ISSUE FOUR
August 1998

Mark Jarman

Mark Jarman Mark Jarman is the author of five collections of poetry, and a book-length narrative poem, Iris. With David Mason, he has edited Rebel Angels: 25 Poets of the New Formalism, and with Robert McDowell, he has written The Reaper Essays. His book The Black Riviera won the 1991 Poets' Prize. Questions for Ecclesiastes was a finalist for the 1997 National Book Critics Circle Award in poetry.  His book of criticism, The Secret of Poetry, is forthcoming from Story Line Press, as is his next collection of poetry, Unholy Sonnets. He teaches at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee.
Unholy Sonnet    Read Along with the Author


Breath like a house fly batters the shut mouth.
The dream begins, turns over, and goes flat.
The virus cleans the attic and heads south.
Somebody asks, "What did you mean by that?"
But nobody says, "Nothing," in response.
The body turns a last cell into cancer.
The ghost abandons all of his old haunts.
Silence becomes the question and the answer.
And then--banal epiphany--and then,
Time kick starts and the deaf brain hears a voice.
The eyes like orphans find the world again.
Day washes down the city streets with noise.
And oxygen repaints the blood bright red.
How good it is to come back from the dead!

 

 

Unholy Sonnet    Read Along with the Author


Ray's body lies below a slab that states
His surname, JARMAN. Ray, in his coffin, wears
A colored hood and robe with black felt bars.
Ray's flesh is safe from worms and graveyard rats.
On that day when his soul (which in heaven sits
Surrounded by the answers to his prayers)
Rejoins his body to be judged, he fears
(And these fears plague his secret, heavenly thoughts)
That he will have to be the age forever
That he was when he died, that he will be
The way he was, attempting to recover,
At eighty-three, in his clerical array,
From stroke-slurred speech, his halting, stunned endeavor
To end the thing that he'd begun to say.

 

 

Unholy Sonnet    Read Along with the Author


There is a law outside the daily racket,
The vertigo of distracting personal woes,
And one outside of that, and beyond those,
The one that fits the cosmos like a jacket.
And when I think of that--that big abstraction--
I feel like a retiree in Palm Springs.
The serene, tearless clarity of things
Settles me down into sublime inaction.

But I am not a retiree in Palm Springs.
The girls of anxious gravity, my sin,
Tug at my heart and pockets, and I spin,
Bracing myself against a storm of things
That pelt and paw me and caress and claw--
The law inside the law inside the law.

 

 

Unholy Sonnet    Read Along with the Author


Think of the harsh attire that God put on,
Improved with vitamins and vaccinations,
Anointed, toned, massaged with gleaming lotions,
Heart-smart and fiber-dieted and trim:
A body more like ours, aerobic, clean,
Groomed properly, with proper dental care,
Modern and made to last, at least in theory,
More than a stingy three score years and ten.
Now there's a corpse to translate into heaven.
The truth is no one wants to leave the world,
Unless nothing has worked and all has broken
Down into pain. Then, even God would suffer
Less with carbon monoxide in a can,
Breathed in the comfort of a private van.

 

 

Mark Jarman: Poetry
Copyright 1999 The Cortland Review Issue FourThe Cortland Review