Here’s another poem for Passover. “Just Like Brian Wilson” starts as a critique of the concept of royalty, which I despise. It proposes that at the point in the Passover seder when people sing “Next Year in Jerusalem” (“L’Shana Haba’ah B’Yerushalayim), we instead should say “Wherever you want to be.” Jerusalem, after all, is a city built by and dedicated to royalty, the most anti-democratic of all forms of government. The remainder of the poem unfolds as a variation on the theme of where people desire to be, each new variation opening up rhythmically, ending with what was my utmost desire at the turn of the millennium when I wrote the poem: to be at a comfortable desk working on an important work of literary art. The imagined last line of the poem becomes the title, and refers to Brian Wilson doing exactly what I was wishing to do with increasing frustration. I was thinking, of course, of Wilson holing up in his basement for a year and writing “Pet Sounds,” perhaps the most influential pop music album ever recorded.


“Just Like Brian Wilson” was part of A Poet’s Haggadah, an anthology of poems created to replace parts of the traditional seder service.




Do not believe in kings.

When others sing, In Jerusalem next year,

shunning David’s city, chant instead

Wherever you want to be:

in Paris or another European hub

studying the texture of paint under glass,

in the dust behind the plate, mask on,

in movement eyes closed swinging free

above the games and funnel cake

swatting back half-budded branches 

in the sound of boots slogging,

well-oiled, feet in sand, adrift in a book of lust,

or behind the closed door of a small room

overlooking a large view of the world

well-lit walls cluttered with fragments

hunched on a slightly hard chair

by the tools you need to think about things.

Marc Jampole

Published in A Poet’s Haggadah (2008, Beyond Baroque Literary Center)


The end of the pandemic represents an opportunity to find provisional answers to an eternal question: Do we have a core self that persists through decades of change? Or are we, like Ibsen’s Peer Gynt, but onions that have only peels—our outward personas—but no central essence that exists from birth to death? Once we are able to mingle freely without fear of disease, we will be able to contrast the before-and-after of many people whom we haven’t seen or only seen through the homogenizing lens of Zoom for more than a year. In that time, people may have changed radically, or not at all. But will their immutable cores have changed?—a question that only makes sense only once you believe that each of us has an immutable core? Certainly, in the 12 months and counting of isolation, much of our physical bodies have changed: cells have died to be replaced with new cells, mutations have developed, as have antibodies. 


I’ve been thinking about what defines the essence of a human being, literally since my preteens. The beginning of the poem I am presenting today, “Impermanence,” is the first line of poetry I ever wrote, in sixth grade: “The I of me is a personal I that no one sees” is how it went back then. The rest of this 1961 effort was as immature as an 11-year old’s poetry always is, but through the years the line has haunted me. I always wanted to revive the poem and make it worthy of its first line, but I couldn’t figure out how. Finally, in a period during which I was exploring rhymes, I started writing down images that represent self to the world, three of which were based on incidents from the life of Buddha. The poem keeps searching for the ineffable core of being in these selves, the part of our existence that persists through the changes that time brings. I use a trick ending to demonstrate that this essential “I” in fact does not persevere but is as evanescent as the other “I’s” which people assume during their lives.  Connecticut River Review published “Impermanence” two years ago.




The I of me, enduring I that no one sees

behind the Facebook pose, advanced degrees,


the screaming I assaulting silent ear,

the silent I behind the thirsty tear,


the part of I that words can’t mold, 

that residue of I that won’t be sold,


this I would never leave his sleeping mate,

her naked breasts in fall to tender flow,


areolas rising, sprawling, this I would wait

till after one more touch, and finally could not go.


This I will always dodge the falling boulder,

charging elephant, this I insists on growing older,


growing dim, taking on the I of every sign,

transforming them to other I, this anodyne


to I’m not there, this I that doesn’t veer,

but moves through inner space to outer fear.


This I will persevere.

This I will perse

This I will pe

This I wi 

This I 



Marc Jampole

Published in Connecticut River Review 2019


Sometimes I wonder what I would do if I knew I had only one more day to live. A few years back I catalogued the possible activities for a hypothetical last day on Earth. Surprisingly, wild fantasies of exotic travel, sex with strangers, and meetings with famous people did not make the list. Most of the things I thought one might do involved remembering things, spending time with family, and engaging in ordinary physical pleasures, such as having a favorite dinner or making love with a long-time significant other. It was really an exercise in fanciful thinking, as no one can predict when their last day alive will come (except for suicides, which represent a special case), and those who realize that it is coming very soon are usually so ill that all they want to do is lie still and avoid pain. I culled a poem out of these reflections, “The Last Day,” which China Grove published a few years ago. I also incorporated several lines of the poem into a scene in my novel, The Brothers Silver, which Owl Canyon Press is releasing in June.  



Would you drink your favorite brew,
eat your favorite dinner if you knew
was your last day
of life,
would you
goodbyes, play
your favorite music, screw
your wife,
think through
your anger, would you
away the ticking time
in panic, would you
your last few heartbeats, rue
the time you’ve wasted,
calculate your final sums—
you’ve lived, hours, seconds,
number of women, number of times,
all together and in your prime,
countries you’ve seen, people you knew,
or those you remember—the rest a blur—
would you
your wins and failures,
phone and email last adieux,
go through
family albums
recall your kids when they were young,
recall the songs they sung,
would you
gather them round
with their children, pets on ground,
make your goodbyes,
tell them you appreciate
and love them, forgive their strife,
say the things you have to say,
would you
bemoan your fate
or would you
to your god for its merciful afterlife,
or contemplate
the terror of nothingness,
obliteration of consciousness
of yourself and others, would you sigh,
look forward to it, tired of aches and pains,
tired muscles, tired brain,
tired of watching other people die,
or maybe you would sit in a chair on the porch,
feel the breeze and sun,
watch clouds gather, watch the rain,
smell the clammy land
after thunder
watch birds bandy above,
skirt wet grasses,
start to chirp, dozens of them bounding,
in a symphony that grows so loud
that it could drown
out the sound
of death itself.


Marc Jampole

Published in China Grove #4 (2016)


One thing I’m sure most people don’t miss during the pandemic are long staff meetings in ice-cold air conditioning with insipid sandwiches and donuts. At least on Zoom, you can dress comfortably, easily distract yourself on the sly with Facebook posts and online games, turn the temperature in the room to a comfortable level, and eat what you like when you like. At a long business meeting, the best you could hope for is a pleasant daydream with which the need to listen or respond does not interfere.

One of my first experimental poems, “Staff Meeting Minutes,” is the daydream of a male heterosexual narrator stuck in another long meeting. The salient feature of this poem is the repetition of syllables that create a comic musicality as they turn into words that move the poem in a new direction: “blah, blah blanket,” “da da disco,” “ka ka close your eyes.” The daydream relocates the meeting to a cold but bizarre place in which horses and rats run along the interior cracks inside an iceberg, which in the end suddenly becomes a scene of beautiful women walking half-naked in bathing suits along the shore in summer. Along the way, I depend on references to Inuit mythology (“rice becomes words”), Christian aphorisms (“motes become beams”) and the Torah (“paper angel wrestling you”). “Staff Meeting Minutes” found its way into my first published book of poetry, Music from Words.


Conference room, blah blah blanket walls dissolve

and flow, a plunge in frigid water, blah blah

beat of branches warms your tingling frozen flesh,

incorporated world between two walls of ice, 

ha ha horses’ heads on shivering human bodies, 

da da disco rats merengue up the glacial switchback

seeking middens of your la la life to come, 

discarded menus, transparent inhibitions,

a new caprice in permafrost: motes become beams,

rice becomes worms, wine becomes blood—ka ka

close your eyes, the paper angel wrestling you

is only you the times you win, another esker fantasy—

a higher I-don’t-want-a wah wah want-to-be

until you reach that place that makes you smile: 

walls become windows, glossy panes in bah bah bay:

The other side is summer, bathing ladies on parade, 

like naked women always, beautiful and full of love.   


Marc Jampole

Published in Music from Words (Bellday, 2007)


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)