TO THE DRUGLESS MAN HOLDING A HOMELESS SIGN
But never mind that Ben, my friend in Social Services,
told me about the smack and oxycontin, and let us forget
you always sport a New York Stock Exchange baseball cap
as you halfheartedly clutch your folded, spindled cardboard sign
bearing your multi-colored plea, for neighbor I can imagine
that parts of you are sheltered only by the crumbled potion
cooked in spoons and booming like soft thunder in the punch line
of God’s private joke warmly whispered in your marrow,
the part of you facing middle fingers or the zombie stares
of people like me who just drive on, sometimes rolling through
the stop sign, making sure we never quite share your space
and catch whatever terrifying virus brought you here,
you its home and host as it returns the favor coldly
in its ravenous way, leading you by the hand and stroking
your blow-dried hair, stopping at this corner in the country’s
richest suburb and saying “Here,” under the unchained sky,
where the snowy, leaking stars are sleeping, not too far
from where my compassion lurks, wandering, often lost,
absent for long stretches from the brick walls of my heart.
“You don’t love because; you love despite;
not for the virtues, but despite the faults.”
I never knew his name but I knew that hers was Deborah
from all the times he came home drunk in the middle of the night,
locked out of their doublewide, wailing, “Deborah! Deborah!
Baby, let me in, I’m sorry, honey, I want to come in.”
A large woman who walked a little fluffy yappy dog
and talked about UFOs, she would cradle his head
of long greasy hair on the steps on summer nights,
the two of them sipping beer, gazing at fireflies.
But summer was long gone the very last time that I heard him
speak her name, bellow it in besotted pain
in the middle of the gravel road between their lot and ours.
On Christmas Eve, bathed in holiday lights straight out of Vegas
and giant blinking candy canes and squad-formation reindeer
staring out at lawn deer, of motorcycle Santa’s,
there he stood, celebrating the birth of our lord, amen,
with a bottle of Southern Comfort and the kind of psychic woe
religion was invented for, whiskey too, and let us
not forget the love of a woman on a cold dark night.
But she refused to scratch that itch, and the last thing he sobbed up
from his heart, his guts, I nearly had inscribed
on my wedding band, I can hear it still: “Deborah,
baby, Deborah, I love you…you fucking bitch.”
Mark Jackley is the author of six or seven chapbooks
whose readership now numbers in the high two digits.
His work has not appeared in Ploughshares, The New Yorker
or any publication whose rejections are cold and neat
as a double gin martini at a faculty lunch,
or so he imagines. However, his moral faults
have been faithfully translated into several languages,
Spanish most successfully, thanks to an ex-girlfriend
who appeared between his first and his next two marriages.
He has not received a McArthur award or a Guggenheim or won
a contest named for a god of verse, judged by a minor deity.
He has never graced the Peace Corps or fished crabs in the Bering Sea,
but has mopped up warehouse floors. He has busted shit with hammers.
He lives in Sterling, Virginia, with his wife and no adorable
pets but has two dogs, Max, a Blue Ridge Halfwit,
and Dixie, a sad example of the rare Australian Waddler,
both suffered by Leo the tabby cat, who is mercifully clean and quiet,
crowd-pleasingly aesthetic. Jackley’s sole impressive,
nay, immortal achievement is Liana Marie Jackley-
Angulo, his daughter, thirteen, sly and charismatic
in the manner of great poems, dolphins and meteor showers.
Despite his urgent attempts, she is revising herself.
About Mark Jackley
Refer to the poem entitled “CONTRIBUTOR” above to read Mark Jackley’s biography.