From the Chicago Review of Books

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What lies in store for the Silver brothers? Recovery or turmoil?

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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.


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. 




  • 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)


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.




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)


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’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)