top of page

from Knot Magazine's Featured Writer, Jack Marshall 



The University of Heaven

Falling, away, fast, far, faster – look
back, a world aborted, on the brink,
with every blink glaucoma


has the heart
turning thick
with blood as a brain


with thoughts. Light
of dead stars is not dead; nor light
from the dear dead not far


from the University of Heaven:
Heavenars – Heavener! Heavenists --
Last call! -- let the crisis pass!


O pilgrim, discovering the port
you longed for was
the port of departure,


sanctity is not required; no fatal
crush, no stampeding hordes:
decency is enough.


Eden wasn’t called a garden
For no reason: steady-state, eternal
summer, the only one season.


Think how far you will have traveled
from the oily cannibal, capitalism, and go out
again armed with the confusion that comes


to a head in creation’s steamy, salt lips
firmly, finely -- like sunshine warming
on closed lids, and, over the cornea, -- kiss.

Never twice the same way


Never twice the same way
we arrive without practice,
while matters darken
when our mood is play:


matters once serious turn
frivolous, wiped away
to learn what bliss is,
another way, other kisses,


dazzling spells of our best
young selves’ wrong guesses
water our mouths, liquefied
in laughter, the tongue’s hammer.


Fleeting day’s sorrow, must you

stay, today, tomorrow? One wants not
to have to choose between all the things

they’ll have to lose.

Beneath our star we’re what two
drops of water are – not as naked, though,
not total, complete, all over,
letting go.

Each generation wars on its children

Each generation wars on its children –
this contagion will not be news


to anyone: leaders lie, let others die;
the trusted cheat; hot lovers, in their day,


now feel no heat, sinking with the crew

as shipwrecks do.

Old men send young men and women to war,
Gargling the garbage their fathers swore.


What odds! – the bankered, bunkered, one
percent versus the ninety-nine


of riven, shriven crowds, their bundled,
mortgaged beholdenness; new monster


markets, technologies, old chicanery, weaponized
bankrolls against the meek, the medicated to whom


a crumb, when it comes, comes one by measly one; from
applicant to supplicant, addicted to plummeting wages,


and the sick and elderly worry the cost of
distance, effort, timing, dosage – not so much looks -- ,


while the moneyed in sleek stretch limos don’t need
to walk the streets. As mothers’ bellies bump history,


history lunches on mothers’ bellies. Boys and girls
under the paw, bud, prowling the air, urging


what they’re intended for – longing for what is yet
to come, not for what has gone, and who


hate their fathers and love their grandfathers.
That’s all done – what used to be! Of what used to be,


We no longer want to mean. Sanctity is no longer
required; decency is enough, as if nature’s


mouth might twist something human from
not-yet dust.

Jack Marshall was born in Brooklyn to Jewish parents who emigrated from Iraq and Syria and now lives in California. He is the author of the memoir From Baghdad to Brooklyn and several poetry collections that have received the PEN Center USA Literary Award, two Northern California Book Awards, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a nomination from the National Book Critics Circle.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Accomplished and expressive language permeates this coming-of-age memoir. Born in 1936, the author (Gorgeous Chaos), an award-winning poet, was the son of an Iraqi father and a Syrian mother, and raised in an Arabic-speaking, Sephardic household in Brooklyn. His memories, sparked by a trove of unsent letters written by his father, capture the tensions between his parents (whose marriage had been arranged), and evokes a childhood, shared with younger brother, Nat, and a sister, Renee, that was marked by his mother's fearfulness of the world outside (she never learned English). Marshall provides mouth-watering descriptions of Arabic meals and complex portraits of his extended family. Writing with insight and humor, he provides sharp visual sketches of baseball summers, trips to Coney Island and his unrequited love for a Sicilian classmate in elementary school. At the heart of this story is Marshall's disenchantment with religion, the growing appeal of science and his commitment to poetry, which temporarily estranged him from his background. When he planned to marry a Christian, Renee, on behalf of the family, offered his fiancée $10,000 to call off the wedding. Decades later, a trip Marshall took with Renee (now terminally ill with cancer) and Nat is lovingly recounted. 8 b&w photos not seen by PW.(Oct.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


From Booklist

Here is a Jewish immigration story seldom told. Born in Brooklyn in the 1930s, the son of Arabic-speaking Jews, Marshall grew up Sephardic, "a minority within a larger minority." His mother was from Syria, his father from Iraq; they met in an arranged marriage in America, a marriage that never worked. Their son speaks Arabic in his stormy home, English at public school, Hebrew at religious school--until he breaks away. The detail brings you up close to the archetypal assimilation struggle, including his discovery of the library and the power of literature, science, and radical politics. How can he reconcile Darwin and Genesis? Great literature, including Emerson, Shakespeare, and Dylan Thomas, pushes him to nonconformity. But what is most haunting is the world he leaves behind, the home where education is actively discouraged, jobs are limited to the emigre community, and his furious mother's refusal to learn English is her way of being--and staying--in her world. Hazel RochmanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

bottom of page