up to us. At the first thud of the heavy drops on our shoulders, we both stopped and stood there like two fools in the rain, laughing and splashing. I wrote a poem about the experience that Slant published a few years back. I also used the incident in my novel, The Brothers Silver, set for release by Owl Canyon Press in June. 

What a shock then, to read recently in a personal journal from decades ago that it was not my younger brother with whom I tried to outrun rain, but with my friend who lived across the street from us and ran second seed on our high school’s cross-country team. I could have sworn it was my brother! I have to believe that I have mangled other cherished memories. Fortunately, poetry and novels are both fictional, so I don’t have to change anything in either work. Art remains eternal, as Schiller once noted. But my memory is now short one happy time with my brother, who passed away at a young age almost twenty years ago. 


In Coral Gables with my brother,

together we saw it


down the street about a mile away,

headed towards us,


a dark, obese leviathan of cloud,

its teardrops pouring on the city,


heavy waterfall of rain

as packed as dirt against a grave,

moving quickly our direction, 

murmuring like a banshee folding clothes.


Together we had the same thought:

try to outrun it as long as we could.


Together we sprinted, listening behind us,

hearing rainstorm’s ever-growing roar


as it plunged the cars and houses

into mesmerizing chutes of water


splashing at the surface of the street,

bouncing up and down like jumping jacks,


settling into potholes,

pooling into flashing floods,


until the pounding grew so loud

we knew it was about to overtake us.


Together we stopped, 

let our arms go slack


and felt the rush of tepid water

drench us like a benediction.


Marc Jampole

Published in Slant #31 (May 2017)


Someone asked me to post a feel-good poem. What could feel better than a poem about playing word games with a three-year-old on July 4th, then feeding the ducks and watching them glide away from the pier when you’re out of bread?  



And the three-year-old at the picnic

said she wanted to play the violin

and I said, just like Joe Venuti

and she said, you’re a Joe Venuti

and I said, you’re a Joe Venuti

and she pulled a tuft of grass and said,

here’s some Joe Venuti

and she pointed to a sparrow scratching in the dust

and said, there’s a Joe Venuti

and from a plastic bag she dumped

a bunch of Joe Venutis

and barbecue flames caressed the grilling Joe Venutis

and men threw the Joe Venuti, popping their gloves,

while women slurped the Joe Venuti and spit the seeds

and the sun played hide and seek in dissipating Joe Venutis

and through poplar branches Joe Venuti shadows danced

across the baby’s sleeping smile.


Later, like Marcus Aurelius

observing models of human behavior,

we watched the ducks glide away

after the bread was gone.


Marc Jampole

Published in Oxford Magazine, Volume 5, # 2 and Music from Words (Bellday Books, 2007); reprinted in Poetry in Performance #46 ((May 2018)


Rich folk live in gated communities or on private islands to escape from the world. Many well-off people send their children to private schools hoping to avoid having their kids come in contact with anyone who might make them doubt their parents’ beliefs or values. Many people try to escape the real world through alcohol, excessive drug taking, spending all day playing video games, purposely avoiding news shows and newspapers, conspiracy theories—the ways to try to hide from the world are endless.

Thinking about escape from the world, I conjured a poetic conceit: what if someone hid at the most remote points on the Earth: the most northern point, the highest point from sea level (which is different from the tallest mountain), the lowest point in the ocean, or the spot of land furthest from any sea or ocean. All of these locations experience terrible weather conditions, so even if you have hidden from civilization, you have not escaped from the sensations that define the world for all of us: sight, sound, smell, cold, wetness, exhilaration, pain. From these thoughts developed a poem, “The World is Always with Us,” which Evansville Review published about ten years ago.

The pandemic reminds me of the poem, because try as people might, it has been virtually impossible to escape the health, economic, psychological and social consequences of Covid-19. The plague is another proof that the world is always with us.


Hide, hide, where can I hide?

At the north-most point of land,
birdless, seal-free bar of frozen silt and gravel
bobbing in and out of Arctic waves.

Away, away…

to the highest point,
a glacial hood conceals a stormy past,
pebbled whirlwinds batter yellow bands
of limestone ridges rising lifelessly beyond the pluck-line.

…from reminders of pain…

at the lowest point
below the ocean,
plant-like microbes gobble acid spewed from boiling vents,
soft-shelled shapeless microscopic beasties
float in hiss.

…remote from living things.

Furthest point from any ocean,
landlocked pole of inaccessibility,
tent-spotted desert
spider thirsty withered parched
and dry dry white white…

Hide, hide, where can I hide?

Marc Jampole
Originally published in The Evansville Review #20 (2010)


One of the main characters in my soon-to-be-released novel, The Brothers Silver, is a mentally ill housewife literally beat down by the expectations that others place on her. In creating the character, I used as my models the poet Sylvia Plath and a housewife named Dot.

Years earlier, I wrote a poem that depicted the many ways these two women—one a well-educated, erudite poet and the other a high-school grad—suffered because they didn’t feel they could ever fulfill the roles that society had set for them as women. I have read both their diaries and it’s uncanny how similar they were: the way they lavished those they loved with food and favors, their many competencies and insecurities, their hidden fears and feelings of worthlessness, their ugly words, the demons that haunted them, their suicides. I put these similarities into a poem called “Dot and Sylvia,” which appeared in Mississippi Review in 2003.


Both plunged beads of boiling fudge through frigid water
at the perfect point, without thermometer,
beat egg and air with effortless wrist spins,
created endless games with plastic dinosaurs
and pieces of paper on rainy afternoons,
peeled fruit for all children and adults she loved,
fell to knees in mock anger and pointed index finger
to emphasize a discrepancy in height,
played Stravinsky and Carmen with Leontyne Price,
taught children funny words to the Toreador Song,
listened tenderly as others told their lives,
loved to talk about books she read,
to feel big wet drops fall on her hair and face in an open field,
to close eyes and imagine making love
to the warm flat stone on which she was sunning,
wanted a strong and brilliant male to obliterate her
then hated him for doing so,
spoke often of what others thought of her
of what they thought she thought they thought,
stewed about public snubs that no one else could see,
said nasty things when she couldn’t hold her liquor,
would suddenly turn on others, then seek forgiveness,
requested permission to loathe her mother,
mouthed troubling phrases:
stasis in darkness
the brown arc
the dew that flies
she never loved me
he touched me in that spot,
fluctuated between loving every stranger
and abhorring her own flesh,
savored jolt after jolt of current
piercing her body like a lover gone wild,
stayed in bed by day, paced halls by night,
found it easier to remember
moments of gloom than moments of radiance,
examined several forms of suicide
until selecting one, and here they differed:
Sylvia stuck her head in an oven.
Dot swallowed pills.

Marc Jampole
Published in The Mississippi Review Vol. 31 #1-2 (Spring 2003) & Music from Words (Bellday Books, 2007)