By Sarah Marcus:


You said you were afraid of bears—

we weren’t safe until there was ice
along the shoreline. I said we all need trauma,

and my heart breaks every Autumn, so we broke
ourselves against those rocks until the cave mouth opened:

a womb for blind crayfish,
a passageway harboring beetles.

I want you to reach into the depths of your backwoods
and remember our Winters. We need the bears, ourselves

ursine sleeping in dens—the caverns drip-stoned and stunning.
I was and still am in search of a great bear

because people have always known bears—
we will always be shelter for each other.

When we first met, I told you that a long time ago,
grizzlies came down from the Rockies—

they were poisoned on the range, trapped,
hounded, shot out—we found cranial fragments.

We still listen to those legends of bounties paid
to mountain men, harboring that ancient fear of

the bears that made meat of us, boar and sow,
mauled and gnawed away. Our bones resting in caves,

because you were born to hunt, and I was
born of hunting: a witness of great fires.


First snow of the season—
your eyes say
there’s not much oxygen
                  in the mountain air

I have never wanted someone
                  as much as I want you.

I devalued the damage:
you won’t belong—stay gone longer—

                  let it melt.

I’ve been thinking about you
                  because we cannot be separate.
The gravitational pull defies
                  the thousands of miles between us.

Even in the deepest woods,
                  we kneel beside the rill,
the river’s riffle,
the spruce’s mantle of rime,

                  until the point of rock
                                  swells tightly around us.

There’s a chant building in the forest: I won’t be your secret.

Everyone knows how to leave,
but I don’t know how to be
in this city
without you.


These things are real:
you are a desert moon rising a hundred mornings away.
My horses paw a cracked Earth.
The air threatening Winter.
The solitude of sand.
We can smell the danger

of you and her
in that house.
In every house.

When you are so strongly connected
to another person, what did you call it? Rare?
It’s like the sunset.
No one can hold that kind of beauty
for more than a moment.

Our small ribs are thick
enough to take on a prairie panic.
The fear of too much open space.
So many acres;
we can never catch up.

You say I’m always on your side
and this will always mean more
to a woman.

I try to explain that love is a violence,
even when it’s beautiful.
When you enter someone,
you must also leave them.

And there’s always that moment of relief
when I realize that I’ve always known—
I am a hundred deserts.

I will wait for you or some version of you
to become sky.

Today’s poems are from They Were Bears (Sundress Publications, 2017), copyright © 2017 by Sarah Marcus, and appear here today with permission from the poet.

They Were Bears gives us a world that is intimate, complicated, and lush in its raw, brutal meditation upon the complexities of Nature, both within and beyond our grasp as both human beings and animals. These poems by Sarah Marcus channel what the world demands of us, and our bodies as we are guided through a startling cartography of desire, trauma, and memory that is both refuge and wilderness. Marcus writes, ‘I want to say that there are places I have to go, and you have to follow me…through all this orange light, every version of the color red, we betray ourselves for miles.’ With stunning craft and intuition, Marcus places her lyric power against the beautiful, terrifying bones in us where words often feel broken and impossible. Her poems expand through their stark and luminous discoveries to reveal a natural and psychic world too complex to ignore. Marcus gives us sacred breath in which to claim that world when she writes, ‘We inscribe the rocks/with our names, wanting a sign,/want the sky to say:/This is mainland. Solid ground./The place you’ve been looking for.’” -Rachel Eliza Griffiths, author of Lighting the Shadow

Sarah Marcus is the author of They Were Bears (2017, Sundress Publications), Nothing Good Ever Happens After Midnight (2016, GTK Press), and the chapbooks BACKCOUNTRY (2013) and Every Bird, To You (2013). Her other work can be found at NPR’s Prosody, The Huffington Post, McSweeney’s, Cimarron Review, Spork, The Establishment,, and Marie SA, among others. She is an editor at Gazing Grain Press and the Series Editor for As It Ought To Be’s High School Poetry Series: Gender, Identity, & Race. She holds an MFA in poetry from George Mason University and currently teaches and writes in Cleveland, OH.

Editor’s Note: In the Jewish calendar, the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are a surreal and reflective time of reckoning. During these days we are introspective, coming to terms with our true selves before turning outward and asking forgiveness from those who we have wronged. It is in these Days of Awe that I come back to a collection I have been meaning to review for quite some time. It is in this magical time of brutal honesty that I dive deeply into a carefully-wrought world that is far beyond my comfort zone, with eyes and heart wide open to its savage and beautiful truths.

They Were Bears is one of the most thoughtful–if not the most thought-provoking–poetry collections to be released in recent memory. Rife with hunger and blood and animal instinct, this work pulsates at the intersection of nature and violence, family, sex, and love. They Were Bears drags us mercilessly back to our animal nature, honoring vulnerability and calling out sexual violence. This book pulls no punches, spares us little. What is reflected in its waters is our truest selves, as beautiful and terrifying as they are wont to be.

The tender, ravenous, brutal honesty of the book’s thematic spectrum is brought to life by the true craftsmanship of the poet. This is an absolutely stunning collection on every level–its words and images thrash and breathe, fly and tether. The poems are lush in their soundscape, and on the page they mark their territory distinctly. And the moments. The breathtaking moments. How true their revelation, declarations, and admissions: “because you were born to hunt, and I was / born of hunting: a witness of great fires;” “I try to explain that love is a violence, / even when it’s beautiful. / When you enter someone, / you must also leave them.”

Mazal tov to Sarah Marcus on this incredible work, and may we all start anew together in these Days of Awe.

Want more from Sarah Marcus?
Sarah Marcus’ Official Website

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Prose Poem in the Wake of Charlottesville

Embed from Getty Images


Prose Poem in the Wake of Charlottesville

By Brett Ashley Kaplan


The forgotten stone memorials awaken and remind us of the confederate glories the ubiquitous cross-hatched flag celebrates slavery repression pain racism is as apple pie as baseball and in the mix is the Jewhatred why is the left surprised?

Seriously, the marching torches aren’t resonant enough with Triumph of the Will the will to overcome difference to erase difference to wash everything Aryan whiter than the white KKKsheets and purer than melting icecaps of dubious snow purity and danger the danger of impurity and the call to get rid of the Jews get rid of the blacks get rid of the immigrants get rid of

In the night unseen but with great force the stone statues of the confederacy topple

Somewhere in the country people play at the civil war

Reenactment as a game of chance…who wants to be a union soldier when a confederate soldier is so much more fun so much more pure so much more American? The side that lost forever wanting to ride again on those stone statue horses to victory a victory that would have ossified a plantation economy

The south under water now no power

“Jews will not replace us”

hand raised aloft “The Jewish Media is going down”

the jews control hollywood the jews control hollywood the jews control hollywood—how many times I have heard that shit? When I heard it in one of my own graduate seminars I was shocked I shouldn’t have been it is everywhere this claim of control

tensions, anxieties, zero-sum competitions for memorial resources between blacks and Jews jews are white jews get white privilege yes, yes, many of us do tensions anxieties we are lumped together unite the right bonds antisemitism to racism expulsion of all of us purity and a straight up nostalgia for desire for love for Nazism not masked just their “Sieg Heil” those fuckers even said do they know fully know about genocide? Do they care? Can they really celebrate the genocide of millions of Jews, communists, queers, Jehovah’s witnesses, resistance fighters? Do they celebrate the enslavement and murder and rape of millions of black women men children…

the stone statues to the confederacy are alive now their horses gallop through the south through the world they have always trembled at the edge of awakeness and they are here in the present the civil war is still being fought


About the Author:

Brett Ashley Kaplan is the Director of the Program in Jewish Culture & Society, Director of the Initiative in Holocaust, Genocide, and Memory Studies, and Professor and Conrad Humanities Scholar in the Program in Comparative and World Literature at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Her first books, Unwanted Beauty: Aesthetic Pleasure in Holocaust Representation (2007) and Landscapes of Holocaust Postmemory (2011), examine the Shoah’s intersections with art and space. Her newest book is Jewish Anxiety in the Novels of Philip Roth (2015) and she is working on a project tentatively entitled jewblack is blackjew: tensions, intersections, and interactions among Jewishness and Blackness in Contemporary art.

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By Helen Hunt Jackson

Only a night from old to new!
Only a night, and so much wrought!
The Old Year’s heart all weary grew,
But said: “The New Year rest has brought.”
The Old Year’s hopes its heart laid down,
As in a grave; but, trusting, said:
“The blossoms of the New Year’s crown
Bloom from the ashes of the dead.”
The Old Year’s heart was full of greed;
With selfishness it longed and ached,
And cried: “I have not half I need.
My thirst is bitter and unslaked.
But to the New Year’s generous hand
All gifts in plenty shall return;
True love it shall understand;
By all my failures it shall learn.
I have been reckless; it shall be
Quiet and calm and pure of life.
I was a slave; it shall go free,
And find sweet peace where I leave strife.”
Only a night from old to new!
Never a night such changes brought.
The Old Year had its work to do;
No New Year miracles are wrought.

Always a night from old to new!
Night and the healing balm of sleep!
Each morn is New Year’s morn come true,
Morn of a festival to keep.
All nights are sacred nights to make
Confession and resolve and prayer;
All days are sacred days to wake
New gladness in the sunny air.
Only a night from old to new;
Only a sleep from night to morn.
The new is but the old come true;
Each sunrise sees a new year born.

(Today’s poem is in the public domain, belongs to the masses, and appears here today accordingly.)

Helen Maria Hunt Jackson (1830 – 1885) was an American poet and writer who became an activist on behalf of improved treatment of Native Americans by the United States government. (Bio courtesy of Wikipedia, with edits.)

Editor’s Note: Wishing all who celebrate Rosh Hashanah this week a shanah tovah umetukah, a good and sweet new year. May today’s poem remind us that now is an opportunity for change, but that we must be the change we want to see in the world.

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Learning from (Illinois) Nazis


Learning From (Illinois) Nazis

By Ezra Claverie

In the weeks since a white supremacist in Charlottesville used a car to attack anti-fascists, a lot of people have been posting on Facebook the scene from The Blues Brothers (John Landis, 1980) where Jake and Elwood drive their car at Illinois Nazis. The Nazis jump off the bridge, humiliated but unhurt, then spend the rest of the film trying, but failing, to kill Jake and Elwood.

The bridge scene gets laughs in part because of the self-seriousness of the leader of the Nazis, played by steely-eyed but short and unimposing Henry Gibson, but also in part because Jake and Elwood transgress a liberal norm. They defy the limits of an American liberalism that says the law should protect the speech (and so on) even for groups who would, given control of the levers of state power, use that power not only to eliminate legal protections for dissenting speech, but also to expel or exterminate opponents.

If Jake and Elwood really believed in American-style liberalism–the old “I may disagree with you but I defend your right to speak”–we wouldn’t have the scene, as famous as any in the film. The brothers’ transgression allows audiences to experience vicariously the thrill of flouting this norm against a group that most people already love to hate. But the stakes for Jake and Elwood, white Catholics not affiliated with the left, began low. Had they just waited their turn in the traffic jam, they might have had no problems even if the Illinois Nazis had later captured the government. (The same does not hold for their Black band mates or the Black artists whose songs the Blues Brothers cover. And would Illinois Nazis even allow the performance of such entartete musik?)

Karl Schmitt–the German, coincidentally Catholic, and, after 1933, Nazi jurist–explicitly articulated a principle relevant here, which American liberalism rejects: the friend-enemy distinction, upon which (Schmitt argued) all political life operates.

According to Schmitt, you must define as “enemy” one who seeks to eliminate the circumstances that allow you and your group, collectively, to exist as political actors. The Enemy “intends to negate his opponent’s way of life and therefore must be repulsed or fought in order to preserve one’s own form of existence.” 

Rivals and opponent groups may bitterly debate and wrangle with your group, but provided they do not constitute an existential threat, you can count them as Friends. In contrast, an Enemy aims to remove your group from the field of political contestation. Schmitt therefore argued that only political parties not intent on neutralizing or dismantling the parliamentary system, as the Nazis did, should be allowed participation in the Reichstag. Nevertheless, when they came to power, he joined.

Alex James Fields, the white supremacist who drove the car that killed Heather D. Heyer and injured many others, identified his Enemies. He drove a car into a crowd that included members of Democratic Socialists of America and Industrial Workers of the World, leftist groups of the kind that fascists, whether in or out of state power, target for killing. Fields, who associated with the neo-Nazi group Vanguard America, sought to eliminate the fundamental circumstance that allowed his Enemies to exist as political actors: their lives. For observers and survivors, the attack functioned as terrorism, an implicit warning: if you come out against white supremacy, the same could happen to you. He clarified American white supremacy as an existential threat to anti-racists and the left.

And yet on the same grounds we could characterize Jake and Elwood’s rush at the Illinois Nazis as an act of political terrorism. We hear the car’s engine revving, but we never hear the brakes; nothing in the scene suggests that Elwood will stop if the Nazis stand their ground. Their leap into the river gives them and the movie a means of escape from the serious question of what to do about people who, if they came to power, would slaughter you, me, or our friends. The failure of Jake and Elwood’s act of terrorism, like the failure of the Nazis’ quest for vengeance, turns the scene into comedy.

Liberals, both in the classical European and American senses, tend to imagine a political world without Enemies, where political stakes never rise to life-and-death. Within their political horizon, liberals treat disagreements as temporary and tactical, with deliberations over details of policy or administrative practice taking the place of struggles over fundamental questions, which mythologized culture heroes settled long ago. The failure or betrayal of state-socialist alternatives to neoliberal capitalism, to which Thatcher famously claimed “There is no alternative,” has only exacerbated this tendency.

Schmitt and many on the left and right regard as wishful thinking the notion of a world without political Enemies. Charlottesville reminded us that the stakes of political life remain high, especially for those who confront America’s resurgent and racist far right.


About the Author: 

Ezra Claverie has a PhD from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. His essays have appeared in Intensities: The Journal of Cult Media, The Journal of American Culture, The Journal of Popular Culture, and Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media. His primary research looks at Hollywood studios’ use of superheroes owned by the comics duopoly of DC and Marvel, reading these films as allegories of the corporate management of intellectual property. He teaches in the Writing Program at NYU Shanghai.

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Performed by Rolf Cahn and Eric Von Schmidt

Editor’s Note: I have been reading Isaac’s Storm by Erik Larson, which tells of the Great Storm of 1900. That Category 4 hurricane decimated the town of Galveston, Texas, killing between six and twelve thousand people, making it the deadliest natural disaster in U.S. history. I was reading this book as Hurricane Harvey ravaged Houston and beyond. I am reading it now, still, as Hurricane Irma sweeps over the Caribbean and heads for the U.S. mainland. I am thinking of those who are fleeing and those who are staying put to weather the storm. Of those who have lost everything. Of those who have lost their lives. I am thinking of global warming and our current regime of climate change deniers. I am thinking of the fires that are burning in the west. I am thinking of friends and their families, and of those who are my kin because of our shared humanity. I am thinking of how history repeats itself and of the lessons we fail to learn from the before time.

Today’s poem is a folk song that remembers the Great Storm of 1900, and dedicated to those who are now suffering, who have suffered, who will suffer still.

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Albert Herter @ Koenig & Clinton


Albert Herter, Compound Growth #2, acrylic ink, colored pencil, oil pastel, watercolor, marker on paper, Sheet: 16 x 20 in (40.6 x 50.8 cm), Frame: 19 3/4 x 23 5/8 in (48.3 x 60 cm), 2017.

Albert Herter @ Koenig & Clinton 

by Matt Gonzalez

Albert Herter, “The Quincux Aspect”
Koenig & Clinton, 1329 Willoughby Avenue, Brooklyn, NY
June 3 — September 1, 2017

Albert Herter’s show at Koenig & Clinton, “The Quincux Aspect”, presents a series of Lacanian drawings Herter has been working on for nearly a decade. They parallel his study of and experience undergoing Lacanian psychoanalysis. The exhibition at Koenig & Clinton is Herter’s first solo show in New York City. He first presented 23 similarly themed drawings in a solo show at Partisan Gallery in San Francisco’s Mission District in 2012. The current show includes 45 medium-sized color drawings made from acrylic ink, colored pencil, oil pastel, and marker on paper.

The basic subject of the work is the subconscious, and Herter, now a Lacanian analyst by day, pours out what are intricate scenes and rich drawings filled with Gargantuan and Rabelaisian themes of excess. The result is a series of narratives that sit suggestively beneath the ego layer, many revolving around sexuality and decadence. The drawings also offer a veiled commentary on the excesses of capitalism. Perhaps this says something about what lies latent in the ego of society itself.

The drawings are set very theatrically, either in some kind of outdoor landscape or city square. The characters are elaborately costumed, articulated marionettes, although they lack any apparent strings or controls suggesting the absence of determinism. Usually paired in settings of two or three, the characters engage in, or act out, a drama filled with interpretive complexity.


Albert Herter, Pantagruelling #3, acrylic ink, colored pencil, oil pastel, marker on paper, Sheet: 11 3/4 x 8 1/2 in (29.8 x 21.6 cm), Frame: 15 3/4 x 12 3/8 in (40 x 34.4 cm), 2016.

More akin to the literary works of Apuleius and Petronius, the drawings do not themselves have obvious historical antecedents, although it can be said the work is influenced by 20th century comix tradition. But there are also more classical influences: the pre-Raphaelites whose reliance on abundant detail, rich colours and complex compositions comes to mind, as does German Expressionism, particularly George Grosz who presents luxury and the grotesque in coexistence. Herter’s portrayal of the body can also be viewed as unmistakable baroque, with ornate detail reminiscent of artists who favored the suggestion of lusciousness over the rendering of exact forms.

The Lacanian principle, jouissance, is invoked to show the dialectical interplay between enjoyment and suffering. By transgressing the limits of pleasure, Herter’s characters often exceed the boundaries of pleasure, thereby entering the realm of suffering and pain. The message here is that the very thing that one enjoys, and which the body gains pleasure from, can also be a destructive, consuming force. In this regard, Lacanians would posit that the sexual orgasm is self-annihilating and in that sense, these works seem to devour themselves with their overabundance. Herter invokes the intimate gaze of the voyeur with some characters who seem just out of the narrative. Yet a claustrophobia attends to the cramming of symbols into such small compositions.

The title The Quincux Aspect likely refers to quincunx, which denotes a geometric pattern of five points arranged in a cross-like formation. It can also refer to a bronze coin that was used in the Roman Republic and valued at 5/12ths. Herter may be referencing a grouping just under a majority, or a nod to religious iconography, suggesting in both cases a lack of the individual’s power. In many respects the economic narratives that pit the haves against the have-nots renders individual choice meaningless — and, in a sense, obscene.


Albert Herter, Aposematism #6, acrylic ink, colored pencil, oil pastel, watercolor, marker on paper, Sheet: 16 x 16 in (40.6 x 40.6 cm), Frame: 19 3/4 x 19 5/8 in (50.2 x 49.8 cm), 2017.

Herter has said that he does not think at all while drawing these scenes.  The narratives appear on their own, naturally hinged to his experience, yet outside of it, with many of the bodies rendered disjoined and fragmented in exceptional ways. The drawings present aspects of anamorphic portraiture with the corresponding emotional confusion and psychosis, presented in contrast to characters in reverie of the pleasurable and excessive.

Given this, these works act as powerful artifacts of Herter’s Lacanian explorations. What could have been left on the floor of a psychoanalytic session is rendered in beautifully provocative colored drawings. These works invite direct personal response. In fact, it can be said that they were made to be interpreted. One suspects that Herter wouldn’t want to have the last say on their meaning.

The show ends tomorrow, September 1, 2017.  Don’t miss it. It’s at Koenig & Clinton’s new location in Bushwick. The gallery is open 11am to 6pm.

By Matt Gonzalez

Albert Herter (b. 1980, San Francisco) holds a BFA in New Genres from the San Francisco Art Institute, where he studied abstract painting, video, installation, and performance. His drawing work with accompanying surrealist text was published by Comfortable on a Tightrope (Manchester) and Museums Press (Glasgow) as In the Curtyard: Orchestrated Reduction of the Fantasm. Herter lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.

Addendum: Dana Smith notes that The Quincux Aspect is an astrological term. From AstroWiki: “An aspect of 150 degrees between two planets. The quincunx is thought to be one of the most important minor aspects. It is valid with an orb of up to three degrees. Even astrologers who do not usually work with minor aspects often include quincunx aspects in their interpretations. The quincunx is classified neither as a harmonious nor as an aspect of tension. It indicates potential that is difficult to realise. In contrast to the square or opposition it doesn’t usually feel like a significant source of tension, demanding action.”

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Two Poems By Sean Karns

Tina Modotti “Hands Resting on Tools” 1927 
Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program.

Two Poems

By Sean Karns


The Man of Dirt Toils in the Laughter of His Wayward World

A long way off, the Man of Dirt heard something.
He has been diluted by his design for years.

He took a moment to understand the commotion.
It has been a while. Once upon a time,

It is said, he walked away. Everything I have designed
Has been a disappointment, he contemplated.   

On all fours he placed his ear to his dirt.
Buried under his dirt, laughter.

Not that pat-your-back kind of laughter,
But the kind of laughter when all that is left

Is the sunken world. Work to be done.
A lot of dirt to dig through to bring light

To those laughs, he thought. He gazed at his dirty,
Chapped hands—brittle and old like a kid’s

Digging stick. He massaged his hands and remembered
When he was young and ambitious.

I had my whole world ahead of me, he somberly
Declared to no one particular.   

This is the last time, the last time, he bemoaned.
Those words, like words in an echo-chamber,

Caused laughter; so loud the laughter, the dirt
Murmured. He stumbled and cracked a rib

On an elbow protruded through dirt.
Ah, I get it. A little elbow ribbing, he snickered.

He began, again, as always, the digging.
He tunneled toward the laughter.

So sinister, so alive the dark laughter.
Blinded by the dark, he toiled in the laughter


The Son Witnesses

The son asks his father how the world works. The father looks at the car grease under his nails and cleans them with his front teeth. He pulls the globe out of the closet and selects a serrated knife, then sits. His knife feels familiar in his hand as he shows his son how to cut the globe. The son watches over his father’s shoulder, wanting to know. The father hands the knife to his fellow worker. But the son is nervous, like the first time he walked around his neighborhood block alone. The son cuts the globe; it feels like cutting into a tree branch. The plastic shards fall. The father stands; his hand is on his son’s back as pieces of the ocean and countries, unknown to both, fall.


“The Man of Dirt Toils in the Laughter of his Wayward World” originally appeared in the Birmingham Poetry Review.

“The Son Witnesses” originally appeared in Cold Mountain Review and is published in Jar of Pennies.


About the Author: 

Sean Karns has an MFA in creative writing from the University of Illinois and a BA from The Ohio State University. He is the author of a collection of poetry, Jar of Pennies, and his poetry has appeared in the Birmingham Poetry Review, Hobart, Rattle, Pleiades, Los Angeles Review, Cold Mountain Review, Folio, and elsewhere; and his poetry has been anthologized in New Poetry from the Midwest. He is currently the poetry editor at Mayday Magazine and teaches at Wittenberg University.

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