Tag Archives: Oberlin College Press

J.W. MARSHALL.June 2017

J.W. Marshall

Photo by Jeff Sirkin


ON A 62

A special padded bus

this one

and it’s a wounded day to ride. Our ratio

of injury to those afraid of how the trip will go

is neither high nor wide.

Pretty much it’s all and each of us.

Sirens axe aside the sheet of vehicles

loud the way police can need to be.

She in the seat across

says Uh oh!

What happened? City of clowns.

Clown city. Uh oh! What happened?

and stands half up to see.

Prior she had been a quiet client

with her plastic box of lettuce

and now is side to side

like a whiskbroom to get a clearer view.

City of clowns. Clown city. Her voice sits down on us

as accurate as dust because

a young man’s cuffed and on the sidewalk.

Four cops and someone’s friends and

some strangers along the block have on

faces so meticulously sad

you have to laugh. They

work their separate businesses

with a frantic perfect calm

like none of them will ever speak to anyone again.

“Emerald Greens USA” is what

the label on her lettuce reads. Emerald

is too hard a word for what she has.

Those are tender greens with lots of edge.

As is she.

As are we all.

And edge is where our spoilage sets up camp.

We have good seats and

will only semi give them up.

She rose but not to standing and sat back down.

We’re settled and we move again.

There is some health in us still.


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*** ** ***



A big game this afternoon

so the city gets a military fly-over

Nothing says college sports

louder than a bomber low and overheard

It’s always good

to show a show of force

The crowd erupts you know they will

they’ve paid good money to

We’re so much happier to see ourselves

than others are to see us

Hopscotch chalked on the sidewalk

try to guess which rocks were markers


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*** ** ***



In this quiet world there is

a derelict sailboat roped to a buoy:

a wobbly grin,

a smirk out on the surface of the bay.

And mountains like scones in a bright blue kitchen.

From that slack vessel, if you are me, if you are

standing on this beach in this city park,

the maestro of a wooden thought or two

rows a smaller boat

methodically towards you.

I say that’s who he is because

the animals I’ve come to know

who live on unmoored boats are

uniformly tinder,

are ready to explode.

When he makes shore

he makes his dinghy leave a scarring sound,

dragged up beach to where

it’s shoved in scrub above high-water mark.

He’s here to walk to town to get

a box of things you need to live

if you are him

aboard a listing craft all night and day.

Alone aboard that craft except

he has beliefs for company, the ones

you’d go to shore to feed.

When his gravel steps have left the ear

we hear again the soothing song the pebbles say

as waves go social through them.


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*** ** ***



A crickety sack blown west by a car

east by a truck—

it’s my some luck

to be

looking at it

from under a big old emotion.

Man on a bike decides he’s for

investigating and when

it blows to the curb

he kicks it twice.

Empty both times!

Sadness has nothing in this world to attach itself to

that’s special.

Still it

comes about

as everybody’s business.


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*** ** ***


ON A 44

She was having trouble picking out

the bus to get

to get her to 23rd and John

Our dear driver didn’t know where that was

The bus half full and fully disinterested

as was the afternoon itself

A yawning afternoon if ever there was one

You want a 43 I told her You want

a 43 It will take you right


But I don’t want

to get off the bus in the University District if

I get off the bus in the University District

I’ll never get home

I’m mentally difficult and that place

is wrong for me to be

Probably we were pretty much the same age

she and I were probably

My stop I said is the stop you want

I can’t get off in the University District Tell you

what get off the second stop my stop

it’s a calmer stop don’t

get off this one as we pulled alongside a guy spreading

contents of a sack on the sidewalk either

to sell or look it over

At our stop she and I stood and chatted

Three boys she said she understands

men more than women

There were times she wanted to do things illegal things

but the boys got married and have

children so it’s okay

A 43 I reminded her before I got on

a 49 for the area where

the riots were preparing to celebrate May 1


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*** ** ***



Art, it’s thought, has heart. Dear art, it’s shy.

It is, I hear, the octopus, shy and here along the waterfront.

Below the pier, perhaps, where people queue to buy fried fish.

Tossing chips to gulls is entertaining.

It is the largest anywhere, the octopus. Still we, leaning on a railing,

won’t see it from on the pier or on the ferry or out in a plane.

We won’t we won’t.

Don’t see art even when

we’re leaning over it. It’s shy and underneath the surface.

When looked at the water seems to be

a kind of breathing skin. Or a kind of sky you reach down into

uncertain what might be there.

Will you find a thing to take from it or will

something there take you.

Shy and who’s to blame it. Its babies are offered

on trays with aioli. A special softened crunch.

Poor art.

And yes the octopus

has three hearts which are

simply organs unless perhaps they’re more than that.

Like you might think the water is

a kind of skin or sky to reach into.

You’ll never know before you do.


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J.W. Marshall
opened Open Books, a poetry-only bookstore in Seattle, in 1995. He sold the store to long-time customer and poet Billie Swift in 2016 and is very pleased that it carries on. His poetry collection, Meaning a Cloud, won the Field Poetry Prize and was published by Oberlin College Press. Most recently he has had poetry published in HubbubPoetry Northwest, and Volta, and a prose remembrance of the poet Lucia Perillo published in the on-line journal Seattle Review of Books. He is currently collaborating on a play with his partner Christine Deavel, to be published in 2018 by Entre Rios Press. He also owns and operates a letterset press, occasionally publishing broadsides as Function Press and chapbooks as Cash Machine.


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June 2017.J.W. MARSHALL