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SHJ Issue 14
Spring 2016

[Two Poems]

by Jack Marshall

Aleppo Winter

Barrel-bombs, indiscriminate slaughter.
Mid-winter. Refugees fleeing across borders.
Nothing but gnawing hunger anymore.

Horses, in rank stalls
That families hide in, feed on more
Than their children will,
And homesickness worsens horror
Of the present to yearning for their past
Apprehension but less terror.
I remember my mother saying, for her as a girl
Aleppo winters were like being caught in a river
Rising and night growing cold as marble
Freezing you in place,
And every place in you was everywhere
Ice. She liked her talk like her cooking spiced.
When I once asked why she always expected
The worst. “I don’t expect the worst,”
She said, “I expect the expected.”

Memory’s meat
We eat and keep
Decades later, reading in Malaparte’s Kaputt
Of a winter night in farthest Finland,
German’s shelling sent a mass flight
Into the lake, the heavy guns driving them on
The very night the lake freezes over.
Soon all fixed in place, a thousand
Frozen faces as if sliced clean by an ax
Caught in last living grimaces of terror and torment—
On Lake Laduga’s vast sheet of white marble rested

A thousand cavalry horses’
Heads stuck out of the crust
Of ice.


Etiquette of Defeat

After we kids were born, late
1930s, my father in the fifty years left to him
Did not get laid.

I read it in a letter he wrote
To me but never sent
Before he died at eighty-eight.
Bearing six years of marriage, three kids,
My mother laid down
The law: That’s it!

He couldn’t tell me while I lived at home.
He was not that kind. He was Old World
Old. Ottoman Empire old. Baghdad-born

In the end of the 19th century’s oil-rigged colonial world old.
You did what you were told: by Sultan, Young Turks,
East India Co., Turkish Petroleum Co., Torah-told.

From Baghdad to Brooklyn in the Depression,
Quiet, patient, long-suffering, in his mid-40s,
Acquired a matchmaker, a bride, refugee

For life. For Orthodox wives, divorce was no option;
For men, flight. In our neighborhood, a husband
Would go to work one day and not return.

My father didn’t drink, stray, or leave
For fifty years. “She seemed,” he wrote,
“Allergic to it, enough

for a lifetime,” proving women’s power
To say No, no matter a husband’s rabbinical duty
To lay with his wife on the Sabbath for an hour.

In moments hauled from the storm
Of late emotions, I try to
Imagine (having never seen) them

Hug, kiss, touch, gaze, hint
Feigned affection, some glimpse
Of shared physical pleasure, a glint

Of unpremeditated joy a boy
Could rouse, belated treasure, however now
I wish them back in time. No way.

Freud was a crock: there was no Oedipal shock, nor
I witness; never saw them fuck; never willed
Him killed, but wished him less quiet, less meek, more

Her! But no matter the weather, in suit and tie,
Door-to-door, running errands, stock clerk, salesman at last
In his own dry goods store that didn’t last:

“Of all my jobs, dying will be my last”.... Never owning a car,
A lifelong walker, he meant to leave as little footprint—
Carbon or otherwise—as possible.

And you cocksmen, who crow of the women you’ve had—
How hungrily they drain your loins and have
Your heaped, backed-up ashes hauled,

Imagine a moment it all
Denied, refused—not deferred: Verboten. What’d be
your take on half a century’s blue balls?

How’d you do it, dad? I didn’t stick around.
Families are to flee. A coast away, one day
I heard you did get laid, in parting ground.


—Both poems are from Jack Marshall’s forthcoming book Fugitive, in Full View (Coffe House Press, 2017); “Aleppo Winter” was originally published in The Redwood Coast Review (Summer 2014, Volume 16, No. 3) and is republished here by author’s permission.

SHJ Issue 14
Spring 2016

Jack Marshall’s

recent books include The Steel Veil and Spiral Trace (Coffee House Press, 2009 and 2013). His forthcoming book Fugitive, in Full View is scheduled for release in June 2017 by Coffee House Press.

“...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