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SHJ Issue 13
Fall 2015

For Steve Kowit

by Jack Marshall

		As this comes
		Call you
I call you
The apples are red again in Chandler’s Valley,
redder for what happened there, remembering
Steve & me reading Patchen over and over, held
in that round, ripened sadness which binary
sound made out of what was not said; mystery
we came back to feel the undercurrent
running through...
			Was it that we felt, then, the line between
living and non-living growing thin, like now? absence
that weights, echo that ripens?

					When a loved one dies,
the world feels different, distant, detached, alien,
and people more intimate, visibly burdened, feeling
what it feels like to begin forgetting the world
we live, more adrift, in.

Now all the words you won’t get to say, I’ll miss...
That’d be one way to begin—bogus!
There won’t be any, nor need be:
You said all you had to say in any single poem: utter,
unmistakable clarity over which future Ph.D’s (you’ll get
a kick out of this!) will grind their teeth, cheated
of obscure, impenetrable allusions there’ll be
no need to autopsy. Perverse, heartless,
that in the moments you were dying, the flowers
outside still had hours.

Even to say you’re dead refutes itself,
like an oxymoron; so alive, still talking, arguing,
provoking, protesting, agitating, advocating,

			lost in the bright air
Of impossible gaiety, incomparable youth, passion
And blather, that feast made of fine talk...

And something you were saying, speaking to me:
“We are a failed species”...this from a poet protesting
for justice for the weak and dispossessed, forsaken
into havoc, which that committee of one, Fernando
Pessoa, said, is like protesting death.

No matter, you were in the mix, passionate pessimist,
so attentive, curious, bemused, compassionately
hip to the cry which humor hides, and amorous
as addiction, our crazed self-regard and self-deceit;
you confessed yours, shedding light
in which to admit our own.

Late teens, slender, nimble tennis pro,
in midlife, vegetarian, putting on weight, as if
compassion’s caloric intake increases with knowledge
of personal grief, communal guilt for the suffering
our living inflicts on others: unhooked, removed,
undressed, flogged, fucked, spilled, dissolved, disappeared
down the chute, terrorized as penned, prodded cattle
nose-kiss, knowing they are on the way to slaughter,
which the truth of Singer’s clinching line you’d repeat,
Each day is Treblinka for the animals, still makes me uneasy.

And no advantage in the knowledge that there is more
to know, like prey made more alive for being hunted.
Then, look back on those long-ago, oblivious
Days we call nostalgia?—nostos, the return home:
some vision the past had given and taken back;
some compassion permitted one’s own history.
It’s the old days, knocking at the door, asking
Can we stay?...Memory, meant to be safe in; what
we know and love, better than what we don’t know....

And what about aging makes remembrance
our future?—feast made of fine talk,
we so excitedly partook, perhaps mistaking mania
for meaning we would ride like musicians
in the middle of their music, aware of the magic
going down; great, like the ultimate party
you don’t remember.

Once, on acid, you had a vision: posed, scout
on horseback, frozen fresco, bugle to your lips
about to blow...and you did, all along, blowing
your delicious, barbed denunciations of power
with such gleeful, cackling, irrefutable gusto much
like Neitzsche’s optimism of a desperado.

In the light of this midday June, we watch legions
of the living reach up for the wrinkled shirt of dawn
soon to be bloodied, piling like all lives that have sought
sunrise while under midnight’s star, and envy
the stones’ hardness we inhabit just to not be
for a moment. Now that you’re gone, so much
space opens to house so much more sadness.
Who will there be to cut the cake at the feast,
and sit down with and eat the actual 
lived “Mysteries,” of which you made
legend of our youth?
				Call you, I call you,
And if I know you, no matter how many tributes, elegies, blurbs
are made for you, too honest to be taken in by myths made
of you after you leave, you’d be sorely anxious, frenetic
in fact, as in life, for those left behind, as each loved one’s
absence strikes and binds and knots connective cords tighter,
deepening ties with the life taken.


SHJ Issue 13
Fall 2015

Jack Marshall

Born in Brooklyn to Arabic-Jewish parents who emigrated from Syria and Iraq during the first Depression, Marshall is the author of a prose memoir, From Baghdad to Brooklyn (Coffee House Press, 2005), and thirteen books of poetry, which have been given a Guggenheim Fellowship, the PEN Center Poetry Award, two Northern California Book Awards, and a finalist nomination from the National Book Critics Circle Award.

“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose
is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury