Five Poems by Djelloul Marbrook
I don’t sing well, but things do
when I look at them equably.
That’s how I learned about angels
in a time of plague (the tabloids
use WalMart words to doll up lies).
A graffitist was on the loose,
a spray-can, airbrush calligrapher
illuminating the few blank spaces left
with reminders that the facts
don’t fit the smart-ass rhetoric.
Funny how she picked her pages:
subway tiles; glass doors,
trucks, ferries; didn’t like wood.
Notice I say she’s a woman, but
either way I’m a sexist, right?
Should she be model-beautiful?
How about dancer-beautiful?
A pregnant dancer or what about
an elderly bag lady? She could cart
all her cans and paints and brushes,
nobody would give her a thought.
Well, whoever she is, she needs
a stalker. That’s my opinion.
A stalker as tricky as she is
to do her justice, to sing her praises.
Of course, as I said, I don’t sing well,
but things have a way of tipping me off
to their true identities because
one thing I always knew, always,
is that things aren’t what they seem.
(And who the hell wants them to be?)
So I spent a few days reading the bloids
and getting my resolute up, and then
I started stalking her. Well, not exactly;
I had to find her first, and a special squad
of cops already had their noses in the wind,
for all the good it’d do them. It’s not hard
to smell paint in Manhattan; this vandal,
smelling like truth, encouraged you to breathe.
Basquiat christened the city;
it was done in hieroglyphs of pain
exorcising towers of the germs
that break us down: greed, callousness,
authorized versions that stomp
our souls in the muck of lies.
Our diseases serve the system.
As for your magic unresponse—
the fun of your discourtesy,
ignoring letters, calls—well,
I think there’s a blessed incivility
cruising the current sleaze,
something working hard to free us
from our unimaginative schemes.
It used to be the painted word
sailed the swells and towering surf
of our best ideas, but the tide is out
and now words like cold calls,
cooked books, police scams,
lying pols and hateful preachers,
grace our disgraceful lack of ideas.
Basquiat showed us it could be done,
but I think this guy is the angel
who sang the Qu’ran to Muhammed.
His letters are waves and dunes
heaped up with gems
the Courant Institute is studying.
He knows all about Klee
and he must be packing brushes,
palette knives and air paint guns.
His following is growing every day,
swept along in his nounal sea.
The cops would like to get him,
so would the art dealers in Chelsea,
but I doubt this guy’s for sale.
He’s not packing logos or kerygma.
Too much has been said already.
I think he’s politely suggesting we dig out
from under the contempt
business buries us in.
The pleasure of saying thank you
is outweighed only by welcomes
we don't hear or see because
they're so numinously everywhere.
This so distracted the Greeks
they put gods where they could see them
and even painted on their faces
so fixed they were on form.
Arabs thought this containment
a profanity so profound
they bore the zero out of India
to spin the cosmos in its circuit.
The treasure of saying thank you
is the magic it sets in motion
and all we have to do is know
we're the gods we're arguing about.
To say we are a prison nation
is as usual to not say half of it—
our faces are our bars our minds our guards
and we are so solitary
we can hardly bear to touch
much less to say how much we really know
so inhibited that what we ought
is a three-strike law that sends
the best of us to prisons and makes
the worst of us its gods.
His tailpipe hair started growing forwards
instead of backwards to help him grope
the fragrant bodies of his despairs.
What could he do about what he so little understood
but grow towards it as if he were a lucky wretch
who had stumbled on Dracula's harem?
So when your hair changes direction
and your body complains of its flesh, well,
was any GPS or ideology ever going to help you?
Is it possible all we think we own
is owned by ants and roaches
and Brueghel's creatures?
What if in this country of Cockaigne
we are the animals, the unfortunates
looked down upon as less?
What if our languages are grunts
that barely express our instincts
much less the things we know?
Then these great towers & apparatuses
are built for something else
and owners are mere witnesses.
• Basquiat [from Brushstrokes and glances]
• Prison nation, Dracula's harem and Brueghel's creatures [new poems]
Djelloul Marbrook is the author of two poetry books, Far from Algiers (2008, Kent State University Press, winner of the 2007 Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize and the 2010 International Book Award in poetry) and Brushstrokes and Glances (2010, Deerbrook Editions), and five books of fiction: Guest Boy (2012) and Crowds of One (forthcoming 2013, both from Mira Publishing House CLC, Leeds, UK), Saraceno (2012 , Bliss Plot Press, New York), Artemisia's Wolf (2011, Prakash Books, India), and Alice Miller's Room (1999, OnlineOriginals.com, UK). His poems have been published by American Poetry Review, Barrow Street, Orbis (UK), From the Fishouse, Oberon, The Same, Reed, Fledgling Rag, and Daylight Burglary, among others. He maintains a lively presence on Facebook. At djelloulmarbrook.com he often reviews other poets’ books. He lives in New York’s mid-Hudson valley with his wife Marilyn.