Michael Mark ~ Poems

Horse with No Name

He’s been on my back for three days. You’d think a shrunk
104 pounder wouldn’t be so heavy. But the Nevada desert
is bru­tal even in March and he wants to hit the Strip — should
be fun, an hon­or but he keeps steer­ing me off the path
to Wendy’s for free senior Frosties. He’s going to play craps
and you know that means me stand­ing the whole time, him
on my shoul­ders because there’s no chairs at crap tables. My back –
he nev­er asks. At the buf­fet, we’re jug­gling loaded plates, one
on my head, two in my hands, one wedged in the crook of my arm.
He’s up there wav­ing — a big hit. How ya doing, cow­boy? they ask.
What’s your horse’s name? I want to hear: Good Boy or Sonny.
I’m pre­pared for: It’s not a horse, it’s a jack­ass. That’s exact­ly why
I need him to ride me – to learn grat­i­tude, humil­i­ty, self­less­ness. Look
Dad! Crab Legs! He kicks as though his puffy pre­scrip­tion shoes
for his excru­ci­at­ing arthrit­ic feet have jin­gle-jan­gle, blood-let­ting spurs.


Have you heard — Klaus

has set up his luck shop under

a lad­der! He’s wear­ing a pur­ple cape!

He sells heart beats, too. For years,

he’s col­lect­ed the sounds of champion

ath­letes in mid-stride, athe­ists in doubt,

moth­ers at birth, infants’ first, criminals

pick­ing the bank’s vault, heroes’ final,

saints suf­fer­ing, the cow as the rifle cocks,

the inven­tor at their instant of discovery.

When shop­pers ask what good does it do -

lis­ten­ing to another’s heart­beat? Klaus

answers, that’s why I also sell luck.


The Butcher Fired Me

Now my apron is green. In my mind it’s white, drip­ping dark red. The wood crate is the body. I hack into the slats – the skin and bones. I cut the stems and leaves – the sinew, ten­dons. I lift the apples, pears, toma­toes – the steaks, liv­er, tongue. I hose them down, let the water run off like blood.


The Photographer, Valenska

That year, in July, the pho­tog­ra­ph­er Valenska

put out a notice for mod­els, male and female,

to be pho­tographed while defe­cat­ing. A serious

bach­e­lor esteemed for his Baltic seascapes and

stud­ies of sleep­ing Welsh sheep, he was buoyant

and sur­prised how many were will­ing to be captured

in this state, though he was stu­pe­fied that only

two would be pho­tographed wip­ing. “Why?!”

he moaned to his appren­tice and nephew, “is the

human adverse to acts of clean­li­ness? We are most

hap­py cre­at­ing mess­es: wars, chil­dren, cooking.”

This led Valenska to his cel­e­brat­ed exhibition,

Bubbles and Brushes. On November nineteenth,

he was dis­cov­ered with the Queen’s slight­ly damp

tow­els and beheaded.


Cold Call

When the phone rings mom calls, “Phone! Bob! Phone!” to the offi­cial phone answer­er. Dad’s hear­ing aids are curled up in a paper cof­fee cup in the kitchen. I tell her what he does when he has them in and the bat­ter­ies aren’t dead, “Let the machine pick it up!” She always push­es the speak­er but­ton on any­way. She miss­es her friends. She says hel­lo. “Do you know how impor­tant you are, Mrs. Mark?” the voice says. “Mrs. Mark, did you know Alzheimer’s dis­ease thus far is incur­able? 46 mil­lion peo­ple liv­ing with demen­tia. 1 out of 3 fam­i­lies are affect­ed. Someone devel­ops demen­tia every 3 sec­onds.” After every sta­tis­tic, she tsk-tsks, same as when she can’t find the kitchen or when I point out beau­ti­ful birds, or when she and dad watch rerun after rerun of The Big Bang Theory every night through the nights. “Do you know how impor­tant you are, Mrs. Mark?” the voice says. Tsk, tsk. “Mrs. Mark, are you still there?” I am here, yes, thank you. “You can see how impor­tant you are to peo­ple with the Alzheimer’s dis­ease, can’t you?” I think so. “These peo­ple are per­son­al­ly count­ing on you, Mrs. Mark. Your neigh­bors, your friends, maybe even fam­i­ly mem­bers who are too ashamed or don’t know yet that they car­ry this bur­den. Isn’t that sad, Mrs. Mark?” Tsk-tsk. “Mrs. Mark?” My moth­er asks, Do you know me? “My name is Brian.” My moth­er takes the pad and pen by the phone and writes. “Can your friends and fam­i­ly count on you, Mrs. Mark?” Brian, Brian, she hush­es to the pad. “Mrs. Mark, your fam­i­ly and friends want to know if they can count on you – can they?” I will try. “Very good! Your $100 dona­tion today will help these dear peo­ple. Do you have a cred­it card handy?” Dad took hers, replaced it with an expired one when she got upset. “Mrs. Mark? Can your fam­i­ly count on you?” I don’t know. I hope so. She puts the pad back, holds the pen. “Very good, Mrs. Mark. What is your cred­it card num­ber?” She puts the pen down. Maybe, I think maybe it’s best for you to call lat­er and talk to my hus­band lat­er. I can’t dri­ve any­more. “How about 25 dol­lars, Mrs. Mark? Even 10 dol­lars can help fight this dis­ease that steals mem­o­ries and destroys lives.” Tsk-tsk. “Mrs. Mark?” I don’t know. “When is a good time to call back?” She looks at the red num­bers on the alarm clock, then her left wrist, to the win­dow. “When is a good time to call back to talk with Mr. Mark?” I don’t cook any­more. He gets angry. “Ok. I’ll call back before din­ner. Have a good day.” Thank you. It’s a good today — I think. We haven’t been out­side. I put the news­pa­pers away. But I have to wait until Bob reads them all – he puts them togeth­er on my chair for me when he’s done and he looks at the bills – The dial tone comes on – the let­ters, the mail, then we will go out with our son, Michael. He’s here from California. I think maybe he is sleep­ing, too – he lives in California and we will decide where to go for lunch. I like Wendy’s chick­en nuggets. Bob likes hot­dogs from…from… She looks around for help. “Hey Ma!” She turns, smiles like she’s been wait­ing there hap­pi­ly, for years, just for me, her too thin arms rise high, spread. I fill them. Over her shoul­der, the notepad by the phone, her clear, care­ful hand­writ­ing: 1 out of 3.


Michael Mark is the author of Visiting Her in Queens is More Enlightening than a Month in a Monastery in Tibet which won the 2022 Rattle Chapbook prize. His poems have appeared in Copper Nickel, The New York Times, Pleiades, Ploughshares, Poetry Northwest, Sixth Finch, Southern Review, The Sun, 32 Poems and oth­er places. His two books of sto­ries are Toba and At the Hands of a Thief (Atheneum). michaeljmark.com