Pages from a Scrapbook of Immigrants
1988, Coffee House Press, Minneapolis, MN. 130 pages.
Pages from a Scrapbook of Immigrants is a book of narrative poems tracing Marcus's family history from life in Russia through immigration to the United States, where his upbringing and becoming a poet is also recorded. It is an attempt to write a Tolstoyan panoramic novel, in 56 poems that serve as chapters, where the lyrical moment of the narrative event is sought.
"With superb control over language and strategy, Marcus (shows us) the newfound land shining in the eyes of the immigrants and, beyond that surface, to the lost lives left behind, by those from whom we come. Another brilliant book by Marcus." — Robert Solomon, Small Press Review
"What we all long for and find, in this intensely human collection of poems, is the bond that binds us to our own history . . . Mr. Marcus is a skillful poet whose lines flow with energy and elegance from one startling image to another. He is also a fine storyteller. These masterful narrative poems, like good theatre, are rich in drama, moving us from laughter to tears."
— Bitter Root: An International Poetry Magazine
Poems from Pages from a Scrapbook of Immigrants
GRANDFATHER REMEMBERS HIS YOUTH
In winter, the world outside became a universe of glassware,
like the merchandise old Lebenshorn piled on his wagon
that tottered from town to town, jiggling and clinking.
On such nights I'd hold my breath and hope that hush
would keep the trees and lakes and snowy fields,
the iced houses and glazed mud streets from shattering.
God was a glassmaker, just like old Lebenshorn said,
and like men stumbling without candles in the dark
we had to walk on tiptoe through His world
so we wouldn't smash all the goods on His shop.
The boy loses at every game—
checkers, backgammon, chess.
"Yes! Yes!" the old man roars with every win,
seated on the chair opposite,
and smacks his thighs again and again.
Then the boy discovers dominoes.
He sets his pieces on the table
with the dotted sides towards him.
The markings hover and glow
like an intergalactic Morse code,
whole star systems of white signals.
The old man's squinting eyes
struggle to comprehend,
but all he can see
is a small boy's black wall facing him,
a starless sky—empty, impenetrable,
like the one that surrounds his head.
Each piece the old man places on the table
is a star system of his own, but the boy
matches star clusters, extends galaxies,
in unexpected directions,
bewildering the old man,
who watches craftily now
from somewhere behind his eyes
at the constellations spread before him.
The boy claps his hands and yells, "Yes! Yes!"
each time he fits a final piece in place.
And "Yes! Yes!" the old man joins in, "Yes!"
raising his fists above his head
as if now he could hammer nails
into the blackness of the sky.
THE NEW GLASSES
Old and scrawny, his grandfather waits in front of the house.
Two copper-colored mirrors in oval wire frames cover his eyes.
"Prescription," he says, and chuckles at his grandson's face:
he can stare out at the boy, but the boy cannot stare in at him.
"I can look daggers at a neighbor, but vhat can he see?
I can be facing a building, a trolley, a car,
and be rolling my eyes at a zoftig voman on the street—
who's to know, who's to guess, who can tell a thing?"
Jauntily he starts upstairs, stops, taps his sunglass frames,
and says, "MacArthur vears dhese vhen he fights dha Japanese."
Upstairs, his grandma giggles, points to her eyes,
and says her husband wears a mask "just like some cowboy bandit,
or like them boys with pompadours who lean all day on cars,"
and mutters that he is "no longer Jewish."
The old man cackles, lifts his head and howls,
then grabs her and whirls her round. She laughs
and beats her tiny fists against his chest.
The boy sees but is not seen: he is witness to an old man dancing,
a blind old man with copper coins upon his eyes
who gropes from one side of darkness to the other
with a doll-like woman hanging from his neck.
"I got my eye on you, young boychik—you hear?
I see where you are!" the old man calls,
whirling deeper into the shadows with his ancient bride.