Moments Without Names:
New & Selected Prose Poems
2002, White Pine Press, Marie Alexander Poetry Series,
Buffalo, NY. 208 pages.
Moments Without Names is a volume of prose poems made up of selections from The Armies Encamped in the Fields Beyond the Unfinished Avenues and When People Could Fly. It is not set up chronologically, but thematically, and includes 65 new poems. As in When People Could Fly, the attempt is to trace the history of the world, both politically and personally. Humorous, ironic, poignant, compassionate.
"Morton Marcus has become a surperb master of the prose poem . . . Often it's the situation, the little storyline that captivates, the unimaginably tantalizing mini-stories, thumbnail histories, legends, pictures, myths, sketches, murals, and musicals . . . At other times, it is language, the physically affecting beauty of it, that sends a shiver up the spine . . . I couldn't get enough of this delectable stuff, and there is nothing like it anywhere." — Al Young
"Musing over everything from math to Mussorgsky, the Bible to the 'Celestial Bakeshop,' Marcus never errs in his vital retellings of our myths . . . like an erudite Mel Brooks playing Moses." — Publishers Weekly
Poems from Moments Without Names
Zapata rode a white stallion. When it galloped, its tail and mane were clouds swirling into storms. And when it sauntered into a village plaza, everyone knew that the man in the saddle was no ordinary campesino: under the wide brim of his sombrero, the mud-brown eyes were of the earth, their earth, as if their anguish and anger and the sweat of their labor had taken the shape of a man who had come to avenge them all.
The Baal Shem rode in a buggy tugged by a donkey. A big man with broad shoulders and ponderous belly, he was too large for the rig, but he rode in it over the rooftops of Eastern Europe, this tavern keeper touched by God, this confidant of angels, who was such a comforting thought in the minds of his people that when he clopped through a marketplace everyone nodded and smiled, so happy to know he was there that it made no difference whether he was on his way to wrestle the Evil One or to fill a grocery list.
Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz slid through the covered walkways and sacred portals of old Mexico, the black hood tenting her head in the same way the black habit tented her body, as if she moved through a longitude of night containing continents and oceans. It was a night where plunging ships wrenched the knowledge of the past into the future, and where, here and there in darkened villages, specks of light, fluttering from the windows of earthen huts, identified solitary figures reading at candlelit tables, learning from the great books of the dead how to make life better for the living.
I find the letter in a drawer, still sealed, postmarked five years ago. A letter that when opened shrieks for help, but silently—like a hand above the waves, clutching air.
I've seen him a number of times since he wrote it, but never once in word or gesture has he referred to it.
I call him three minutes later. Remarried, no longer a drunk, he says, "Your refusal to answer made me see how foolish I was, and caused me to change my life."
THE MOMENT FOR WHICH THERE IS NO NAME
On the sixteenth floor of one of the tall old buildings in the north end of the city, the windows of a vacant apartment look out over the bay. The apartment is empty, the floors and walls bare. There is only a chalked circle on the living room floor. The circle traces the spot where an armchair once stood, an armchair in which an old man regularly sat watching the smokestacks come and go in the harbor in the same way he had watched the swaying forests of masts when he was a boy, years before he became a bookkeeper for one of the city's three tool and die works.
The circle was drawn by the old man's grandson, while the child's parents were supervising the movers.
Tomorrow the new occupants will arrive, and preparatory to moving in they will clean the apartment. In the course of their cleaning, they will erase the chalk.
That is the moment for which there is no name.