When People Could Fly: Prose Poems
1997, Hanging Loose, New York. 128 pages.
When People Could Fly is a collection of prose poems, which winds up being a sequence, in this case attempting nothing less than rewriting the history of the world with humor, compassion, and irony, as the speakers trace and reinvent well-known, little-known, and personal historical moments from the beginning of time to the end of the world.
"Marcus's great gift is his ability to nudge us into imaginary worlds by enlarging our expectations of language and metaphor. Simply put, Marcus is writing some of the best prose poetry being published today. His sensibility and poetics have influenced, and will continue to influence, the next generation of prose poets and fabulators." — Peter Johnson, Editor of The Prose Poem: An International Journal
"These eloquent prose poems journey over a vast landscape of human experience, myth, folk tale, and family history. Larger than life, spinning through time and space with imaginative pyrotechnics and acute perception, the poems are entertaining, sobering, and above all, wise." — Shirley Kaufman
"With the publication of When People Could Fly, the prose poem found a wonderful godfather in Morton Marcus..." — Alan Cheuse, The Britannica Yearbook, 1997
From When People Could Fly
When we sleep, the words inside us slide from their hiding places like thieves and assassins in a Renaissance city.
It is after midnight, but there are all these figures, muffled in cloaks or slipping from one pillar to another in black capes, who whisper and bicker, or come upon one another unexpectedly in the dark.
One stabs another in a shadowy arcade, and leaves the body where it falls. At the edge of a piazza, four ruffians, growling and cursing, carry off a drunken student in a burlap sack.
The facades of townhouses are still and dark, although whimpers and sighs and raspy snores flutter from the partially open windows, their meanings blurred by the fountains burbling in the squares.
The quiet everywhere is stippled by these sounds, as if the buildings were restless and muttering.
A shout. Lights flare at windows. Torches dot a piazza. It seems the body has been discovered.
But the sounds are confused, the reports garbled. Is it war, disease, the birth of an heir in the prince's palace?
A bell booms in a cathedral tower. The sound rushes in all directions over the tile rooftops.
A mile or two down the road leading to the city's west gate, a peasant in a cart lets his donkey guide him home as he sings of love, death and the joys of a simple life.