M. Jennifer Markus – When I was in my teens


The ultimate nothingness
Like a light being turned off
You’re there, but you’re not


You can see but there’s nothing to see
You can hear, but there’s nothing to hear
You touch, but sensation just doesn’t come
You are surrounded, but alone
The light doesn’t give you heat
You understand but it’s so confusing
You are pure thought
An idea in time…


The ultimate nothingness
Like a light being turned off
An idea in time…


The Poet’s Thoughts:  This is the oldest surviving poem I have.   I was in Junior High School when I wrote it.   Literally—when I was bored in class I worked on it.  My poetry is cataloged by year so the number at the end of the poem is the year it was written.


Like a pendulum
Back and forth, back and forth
Reality, Null
Between time and space
Until you feel as

tiny as a pinhead and as


And back again

Like the whole

World is



Being here

and there

The same yet different
Like a pendulum

Time and


A paradox.


The Poet’s Thoughts:  I have always been interested in paradoxes, more specifically, which will show up in later poems, the seeming paradox of light being both a particle and a wave.  The idea that something can be two direct opposites and still exist fascinated me.  The poem was first written in 1978 and then revised, slightly, in 1983.


The Forest Floor

The rain patters-

Drop by drop

Upon the leaves-
That gently


One by one

Onto the forest floor-

Now covered with a soft carpet of debris.

The wind blows-

Parting the curtains of water

One after another

That covers the leaves-

Like a blanket of dew

Spreading over each and every one

On the forest floor-

Rustled in the passing breeze.

The sun shines

His bright face shows through

The clouds high, high above

The gusty wind-

making his path

into every passing day

And the rain-

Buries the trail

As soon as it’s blazed

In the leaves-

That have no memories

And only know

The forest floor-
That holds them.
A rainbow appears-
the colors emerge

one by one

Dancing under the sun-
in newborn freedom
As the breeze dies-


As the rain dies-
the downpour falters, stumbles and falls
Into the open arms of the leaves-
That welcome it

and bury it deep

Beneath the forest floor.


The Poet’s Thoughts:  This was my first attempt at a kind of form within a poem, rather than just at getting the words right with the feeling I had inside.  To me it is pleasing the way the poem builds and then comes back on itself.


“…Lucifer, the bearer of light, the spur to curiosity and thus to knowledge.”  –William Woods


From the fires of hell
All things emerge
The wicked, the wanton, the wayfaring
All will return at the glorious moment
when the flames burst and the world explodes
In one faire, sweet uniting of minds, dividing of lives
From the saviour who haunts us all.

Let the fire burn
Let it leap and roar
Let the hungry flames
Engulf the core
Kindle it carefully
Watch the flames rise
Higher and higher
till it touches the sky
Up to the stars
to the eternity
burning us all
The flame will die
the ashes will rise
In the passing wind
where everything dies.

From the fires of hell
All things emerge…


The Poet’s Thoughts:  My views on God have undergone so many revisions it’s interesting to look back and see the pieces that built the beliefs I have today.  I ended up Jewish, but my view of God is steeped in the mystical and the feminine.  And it’s probably pretty obvious that, even at 15, I wasn’t too keen on the Catholic view of God that was being presented to me.


A Question of Youth

I wrote a letter to a friend
And asked him to explain
How everything is different
Yet it’s all still the same
With all the riddles and the loopholes
Can I be to blame
For feeling only confusion
At the thought of playing the game
I told him I was searching
For a reason of my own
For some sort of meaning
To lean on when alone
Replied he–life is what it seems
That hopes and dreams

you’ll find

Are just the common illusions
Fighting the boundaries of your mind.
The time is soon when we will cease
And all the games we play
Will not make a difference
In any sort of way.

I wrote a letter to my brother
With hopes of asking why
In a world that professes honesty
Do I hear only lies
Where love abounds
Malice is all that fills my eyes
I look for smiles but only find
Hurting, tearful sighs
I told him I was trying
To find the real me
Who I am, what I want
How I wish to be
He said to me all are trapped
Behind four castle walls
And no hears our lonely cries
Our pleading, begging calls
For help; beyond the reach and care
Of those who know, in vain,
The walls must be so strong, so true
Keep in that lonesome pain
And it’s no use fighting for yourself
No one  thinks that way
Hypocritically, he tells me
To give my life away
For all you see and all you do
Is bound to end someday
And so to get to heaven
When the final judgment comes
To pass through the pearly gates
They tally up the sums
Of how much you have  thrown away
How little you have left
It’s what you give that matters
Not what you have kept
So don’t worry who or how
They don’t really care
Just do what you have to
What will get you there.

I wrote a letter to the judge
Begged him to give me clue
To why the world is as it is
But this he would not do
I asked him once, I asked him twice
But still could not get through
That I had to have the answers
Told him I felt he knew
I said I was looking for a way
To make reality less harsh
A way to get around
The living of the farce
He said for one so young, so foolish
These questions I shouldn’t ask
Do not worry what goes on
And on behind the mask
The world is as it is today
Will probably always be
You’re stuck, there’s no way out
You can’t be really free
Unless you want to end it all
Just slit your wrists and die
All this and more he fed to me
Because I wondered why.

I wrote a letter to my priest
Hoping to find some light
I needed reassurance
To end my hapless plight
The good book and the Lord
To shorten those long nights
I had to have the feeling
That I fit into the plan
Some sense of actuality
Of being who I am
But the preacher told me
In his holy knowing way
The stage is set by those above
And parts for us to play
Are planned in minute detail
We can only act them out
And pray for some sweet silent end
To relieve any doubt
For our future is the reflection
Of our distant past
The only dream to live for
Is to hope that it wont last.

I wrote a letter to a shrink
To help unravel the confusion
Though we saw the problem just the same
We reached differing conclusions
I told him, though I’d asked a judge
My brother and a friend
And finally turned to a priest
I thought my search would end
The answers to my questions
Have made me a mental mess
They left me dazed, completely confused
But intentions were good none-the-less
And so I turned to him
To end my aimless quest
Hoping to find explanations
At which I had only guessed
He told me all the answers
Were found within myself
All I had to do was look
I had no need for help.

I write my letters to the world
Everyday I am alive
I sort and ponder and sometimes wonder
How we all survive
Misfed and abused
Misled and confused
We search and we sleep
and always keep

a dream locked deep inside.


The Poet’s Thoughts:  I am the oldest of six children and I felt very alone, emotionally, growing up.  The original ending of this poem was very depressing as it was written when I was 17. When I looked back at age 26, I was more hopeful about my life and so the ending changed to reflect that.


The street is lonely
I am alone
Silently walking
I search for home
Many have tried
I am only one
I wish for answers
to why it was done
They long for endings
on this quiet road
rest for their feet
and shelter from cold

while I praise the rain.


The Poet’s Thoughts:  We grew up in Thousand Oaks, California and at that time it was a little town of about 35,000 people.  I used to walk around at night, by myself, barefoot, to my friend’s house, to the coffee shop, to wherever we were meeting for the night, back home from wherever we had met.  I got used to having the streets to myself, especially in the wee hours of the morning and I rejoiced in that freedom.



I’m everyone I ever met
everything I’ve done
everything I’ve ever been told
plus all the answers to questions I have still to ask.
I am my experiences
and my thoughts
everything I’ve written
and the poetry I have yet to write
I am all my mistakes and the lessons learned thereof,
my wrongs and rights and morals
and the love I have to give
I am the grudges I hold
the revenge I seek and plan
all the pain and sadness and the happiness I feel
I am those around me everywhere in all stages of life.
I am my philosophies
the secrets I keep

and all that is said behind, about and to me

I am the feelings and emotions I have picked up along the road,
feigned and true;  the labels put on me
and everyone I pretend to be
along with those who still must come to mind.
I am all that I know
and knowledge yet to be put in books
my dreams and hopes and memories, all that is dear to me–
now, then and forever.
I am all that I have found, real and illusion, and realizing,
and all I must still search for, known and yet to see.
I am the culmination of my existence thus far, and beyond.


The Poet’s Thoughts:  Once I realized that the Catholic view of God didn’t work for me, I started exploring the Eastern religions.  The view of unity that I took away from my readings of Hinduism, Sufism and Taoism has never left me.  So if all of us are one part of a whole, then the bits of my life must be part of a cohesive whole as well.  I am, for the most part, an optimist, I have the proof in the poetry I wrote.  This is why the really dark time is so hard for
me to deal with.


How soft can a woman be?
Soft enough to touch you
And make you cry
Soft in your arms
And when she sighs
Gentle in her games
And the rules she minds
How hard must a woman be?
Hard enough to build the walls
And make you cry
Hard as weather worn stone
When she lies
And in the rules she’ll hide.


The Poet’s Thoughts:  This is the first piece I wrote pondering the nature of femininity.  This has been an ongoing inquiry for me, as I have never felt very feminine.  It led to a number of goddess poems and to Orchid in 1998.  My belief is that the true essence of the deity is ungendered, but as a human being I am gendered and that difference is something I feel the need to explore.


I spend my time in abstract thoughts
Plays on words and deranged plots
In life, I’ve found I am not caught
I’m free to use what I’ve been taught
By jaded priests and well-read tots
Philosophers and all I’ve loved and fought
They gave me keys to fit the locks
To all the things I’ve ever sought
and everything I’ve wished for
I’ve been praised and I have not
From followers of hypocrisy, I’m told I’ll rot
in hell

I say

I’ll hold the door

for those who’ll find they follow

Hazed, dazed, thrown in a maze
They test and pry
When I ask why
They say they’re here to save me
They plead and cry
I ask why not
They say they’ll pray for me
Stuck in a mold
Of concrete rules
in reality
Are more abstract than those
I choose
The choice is between tried and true
And facing the unknown
And the truth is most are cowards


The Poet’s Thoughts:  I mentioned that I am the oldest of six children and that I felt kind of alone emotionally.  I forgot to mention that in spite of that I was and am very outspoken.  This has not endeared me with fundamentalist Christians but has helped in my teaching career.  The above poem is about my experiences with the former.


This yearning seems never to be fulfilled
It’s being out in the rain
beginning to walk

and never wishing to stop.

It’s a road sign that says
‘dreams and illusions 7000 miles into a sunset’

and not quelling the urge

to put the accelerator to the floor,

to turn the radio up full blast

to not look back.

It’s finding the trail ends in an impenetrable forest
and taking one more step.
It’s the seventh seventh wave,
the one the riptide takes far back out to sea
It’s reaching for the stars–
It cannot be fulfilled
It has no beginning
It has no direction
and in times of madness, or weakness,
you cannot depend on it to bring you safely back.


The Poet’s Thoughts:  For me, this yearning is the essence of the artistic urge.  It is carried on the wind and I never know when it will hit me.


continue A Life in Poetry: When I was in my twenties