Jacquelyn Markham, A Child Speaks to Libokra

A poem from my series on nuclear testing on the Bikini Islands in the 1950s, published by Hawaii Pacific Review

Please click below to reach the Hawaii Pacific Review and my poem.

A Child Speaks to Libokra

Mother of the Sea, acrylic Jacquelyn Markham




Warren Slesinger, SNAPSHOTS



Snapshot (snap.shot) n-s. 1. A light

that blinked like a heartbeat when his

mother held the camera to her breast.

  1. A trim fit in a tight place on a piece

of coated paper. 3. A picture of a boy

behind the glass, as flat in its frame

as a window with a fingerprint on it,

if only he could turn to the touch.

  1. How a motorboat sped by a row

of summer cottages, and the camera

caught the crest of a wave that crashed.


Snapshot (snap.shot) n-s. 1. A boy

snatched by a small plastic “instamatic”

camera. 2. The one in a cotton shirt

and a pair of shorts before he set the hook,

the bobber stopped, and the net stretched

from now to then. 3. How his mother

framed his face with her hands when he

asked if I still loved him. 4. The way

a cloud above a lake and a boat in a dock

brought it back when it was utterly still.


Snapshot (snap.shot) n-s. 1. A flash

and click of a hand-held camera like

a box for the eye with a button on it.

  1. The lens that enlarged a boy who

blinked and cried when I backed out

of the driveway, the marriage to his

mother and their lives. 3. A picture

in a frame on the table as if the past

and present remain in the same place,

or home a house in the background.

  1. The child I thought I left behind

until I caught him crying again.







Brodsky and Baryshnikov

As our small poetry group has diminished due to members’ moving away to distant capitals or retreating to deal with life’s challenges and assaults, I write to assert survival of Otram Slabess. The roar of Justin Bieber and a vacuum cleaner washes over me as our daughter submits to helping clean the house before friends arrive for a new year celebration. It is the next to the last day of 2015. I’ve just been stirred by reading Joan Acocella’s New York Review of Books‘ article about a theatre piece centered on the life and poetry of Joseph Brodsky. Written and directed by Alvis Hermanis, the piece premiered at the New Riga Theatre in Riga, Latvia, and its one performer is Mikhail Baryshnikov, the great dancer and Brodsky’s great friend for the last twenty years of the poet’s life. It will open in New York in March. Hermanis is quoted as saying, “Whatever illusions you had, Brodsky makes you say goodbye to them. And so you achieve a sort of Buddhistic calm.” On another hand, as Acocella puts it, “Baryshnikov was charmed by Brodsky’s vivacity, his capacity for fantasy and play, his readiness to love things.” I love these apparent contradictions. We should all remember how Brodsky chanted his poems. I witnessed his presentation of them (in Russian) a couple of times when I lived in New York in the 1980’s, and I found it magnificent. Acocella plainly explains how we miss a great deal of Brodsky in English translation. Hermanis’ piece includes both Baryshnikov and Brodsky on tape singing the poems. It seems that audiences are given multi-leveled waves of language and movement via audio, supertitles, and Baryshnikov’s evocations, with body and voice, of his friend. I’ll bet the effect is magnificent. Both men became exiles–the poet by ejection, the dancer by defection–from the Soviet Union in the early 1970’s, and the poet became “a kind of older brother” to the dancer. The latter “needed one,” Acocella writes. Brodsky, eight years the elder, spoke English well, had many friends in the U.S., and was also the much greater celebrity than Baryshnikov at the time. By the time I saw him dance in New York and one night brushed shoulders with him walking on West 10th Street, the younger man had, of course, become as celebrated as anyone.

Otram Slabess has borrowed a kind of credo from Joseph Brodsky, and so, delighting in the descriptions and background of this theatre piece, as offered by a very fine writer and critic, I’m posting a kind of elegy I wrote for Joseph Brodsky when I learned of his death in 1996. I was teaching off and on as a poet-in-the-schools. The poem mentions Brodsky’s idol in English poetry, W.H. Auden, among other things, and the Congaree Swamp, which has been a natural muse for me in my writing life. Cheers to these great artists and to our own Otram Slabess!

In Memoriam Joseph Brodsky: Congaree Swamp


Today I read a translated piece of you,

“Stone Villages,” to a room of sixth graders

and declared for them how a football goal

is “bottled” in their classroom window,

mastering my fear of the world

of difference between your English pub

(after Auden) and this American public school

in a beaten, drug-gutted neighborhood.


Finding an accumulating grief, foolish

before an audience of children,

I wanted to tell the tale of your weeping

at Lowell’s funeral, the whole of poetry

in American English waiting

through your instruction on the heart.

But details as quickly defeated my lesson

as your heart let you sleep forever.


I wanted them to know your bravery,

your kind of defiance, not theirs,

and its consequences. The years between us

are filled with energy and envy. They

inherit my death, the silence after my words,

which are your words, no one’s words, everyone’s

now, everyone’s. You died on Super Bowl Sunday.

They don’t remember the Cold War.


“What is a parasite?” I asked them.

A teacher, a poet, a child without a resume:

what I didn’t say. “Mosquitoes?” piped one.

No, it must live on or in its host.

They buzz from our blood to private pools.

Try mistletoe or all of us kissing under stars

on this one earth: what I do say.

Your leaders named you that and sentenced you.


Yesterday, you died. “Thus the source

of love turns into the object of love.”

Your sentence. Life in this country

had been “terribly good” to you.

Now I walk and mumble in the great swamp.

There are no mosquitoes, Joseph, only migrants

mostly, exiles. “And the clearer the song

is heard, the smaller the bird.”



–Quitman Marshall








Jacquelyn Markham’s Poem, “Irises”

Peering Into The Iris An Ancestral Journey Book Cover



“take me home

where canals



between iris-banks”




I peer into this iris mother

center deep with violet

down to succulent stem   entrance

to earth   nourishment   blue perfume

floats to summer days

Michigan cool


iris bed     lily of the valley sweetness

shadows on the north side of the house

years’ old mountain of forsythia bush lush

under the secret dome of branches

yellow flowerets   light interiors of spring

changed now to a summer cave of moss

black earth and silence   for a child



where were they all? the children?

taking naps? at school? leaving only you and me

you left me to myself

in my haven   feeling you there

from window looking out

buffalo grass my pillow   thick and cold

only one white jet stream cutting

azure sky in an entire afternoon


a clatter of plates would wake me

kitchen bright and steaming

reaching out   I would come to you

lily of the valley bouquet

an offering


damp fragrance of irises in my hair



Jacquelyn Markham