Four Poems by Jacqueline Marcus









































































































































































































































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Close to the Shore




Winter trees, brooding, self-absorbed.

               The slow bright spot lost in the yellow leaves,

and the birds that rush from the rooftops.

I dreamed of the sea in early summer

before the tourists made their deadly rounds. 

The composition of the day, ruined.

Tables, chairs, newspapers folded neatly.


I envy their measured lives—

the bicycle, propped against the trellised wall,

the café, and its happy jingle of silverware.

I’m talking about the wine taken for granted

when bombs shatter your neighbor’s house,

and all you want is a glass, a candle—

anything that vaguely resembles

the habits that keep you grounded

when there is nothing left for you to do

except wait, and smoke,

crouched in the corner of the hallway,

until the clarity of light lifts its ugly mask:

How noble art thou…


This morning,

I woke up thinking of Chekhov,

pouring his afternoon tea,

the cherry orchards,

shimmering in the wet sun.

Perhaps it explains that dolorous note, right at the end,

that sad string, plucked,

like so many leaves, falling,

and that even the first blow of the axe—

cannot reach the wound

that heals us.



Small Tree

                after the photographer, Albert Renger-Patzsch


Perhaps it's the absence of color that draws him near to this tree.
It is small, thin, and like a stark crow —
it waits for no one.
There is a white field and a white sky
turns beneath the branches.

The first rains have not yet come.  And yet
it is winter.  There is no sound from the distant
shots, or the hospital filled
with the wounded...

Not a breath of wind, no birds or perpetual smoke
from the empty houses in the village. 

Perhaps he imagines the sky as a frame of silence?
The tree, a sort of contrast, a line
drawn with chalk.
He has waited a long time to find this tree,
alone, in a somber moment.
Imagine the moon — as he adjusts the lens,
his subject focused into deeper light so that it's almost dark
a few yards back from the branches. 

Is it not like a small boat,
drawing us close to the shore?



Remembering Giotto


After all, the night could only afford a little rain

through folds of light,

and who could argue with the sleep-walkers,

climbing back into their cars,

like clock-work?

Or Blake, for that matter,

who painted Newton under the ocean.



All morning I watched the long-billed Dowitcher

pull across the lake,

the flat surface, with its glass of dualism,

played the sun like music

from a different age.


It still captivates us—

Giotto's blue sky and leafless tree,

distinct from the burning-


Less clear than a memory, anyway, of failure

and sickness of heart.


The way lovers will imitate the lost summer

of darkness,

    the slow rise out of the self,


for the time being,

    (fog lamp in the pepper trees,

and all the corners of the fresco.)


But it's hard, sometimes, to settle for anything less.




It's hard to remember

not to take it all for granted.


So I look, for the rest of the morning,

with my binoculars focused on the purple finch,

     the poppies on fire.


The gulls begin their ballet in grand strokes


                                                                      Now all at once,

they have risen together, floating slowly upward,

closer than I imagined to Dante's angels,

                                                                   closer than I imagined


to light.



From The Other Side of the Night


Maybe it's true that the nights are merely a temporary shift of color?


I can't say what was going through her mind,


my mother at the window,

washing the same dish for 15 minutes,


mesmerized by the snow's hush in the red pines,


as if the body were left momentarily

                                                                                to its mechanical strings


and the soul rose out of its frame like a cool rain in the open light,


a flurry of geese tipped like a thousand candles—


until something snaps,


                                                like a parachute, and all the squares of acreage


grow larger and out of focus,


the sad narration of forks, spoons and left-over words,


propped up and waiting on the table,


                                                                     like a Chekhov play.






Some of us simply tip our hats to the door,


like P.B. Shelley in his storm-lit boat, like Socrates,


raising his cup of hemlock,


much like that character in Bukowski's Barfly,


toasting cheerfully,

                                                To all my frien-n-n-n-n-nds!



with one last swig and then he buried the axe for good.



Did he actually believe he was going from here to the Intelligible?


And why did he hope to meet with Agamemnon?


Did the hemlock rush to his brain—

or just to his heart?



In any event, he died, feeling a whole lot better without us,


leaving his body to the women to wash, and the sun,


crossing the Acropolis,


                                                   Apollo, in a dome of trees. 







Time forgives no one,

not even Agamemnon's cruel thrust,


forcing himself into the frightened slave girl,


Achilles' loss.







In the distant field,


                                                a chorus of silence,


in the distant rock,


                                                a chorus of ruin,


in the distant trees,


                                                a chorus of slumber,


in the distant wind,


                                                a chorus sings of ghosts.





Some nights,


                                when it's clear you've left forever,


when everything slows down long enough to feel its grief,


burning like the morning's river,


                                                    I let the dark fall upon the sweet grass, inch by inch,



I let it fall and fall until the rain gives up,


until the night proves otherwise.



It's like a tide that takes you in,


always out and farther away


than the playful yelps of the seagulls.



Whatever you see is lost to a bit of sky, a field of ambiguity,


the window that faces north,


     the perhaps of some distant moment…


cold as November's stars.




Jacqueline Marcus' debut collection of poems, Close to the Shore, was published by Michigan State University Press (December 2002).   Jacqueline Marcus' poems have appeared in The Kenyon Review, The Antioch Review, The Journal, The Ohio Review, The Literary Review, The Wallace Stevens Journal, Poetry International and elsewhere. She teaches philosophy at Cuesta College and is the editor of  For a complete biography, click here. 

"Privileged" first appeared in Faultline, "Small Tree" and "The Other Side of the Night" first appeared in The Cider Press Review, and "Remembering Giotto" first appeared in Mid-American Review.

Click here to read more poems from Close to the Shore.