Jampole’s deep and intense interest in the possibilities inherent in the use of the English language is evident from the very first page,” says Midwest Book Review about “The Brothers Silver”.

WINNING BY LOSING, LOSING BY WINNING

Coming from a family that prized athletic competition has made me often explore in fiction and poetry the differences and similarities between winning and losing, in sports and in other human endeavors. One notion that has haunted me is winning by losing, or losing by winning. Victories that cost the victors so much that they soon lose the war. Victories that help the overlords, but not those who did the actual fighting. Victories that bring the hollow feeling that the winner will have to do it all over again the next day. Perhaps my favorite poem among these musings on defeat and victory is “The Wrestler.” In it I toy with the Hindu idea of pursuing the perfection of your actions in battle instead of focusing on the final outcome, a concept most compellingly presented in the chapter of the Hindu epic Mahabharata called Bhagavad Gita. America has cheapened the complexities of the Bhagavad Gita into the often spouted but rarely believed homily, “It’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game.”

Like most of my poems, none of the voices in “The Wrestler” is the poet. Narration of the poem is shared by an omniscient narrator and the thoughts of the main character. The elision back and forth between the two voices approaches the fictional device called free indirect discourse, which Flaubert essentially perfected in Madame Bovary, and has served as a cornerstone of experimental fiction ever since. 

“The Wrestler” was published a few years’ back in Ellipsis. The basic story is one of adolescent rebellion—a young man, having proven that he is the best wrestler, allows himself to lose a championship match because it’s more important for him to see the disappointment on his father’s face than to win.  I use the same story in a quite different context in my novel, The Brothers Silver, which Owl Canyon Press is releasing in less than a month.

THE WRESTLER

His wrestler’s arms elevate

his dying father from the bath,

towel the anorexic wheezing flesh.

His wrestler’s fingers ram at buttons

swelling narrow holes of flimsy night clothes,

 

like punching bolts through steel, one shot,

one shot, one shot, and then you’re done

and then your pill for pain, and then your

noisy sleep, snores and disconnected words,

sling-shot carp on what I have and have not done.

 

In one of many rooms of father’s empty house

his wrestler’s legs incline and hands release

and slowly father rotates off his wrestler’s frame

onto bed and wakes, mutters lost championship,

then falls to sleep again.

 

Why high school wrestling thirty years ago?

So much has happened.

I wrestled the ladders I climbed, wrestled

the metal I welded, wrestled the bread I baked,

all a giant wingless loving-hating angel

I could never conquer, so I held on

and holding on, I could never lose,

and the angel was you.

 

Fetal cradle quivers porridge steam, 

father hisses cold, I’m cold.

His wrestler’s hands corkscrew clumps of flesh

through a second set of sleeves,

then spreads the leaking body out again.

Is his father finally falling into deeper dreams?

 

You mythed yourself as Krishna teaching 

way of works for men of action, 

to me, Arjuna, perfect incarnation, 

slaying Bhisma, Karna, armies of Kurus. 

On my own I found performance with no thought of prize,

control, control, control, relinquish.

 

Enter other sons, boxer, goalie, fullback,

and smoke cigars outside the room,

last vacation renovation new investment, 

exhale the fumes beyond a fan,

remember father’s backdoor laughing smokes,

elaborate athlete handshakes to the wrestler,

younger brother, you the man, you the best

to volunteer for nursemaid work,

a big, forgiving man, after years of silent rift. 

 

Great warriors always winning; 

my deeds could never match.

Often thinking, never saying

I look like you, but I’m not you.

You said talent isn’t everything.

You called it my pattern: 

wrestle and relinquish quit school,

wrestle and relinquish quit the rigs,

wrestle and relinquish quit the marriage

quit and drift, quit and start, quit and switch,

quit before the winning, wrestle and relinquish.

 

Alone in stale tobacco lamp glow: 

painful diapasons pierce the wrestler’s thoughts 

that coast to feeble huffing once a shout,

meager bone once buck ram strapping,

restless drift once righteous resolution.

 

Sleeping father, dying father,

mythless thing itself, here is act itself:

Circle, take down, near fall,

defensive escape, defensive reversal,

I’m up eight-zip, another takedown,

you’re yelling pin, pin, pin,

reverse, takedown, near fall, control,

you’re waving rolled-up program,

eleven-oh, be careful now,

fifteen points an automatic win,

control, control, control,

he escapes, I reverse again, fourteen-two,

circle, play out clock, seconds left, twelve, ten,

you’re shaking someone next to you,

that’s my son, that’s my son,

five seconds, I’m winning eighteen-four,

everyone knows who’s best, everyone knows,

circle front of you, now I make my perfect move,

collapse the knee, roll to right, pull him over,

careful, let them think it’s him,

heave my shoulders back and down control

relinquish touch the mat I’m pinned I win.

 

Marc Jampole

Published in Ellipsis #44 (2008)

Don’t assume the speaker of a poem is the author. often, it’s someone else; sometimes it’s many voices

One of the most central issues in writing anything is voice, at least for me. When beginning a piece, I always ask myself, who do I want to do the talking in this poem or story? Is it a man or a woman? How old? What are his or her major concerns? Quick to anger or patient? Socially aware or a dunce? Educated or not? Humble or fat-headed? Any accent or speech impediment? If I’m writing in the third person, I ask myself whether the all-knowing narrator is a character in the story, and whether he/she/they/it can spy into the hearts of just one character or many characters? 

 

Consequently, unlike many contemporary authors, you cannot approach my work thinking that the “I” speaking represents me. My “I’s included famous composers, images in paintings, people with Parkinson’s disease, adulterers, suburban dads, and characters from fiction, among many others. I have also used collective voices, such as the collective voice of hunters, survivors of war and pestilence, and losers of athletic competitions. I have even written material from the point of view of animals and plants. 

 

When appropriate, I have always enjoyed creating pieces in which there is more than one voice talking. The first time I attempted a piece of creative writing with multiple voices was “The Death Song of Lenny Ross.” Lenny Ross was a minor figure of mid-20th century American history: He was a child prodigy who won $100,000 on one 1950’s television game show, and $64,000 on another. He grew up to be a key political advisor to Jerry Brown and a college lecturer. But as he aged, Lenny began acting more and more strangely. In old school parlance, he went crazy. He increasingly had obstreperous outbursts, lost his attention span, couldn’t keep a job, and eventually committed suicide at the age of 39 in 1985. 

 

My poem tells the life of Lenny Ross in seven voices, including Lenny’s. It seems like it was yesterday, but the Pittsburgh Quarterly originally published “The Death Song of Lenny Ross” about 30 years ago! One can also find the poem in my first collection of poetry, Music from Words

 

BTW (or FYI), my novel, The Brothers Silver, which Owl Canyon Press is releasing on June 1, also unfolds in what one early reader calls a “symphony of voices.” In total, the 12 chapters have 10 distinct voices, each with its own vocabulary and personality flaws. No one tells the whole story, because no one knows the whole story. 

 

THE DEATH SONG OF LENNY ROSS 

 

  • Lenny Ross was a Whiz Kid quiz show contestant as a child in the 50’s who later became an advisor to Jerry Brown and held several academic positions. 

 

Dow’s theory analyzes market action.

Fundamentals deal in corporate prospects.

When stocks are good, T-bills suffer,

and when the market shakes its head and shoulders

it’s getting ready to reverse direction.

 

What a boy you are, Lenny Ross, Lenny Ross!

What a genius boy you are!

And why not you, Lenny?

Why not you to win the hundred thousand

answering quiz-show questions

on stocks and bonds and whatever?

Why not you the youngest?

At five you talked like Walter Lippmann.

At six you built a TV by yourself!

What a boy you are, Lenny!

What a genius boy you are!

 

Our tort system, from English common law,

changes many features of that older land.

The principle’s the same,

that assets yield to no man save one who has them.

Eschewing class, we’re guided by associations,

men maintaining liberty by joining others openly.

as Tocqueville described, recalling Edmund Burke.

 

He grasped all aspects of the reading,

wrestling levels none of us had thought about,

as we sat silent, listening to his playfulness

with concepts none of us had heard before.

And yet so kind he was to all of us, his elders,

so patient telling us his thoughts.

What a mind he had, Lenny Ross,

and what a knowledge of the law.

 

A head that talks, an academic side man,

I know that’s what they think of me.

Great idea, Lenny!  What a brain!

I want to be a man of action, commanding heads of state

I want to run for President one day.

I have a master plan.  

It’s all up here!

 

Slow down, Lenny Ross, finish one thing!

I told him that a thousand times, at least,

then watched him stagger back and forth

among his shriveled plants and dusty chairs,

popping frozen peas at open mouth

and throwing out ideas like cannon shot.

And it was up to me to understand

that he had skipped ahead to chapter five.

Slow down, Lenny! I can’t keep up.

But he persisted with a logic of his own.

 

Here’s the plan:

We’ll write a treatise on the rights of students

and with the money earned, we’ll buy these artists:

Fieldes, Moore and Greaves;

minor works by minor painters.

By lending them to small museums,

their values will inflate,

and then we sell and start a franchise.

 

I knew his reputation: Fired from Harvard,

bewildered students, uncompleted books.

But those first flowing days in Sacramento,

those synergistic days!

We watched him use a roll of tape and scissors

to cut and splice my program.

The spaceship earth, the new age economics,

the art of Zen applied to government….

It was all there.

If things had turned out differently, Lenny Ross,

you would have been my Commerce Secretary.

 

A six-month freeze on wages

without a freeze on prices,

followed by a year of frozen subsidies,

after which we send a thousand troops to Spain

as warning to the Sheiks to drop the price of oil.

I’ll send the President a memorandum

when I’ve wrapped my piece on Masons.

It’s full of great ideas.

 

Don’t call me anymore, Lenny Ross,

I’ve had about enough of you

and your constant chatter leading nowhere.

You can’t keep quiet long enough to love me.

You touch my thigh, then start to babble economics,

then write a sentence down, then phone a friend,

remember I’m in bed and ask me

what I think of Bergman’s latest flick.

I can’t take it anymore, Lenny Ross!

Genius, shit!  Just get it up and keep it up for once!

 

A thermo coupler made of fiberglass

Kabuki language representing social graces

Venture funds investing in technology

In five years’ time, the baby boomers will

Stendhal’s real name was

Juan Gris merely described what he

Sawmills replacing windmills along the Flemish…

 

You’re back home, Lenny Ross,

and we’ll take care of you.

No more taking jobs and quitting three months later.

No more lying under cars reciting lectures.

You’ll rest awhile, Lenny, and then you’ll see.

You’ll land a cushy job.

 

…theory of addled value William Cullen

Randolph the red-nosed option underlying

Tinto Ramm Dass vodanya Montana the Puritan

migraine persecution of the Cotton Mather

tell Jerry my name is Gemini

Carter Wilson Picket the symbol of an angry

zero coupon to beat the plowshares into Isaiah Berlin…

 

My voice now, Lenny,
my voice calm, first time in years,

looking through the waters of the Capri Motel pool,

hearing waves applaud with plastic hands,

smelling chlorine smoke, tasting acrid starlight fruit.

Jump, Lenny Ross.

Remove this yoke of expectation.

Jump, Lenny,

jump to freedom…

Marc Jampole 

Originally published in Music from Words (Bellday Books, 2007) and Pittsburgh Quarterly Volume I, #1 (Winter 1991)

PANDEMIC CULTURAL WARS DISTRACT US FROM OUR MANY WARS & OUR ENORMOUS MILITARY BUDGET

That health directives such as wearing masks and getting vaccinated have become battlefields in a cultural war against science has made for a continuing stream of headlines and analysis in the news media. Fighting (a term I use figuratively to connote political activism of all sorts, but not actual combat) the anti-science idiots is something that we shouldn’t have to be doing. Just like we shouldn’t have to be spending energy and resources fighting to preserve voting rights; establish and re-establish civil rights for racial, ethnic and sexual minorities; prevent police brutality; end sales of assault weapons; and the other no-brainer social positions that people in a free secular republic should be taking for granted, instead of battling to preserve or establish against the irrational ignoramuses of contemporary cultural conservatism. The effort to overcome the right-wing’s anti-scientific and racist lunacies is costly, time-consuming and heroic. 

 

And it’s all a distraction.

 

Meanwhile, the wars continue. Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Syria. U.S. troops in 150 counties.

 

Meanwhile the cost of war continues. More than $700 billion a year wasted by the United States—as much as the next 12 countries combined!—for troops, weapons, supplies, equipment, fuel and training in killing other human beings. Included in that $700 billion are billions to develop new nuclear weapons and robot weapons that will operate without the direction or intervention of humans. 

 

Meanwhile, the number of victims of war grow. The most obvious victims of war, of course, are the innocent people that soldiers kill, maim, and drive from their homes into refugee status. But soldiers are also victims—of physical injuries and emotional scars that often never fully heal. And so are their families, who first have to fret constantly while their beloved soldiers are in war zones, and then pick up the pieces when war-broken men and women return home. Moreover, the vicissitudes of war can force soldiers, the civilians they are supposed to hurt, and the families they leave at home into uncomfortable moral compromises. My poem, “Maya,” which one can find in my first collection of poetry, Music from Words, is about the emotional and moral cost at home of wars on foreign shores.

 

MAYA 

 

Afterwards my gloom observes you

gather floor-strewn tumulus of clothes.

The bathroom light reveals a passing wraith,

spectral furnishings and photographs that knit

at once to shaft of light, compress to darkness.

Muffled water arrows pound an unseen slurry.

What lie this time—long lines, wrong turn?

Will he smell me on your body? 

Will he lacerate your qualms with blissful chatter

when you push his wheelchair, spoon him soup,

climb inside the chores of cleaning up a war?

I am sieve you comb through sand in search 

of tender, vital jinnis. And at that fragile burst,

in that isogloss between conceived and real,

mist of golden pooling in your lap,

swan-dive open wing enflaming overhead,

were you with me or with him

with someone else or by yourself?

The water stops, the door unlocks unsettled light

like a man who’s run away from thoughts.

 

Marc Jampole

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

REFLECTIONS ON THE GREAT WATER CYCLE AND THE DEATH OF A BROTHER ALMOST 20 YEARS AGO

We’re approaching the twentieth anniversary of the death of my younger brother Leslie, the result of brain injuries sustained from falling off a roof and landing on concrete. In contemplating his life and death, my mind always wonders what has happened to the people into whom his skin, bones, and kidneys were transplanted. That always leads me to remember that humans are 98% water. When we die, that water returns to the great water cycle that serves as one of Earth’s prime motors: Rain onto land and into oceans, rivers, ponds, and lakes to evaporation from these bodies of water, the ground, and all living creatures to rain again. Along the way, the water of living things gets a mix of water from every other source. In a real sense, the Earth has transplanted water of all past living things into all of us, and our water (and other chemicals) will someday be part of other living things. 

And yet, the water and other substances that constitute our physical beings are not us. Each of us is defined more by our consciousness than our physical make-up. From one point of view, we are little more than past and future rain, yet we are so much more than that. It is interesting to speculate, though, whether any of us contains water that once was Shakespeare, Dante or Shin Na’in. When thinking of Leslie in this context, Pascal always comes to mind—perhaps because both were so intellectually gifted in so many different fields, talents that did not help either in facing his internal demons.

Leslie’s death was sudden, but so is all death. One minute someone is alive, the next minute, they’re gone. The transition from life to death always surprises, even when it is expected. The high mortality rate of Covid-19, especially in the early months, is one more reminder that death can come from out of the blue at any minute.

Some years back, all these ideas about the cycle of life and death coalesced into a poem, “My Brother Still Runs Like Rain,” which Ellipsis published.

 

MY BROTHER STILL RUNS LIKE RAIN

 

My brother’s bones and kidneys must be walking 

somewhere now, transplanted into other men,

perhaps in steady rain the hour before the sunrise.

 

Each raindrop holds the water molecules 

of former living things, now decomposed,

transformed to ice and steam, then cloud.

 

Soon former raindrops walk the city streets,
soon future raindrops step between 

the fallen branches, over muddy cracks.

 

Raindrops somewhere in the world

once formed my brother’s water base,  

and Pascal’s, too, centuries past.

 

And yet this rain is not the same as them,

insensate liquid fall, just bounce and pool, 

cover, spread, run in rivers at the curb 

 

like my brother used to run at dawn,

bare-chested, under buds of water 

clinging to the limbs of leafless trees, 

 

through umber streets, counting footsteps, 

leaping over puddles, chased by clouds 

that promised downpour any minute now.   

 

Marc Jampole

Originally published in Ellipsis #46 (2010)

 

Save the Day – June 6th, 7 PM EST – Zoom Book Launch Party for “The Brothers Silver” by Marc Jampole

Save the Day – June 6th, 7 PM EST – Zoom Book Launch Party for “The Brothers Silver” by Marc Jampole

 

Save the Date: June 6th

Zoom Book Launch Party for

“The Brothers Silver”

A new novel by Marc Jampole published by Owl Canyon Press

 

Date: SUNDAY, JUNE 6TH

Time: 7:00 PM EST (6:00 PM CST; 5:00 PM MST; 4:00 PM PST)

 

  • Introduction by Gene Hayworth, Owl Canyon Press Editor-in Chief
  • Marc reads a few short excerpts from The Brothers Silver
  • Tom Strelich, author of the awarding-winning Dog Logic interviews Marc
  • Questions from the worldwide Zoom audience

 

Join Zoom Meeting

https://cuboulder.zoom.us/j/93421002383

Meeting ID: 934 2100 2383
Passcode: S1lver

Join by SIP
93421002383@zoomcrc.com

Join by H.323
162.255.37.11 (US West)
162.255.36.11 (US East)
115.114.131.7 (India Mumbai)
115.114.115.7 (India Hyderabad)
213.19.144.110 (Amsterdam Netherlands)
213.244.140.110 (Germany)
103.122.166.55 (Australia Sydney)
103.122.167.55 (Australia Melbourne)
149.137.40.110 (Singapore)
64.211.144.160 (Brazil)
69.174.57.160 (Canada Toronto)
65.39.152.160 (Canada Vancouver)
207.226.132.110 (Japan Tokyo)
149.137.24.110 (Japan Osaka)
Meeting ID: 934 2100 2383
Passcode: 522860

 

Marc Jampole wrote The Brothers Silver (Owl

Canyon Press, 2021), Music from Words (Bellday Books,

2007), and Cubist States of Mind/Not the Cruelest Month 

(Poet’s Haven Press, 2017). His poems and short stories have 

appeared in many journals and anthologies. A former TV news 

reporter and public relations executive, Marc writes the OpEdge 

blog and has had more than 1,800 articles he has written have

been published in a wide variety of newspapers and magazines.

 

SPONSORED BY OWL CANYON PRESS

   

Save the Day – June 6th, 7 PM EST – Zoom Book Launch Party for “The Brothers Silver” by Marc Jampole

Save the Day – June 6th, 7 PM EST – Zoom Book Launch Party for “The Brothers Silver” by Marc Jampole

Save the Date: June 6th

Zoom Book Launch Party for

“The Brothers Silver”

A new novel by Marc Jampole published by Owl Canyon Press

 

Date: SUNDAY, JUNE 6TH

Time: 7:00 PM EST (6:00 PM CST; 5:00 PM MST; 4:00 PM PST)

 

  • Introduction by Gene Hayworth, Owl Canyon Press Editor-in Chief
  • Marc reads a few short excerpts from The Brothers Silver
  • Tom Strelich, author of the awarding-winning Dog Logic interviews Marc
  • Questions from the worldwide Zoom audience

 

Join Zoom Meeting

https://cuboulder.zoom.us/j/93421002383

Meeting ID: 934 2100 2383
Passcode: S1lver

Join by SIP
93421002383@zoomcrc.com

Join by H.323
162.255.37.11 (US West)
162.255.36.11 (US East)
115.114.131.7 (India Mumbai)
115.114.115.7 (India Hyderabad)
213.19.144.110 (Amsterdam Netherlands)
213.244.140.110 (Germany)
103.122.166.55 (Australia Sydney)
103.122.167.55 (Australia Melbourne)
149.137.40.110 (Singapore)
64.211.144.160 (Brazil)
69.174.57.160 (Canada Toronto)
65.39.152.160 (Canada Vancouver)
207.226.132.110 (Japan Tokyo)
149.137.24.110 (Japan Osaka)
Meeting ID: 934 2100 2383
Passcode: 522860

 

Marc Jampole wrote The Brothers Silver (Owl

Canyon Press, 2021), Music from Words (Bellday Books,

2007), and Cubist States of Mind/Not the Cruelest Month 

(Poet’s Haven Press, 2017). His poems and short stories have 

appeared in many journals and anthologies. A former TV news 

reporter and public relations executive, Marc writes the OpEdge 

blog and has had more than 1,800 articles he has written have

been published in a wide variety of newspapers and magazines.

 

SPONSORED BY OWL CANYON PRESS

   

THE CLOSEST THINGS TO LIVING A SURREALISTIC LIFE IS DRIFTING IN AND OUT OF SLEEP WHILE WATCHING TV

Did you ever spend the evening drifting in and out of sleep while watching television? Your consciousness toggles effortlessly between the TV show, a drowsy state in which you hear the TV as a background muttering, your dreamworld, and dreamless sleep. Sometimes when you wake up, you could swear that the TV is on a different station from the one you had on before, and you conclude that you must have kept clicking through the stations on the remote as you entered sleep. Enjambed words and images flow from one state of mind to another. A detailed description of the evening’s reality from your point of view approaches a surreal movie.

 

Maybe because the pandemic has me watching more television, or maybe because I’m getting older, but I have been experiencing more of these half-awake, half-asleep television soirees lately. The poem I wrote about this state of semi-lucid television surrealism, “Still Life with Pheromones and Late-night TV,” appeared in I-70 last year. Enjoy! 

 

STILL LIFE WITH PHEROMONES AND LATE-NIGHT TV

 

Hand remote click-click, 

your shoulders spring from chest

and you awake from mental intercourse

to moil of moaning bass and hip-hop earworm.

 

You’re a groggy human salmon 

slipping through the airplane aisle against the flow,  

getting off when everybody else is getting on,

and your seven-bedroom ranch with windshield windows

feels like crusty fridge and hotplate 

on the counter of a furnished room

by the sink in which you piss and wash your dishes.

 

Hand remote click-click, another nest of ants

with forty different glands emitting signs

and signals, is this caste determination,

grooming, care of brood, alarm?

 

Click-click and turn the volume down

on unsaid things you feel from silent pictures,

a whiff that signifies that someone’s lying,

that sniff that says they didn’t like your presentation,

a chill that makes you realize— 

no one’s listening, heard through skin.

 

Click-click, another screen, another fragrance,

Is it in the air or something between us?

is it gesture, touch or intonation?

this single laugh emitting pheromones

that tell you her desire for you, you hope,

a scent of queen envelops all her subjects.

 

Click-click, fade to foxhole stench 

of endless war but no one really dies.

 

Marc Jampole

Published in 1-70 (2020)

LAST YEAR, APRIL WAS THE CRUELEST MONTH, BUT THIS APRIL IS FULL OF PROMISE

The cruelness of last April would have delighted the T.S. Eliot of “The Waste Land.” We were in the middle of the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. We knew very little about the disease except that it was spreading rapidly and was more than 10 times as deadly as the annual flu. Everyone we passed in the streets represented a threat to our lives, as mask-wearing was only getting started, but the culture war Donald Trump and other Republicans declared against mask-wearing was already hitting its stride. The economy was in a tailspin, and virtually all of us were confined to our homes.

 

What a difference April is this year, at least for those who practice social distancing, wear masks, and in other ways take care of themselves and their neighbors. Even wearing a mask, you can feel April’s special warmth caress your face, especially in New York City, where I live. Walking outside yesterday, fortified with both Moderna shots and my mask, I felt the special breeze that blows across Long Island and Manhattan from the Atlantic Ocean. It’s a muggy zephyr that doesn’t oppress, as it might in the summer, but instead strokes our bodies in a loving manner, a breeze that promises many things: the fragrance of spring flowers, the sound of returning birds, the suddenness of spring rain. My poem about Manhattan’s April breeze called “A Bubble of Damp Tranquility,” is part of my chapbook, Cubist States of Mind/Not the Cruelest Month (Poets Haven Books, 2017). (Since the publishing house closed after its owner died, the only place to buy the chapbook is on Amazon—and from Amazon, not the publisher). I stole a few lines from “A Bubble of Deep Tranquility” for a description in the last chapter of my new novel, The Brothers Silver, which is now set to be released on June 1. 

 

A BUBBLE OF DAMP TRANQUILITY

 

A muggy ocean breeze

teases with its wheezes 

glides between the buildings,

reminding us the seas are near.

 

It fills the streets with sticky nuzzles

and the puzzle of the clouds:

will it drizzle, will it drench,

will it shroud the roads with fog

 

undulating emerald over

square and circle beds

of pink and yellow heads,

blinks of purple hid in clover.

 

Twists of conversation ride the wind—

well I mean like so anyway you know

you see no way it’s like I go— 

meaningless as the chirp of birds.

 

Invaded by a damp tranquility,

water hangs in air,

a soothing shadow blanket

reminiscent of another April years ago,

not déjà vu, but déjà senti

 

A burst of sun will break it up 

as if it were a bubble.

 

Marc Jampole

Published in Cubist States of Mind/Not the Cruelest Month (Poet’s Haven, 2017)

THE DAY-TO-DAY GRIND OF BASEBALL REMINDS ME OF OUR PANDEMIC LIFE, BUT ALSO OF EASTERN PHILOSOPHY

Baseball season has started, a long grind of 162 games, just to reach the playoffs, one day very much like the day before and the one after for the ballplayers who spend most every day the same way: going from hotel to practice to game to hotel again. Kind of boring. Kind of like self-isolating during the pandemic. Doomed to do the same thing over and over again, in the case of baseball, until the season ends; in the case of the pandemic, until we (as a series of interlocking societies) get it right. 

 

A few decades ago, I took a very painful break from creative writing for about 10 years. The first poem I wrote after this 10-year hiatus plays on the eternal repeatability of baseball. The central plot of the poem is Mickey Mantle’s mental accumulation of various pains, some new and some remembered, in the split second he waits for the ball to arrive at the plate, a ball he heroically crushes for a towering home run, despite his many wounds. (For the uninitiated, Mantle, one of the greatest ballplayers of any era, was known for playing with crippling injuries and alcoholism.) It is only at the end of the poem when Mickey falls “into the arms of his waiting Yogi” and we see/hear the pun between Yogi Berra and a yogi that we suddenly realize that another version of the poem unfolds simultaneously with the baseball anecdote. This version contemplates the futile attempt to overcome the pain of existence through action in the world, an attempt that will only have to be repeated tomorrow. Thus, even the title takes on irony, because it not only means that Mickey has done this before, it also suggests the transitory futility of the act: he will have to do it again.   

 

It is easy to mislabel the time it takes to sound the litany of Mickey’s pains in the poem as an oft-used cinematic technique of expanding time to increase tension, drama or suspense.  Reading the scene takes much longer than the time it takes for a ball once released from a pitcher’s hand to reach the plate.  In fact, though, the poem is not slowing down time, but merely residing in the mind of the athlete. Anyone who has ever played sports will tell you that in those rare moments when you are about to do something grand and heroic, time always appears to slow down. The ball seems to creep to the plate and it looks as large as a grapefruit and you can slowly uncoil and send it past the third baseman or out of the park.

 

ANOTHER SEPTEMBER AFTERNOON

 

  • If a Bodhisattva watched a baseball game, how would he describe it?

 

He steps to the plate 

a six-inch abscess in his thigh

tape’s tightness cutting both knees

pierce at elbow, pierce in shoulder

shaking in his stomach

alcoholic wail behind his temples

sting of missed chin music 

sear of teammates’ ripped muscles, twisted ankles

writers’ recriminations little torques of pain

each fan’s boo another small wound

an overwhelming nausea at the roar of boos

his father’s jeers at past strikeouts,

missed cutoffs, all little slashes 

the exhortation to practice, swing after swing,

catch after catch, throw after throw

his father’s shame at having never made the cut

his father’s throbbing lungs in the bed he never left

every past out a ridicule

every past hit a taunt that he might not do it again

the aching weight of the bat

in that instant when the ball leaves the pitcher’s hand.

He swings and without looking up

he knows what happens:

He hears it in the explosion of the bat

the flash of silence

the roar that expands for minutes

swallowing its own echo in new decibels

the tired thud as he trots around the bases, slowly, 

head down, into the arms of his waiting Yogi.

 

Marc Jampole

Published in Jewish Currents (Summer 2015)