All societies sort themselves into winners and losers, but the fruits of winning differ,
depending on the society. Compared to historical trends, the United States is giving
more to the winners and less to everyone else than at any time since at least the Gilded
Age of the second half of the 19th century. Supporting the inequitable distribution of
wealth that plagues America is a winners-and-losers ideology that glorifies winners as
celebrities and mocks participation trophies.

My poem “What About the Losers?” unfolds as a variation on the theme of losing,
tracing the collective thought process of those who have lost competitions, first blaming
luck, then the social order, then reveling in the humiliation of losing as if they were
second comings of St. Augustine, until finally the losers blame themselves. The second
stanza tells a parable of the rejection of the win-lose social structure: a man declines the
symbols of success as represented by a tree of life laden with coupons for the spoils of
winning. Instead, he swims to a distant land only to discover that the cheering crowd
that greets him is merely interested in making noise, and cares not for his performance.

“What About the Losers?” was published in my first book of poetry, Music from Words. I
later took a few lines from it, embellished them and placed them in a diatribe one of the
characters gives in my novel, The Brothers Silver, set for publication by Owl Canyon
Press on June 1st. I think it’s my son’s favorite of my poems, which is interesting
because he almost always wins everything, and when he does lose, he does so
gracefully and with little if any emotional discomfort, and afterwards always analyzes
why he lost and how he can improve. Just as I taught him: like the joy of swimming in
the second half of the poem, the joy of competition always resides in the game itself,
and not in the praise or blame that may come from the outcome.



What about the losers?,
second place or worse,
far from cheers and exultations
head in hand or pacing claustrophobia,
at least we played the game,
so close and yet so far:
if it wasn't for that hit, that swing,
bad hop, bad turn, bad call,
ball rolling off the fingertips,
fleeting lapse in concentration,
practiced my butt off, studied for years,
made the right moves, met the right people,
flattered, bantered, kissed their asses,
did without, planned ahead,
if it wasn’t for contracting markets,
change in habits, insufficient cash flow,

someone with more contacts,
friend of brother, second cousin, old school tie,
secret handshake, lies and accusations,
loser, loser, loser, loser,
failure, lemon, floperoo,
I don't want a stupid ribbon,
don't want the sloppy seconds,
second best, second hand,
greasy gruel at B-list parties,
legless wine, polyester fabric,
cloying banquet consolations,
finalist who never had a chance,
blew the chance I had,
never strong enough, never smart enough,
didn’t work enough, wasn’t hungry,
too small, too slow, too bored,
too lazy, too distracted, too fucked up,
I deserve to lose.

In the corner of an empty room
a lonely man constructs his fantasy:
a tree of life unfolding overhead
molting blue and silver leaves, each a coupon
for woman's love, exotic travel,
expensive cars, enormous houses.
He reaps his slips of paper,
presses them against his aging body
like a multicolored blanket
then stands up naked,
throws them to a rising wind
and watches as they drift and climb
toward ancient burnt-out stars,
scales his leafless tree,
jumps into the olive ocean,
swims to distant treeless coast.
Crowds of people cheer
for the joy of making noise.

Marc Jampole
Published in Music from Words (Bellday Books, 2007)


Capturing emotions in words sometimes reminds me of trying to catch a beam of light in the hand. I’ve tried lots of common rhetorical tricks with varying degrees of success: describing the physical characteristics of the emotion; using a description of nature to evoke the emotion; telling a story that hopefully leads the reader to an epiphany of the emotion; comparing the emotion to something else. Often, I have turned the emotion into a physical object, alive and animate, or inert but taking up space in a surrealistic scene. One chapter in The Brother Silver, for example, unfolds as a discussion between the various emotions a character feels, each one assuming an appropriate personality and point of view. 


A few years back I wrote a cycle of poems in which I used language equivalents of Cubist painting to describe emotions as if they were paintings. About half of the poems, including “Cubist Fear,” made it into literary journals, and all 12 are in my chapbook, Cubist States of Mind/Not the Cruelest Month (Poets Haven Press, 2017). I later took images from “Cubist Fear” and one other Cubist poem, “Cubist Anger,” and inserted them into a panic attack that one of the characters experiences in my novel, The Brothers Silver, which Owl Canyon Press is releasing in June.


The publisher of Poets Haven Press died at a very young age about 18 months ago. The website remains up, but one can no longer order any Poets Haven books from it. It’s available on Amazon, but you have to select the option that isn’t Poets Haven. You can also contact me directly on Facebook Messenger or thebrotherssilver@gmail.com and I’ll sell you a copy (as long as my supply lasts).  




Emerging from patches of blackness 

brutal heads and bodies lug their clothes 


on shoulders hanging sideways next to them,

rambling menace blown through streetlamp streaks,


the blinking eyes of feral cats embroider other shadows

stalking light that freezes, splinters, soars.


Rectangular sirens blare, then fade to silence, fade to

shouting mouthless goodbyes turning gray and brittle,


 haunted triads wince, afraid to delve a brown abyss

of pasted magazines, of posters, strips of parchment.


Golem is a letter A that crushes other letters into dust,

the dust is golem hiding from itself in squares,


every color I can think of flashes dreaded choking, 

flashes ghastly chilling deadly bleak unknowns.


Marc Jampole

Published in English and French in Recours au Poème 2016; Cubist States of Mind/Not the Cruelest Month (Poet’s Haven, 2017)



A year into the plague, we’ve now missed two Passovers, one Rosh Hashanah and one Thanksgiving, the three holidays on which my wife and I generally gather with lots of family. We’ve also missed untold visits from friends and family from out of town, or our frequent outings with those in the New York area. We’ve all mastered the art of the Zoom, but it’s not the same. For one thing, there has been no ripping apart a challah and tossing pieces to everyone, no ritual carving of a turkey or brisket, no taking seconds on cake while complaining that you’re stuffed. In short, no food sharing. Everyone eating their own food on a Zoom call just doesn’t hack it.

On the plus side, though, the technical distance enforced by Zoom has strangely immunized me to the gloomy dread of death that has infected me at family events since I was quite young. From maybe the age of ten, part of me has always feared that somebody at a large family gathering would die before I saw them again. I would analyze to myself who would be the most likely and from what cause—cancer, heart disease, accident, suicide. But now, instead of wondering whether this time will be the last I see anyone, and everyone, on Zoom I assume that everyone will survive and that we’ll all be together on the other side of the pandemic. Given we are in a global health crisis, my confidence in survival strikes me as more foolish and irrational than my previous anxiety!  

A few years back I wrote a poem about the secret presence of death—future and past—looming over family events, contrasting the fact that we die alone with the wonderful joy of togetherness we feel at a family dinner or celebration. Main Street Rag published “The Best of Times” two years ago.


The Best of Times


Black-bean spare ribs, tangy cabbage salad

celebrate a high school graduation.

Silent dread invades me as I think 

that this will be the final family time 

for one of us: aunt and uncle in their eighties,

another uncle soon retiring from a stressful job,

sickly sister, secret addict, cousins overweight: 

there are just too many here today

and a single marching time, always forward

into dark unknowns for all of us, one by one,

and all the ones who come after,

and all the ones who come after that.


Though one by one we die alone,

tonight we gnaw on bones together,

banter cherished stories heard before

and we want to hear again,

stories in stories of whistling past shadows,

swinging at the short end of a long rope,

kinfolk no one’s met in whirling waters, 

huddled over steamy bowls of hope,

the best of times reduced to anecdote

or ancient bas-relief, tableaux emerging 

from a plaster that is life itself, being lived, 

every moment, even as it hardens into past.


Marc Jampole

Published in Main Street Rag (2019)


Long before I read Mercea Eliade’s assertion that Yohanan ben Zakkai (and not Jesus Christ) was the most important religious figure in the first century of the common era, Zakkai was one of my heroes because he managed to escape from Jerusalem under siege by the Romans through a clever ruse. He was my favorite Jewish personage when I was in Hebrew school as a youth. When I read Catch-22 in my early twenties, I compared Zakkai to Orr, the real hero of Joseph Heller’s masterpiece by virtue of managing to escape to Sweden and live out the war in peace. 


According to legend, Zakkai escaped Jerusalem inside a coffin that was carried outside the city walls for burial. He made his way to Yavne, about seventy miles west of Jerusalem, where he founded a center of Jewish learning that replaced Jerusalem as the focal point of Judaism after Jerusalem was overrun and the temple destroyed. Zakkai’s great advance, according to Eliade in his masterful A History of Religious Ideas, was to replace animal and grain sacrifice with prayer in Jewish rituals. 


Most Jews don’t think of Zakkai at Passover, but I do because he represents the brand of Judaism that I like: dedicated to freedom, humanistic, willing and able to change to meet new conditions. A few years back, I wrote a poem published in Jewish Currents that imagines Zakkai’s thoughts as he lay in the coffin and pretended to be dead. His memories propose that the enjoyment of sensual experience is a form of holiness. 


Enjoy, and Happy Pesach to my family and all my friends and followers.




– During the siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE, Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai escaped the city by hiding in a coffin, then founded the great Talmudic school in Yavne.


The seeing of the eye

Near the walls of the city

I begin my descent


The hearing of the ear

My students calling me to prayer

my wife calling me


The discernment of the heart

In the hills above the city

I saw her with child


The passions of the moment

The wind among the olive trees

the gleanings of the field

her hand at my cheek


The delight in forming syntax,

the delight in making phrases

Waters separating

mountains skipping

former rain, latter rain

a sign upon the door

you shall have no other


The repetition of names

Preserving, unfailing, forgiving

compassionate, infinite, wise


The weave of permutation

To love her in the flesh 

to love her through the law

to love the law in her

to love the flesh in law


The transient conversations with the sacred

Gates shattered, bars broken

 surrounded by night

 the pages on fire in my hand


The praise of sleep

and the praise of awakening….

How will I remember it all?


Marc Jampole

Published in Jewish Currents Vol. 60 #4

(July-August 2006)


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)