by Michael Mark

I imagine asking them by the power tools
at Home Depot or while their wives wait in line
to pee at the mall –

how they got their hip hitch, that spastic limp.
Some let me lean close enough to hear the suck
and pop of bone pulling

from its socket, grizzly slide of orthotic shoes
scraping concrete.
The arrhythmic defeat and refusal.

Some wear their broken stride like a uniform;
the staggerers live to be caught,
asked, You alright, sir? so they can launch

into an exhaustive account of blood loss
that day, pus-yellow rust on the fangs of the bulldozer
that left them uglier, less. Became their whale.

When they roll up a pant leg, I slide my fingers
over the scar still hot and pulsing from the battle in Stalingrad,
hear the splash of glass over the black-iced highway,

until their tale wheezes to an end, and they ask,
So what you got?
I mumble, Nothing, turn my smooth hands upward.

They fix me in their milky squint, squeeze my hand hard. Yet,
they say. Like there’s still hope. Like they’re blessing me
with a name I’ll one day know.


Michael Mark is a hospice volunteer and long distance walker. His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Alaska Quarterly Review, The American Journal of Poetry, Bellevue Literary Review, Cimarron Review, Columbia Poetry Review, Pleiades, Poet Lore, Potomac Review, Rattle, River Styx, Spillway, Sugar House Review, The Sun, Verse Daily and The Poetry Foundation’s American Life in Poetry. His poetry has been nominated for three Pushcart Prizes and the Best of the Net.


Filed under Poetry

4 responses to “Ishmael


    A portrait in poetry!

  2. Michael Mark

    Thanks for reading Thomas!

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