M. Jennifer Markus – When I was in my twenties, continued

Idyll 5 (Moirae)

The Grecian fate is formidable

inevitable in all ways

To be born is the biggest gamble

We’re dealt our cards

We play

The deck is stacked

The dice are loaded

The game is fixed

They say

The odds are all against us

and the gods are betting three to one

That we’ll have cashed in all our chips

before the game is won

Those fickle fates

who plan our lives

map them out

from beginning to end
Decide the minute details

from words of oracles

and songs of bards

our sadness and content

Clotho, on her ornate wheel

spins a golden thread

and weaves a fabric flawlessly

on a loom of hope and dread

Lachesis from an o’erflowing pile

of straw and sticks and stones

Ponders over carefully

the stuff with which it’s sown

And Atropos wields leaden shears

with breathtaking accuracy

can cut a life line

just in time

to fulfill prophecy

This fate we have surrendered to

the whims of gods

and flights of fancy

has outwardly stripped us of our dignity

our individual power

and responsibility

The oracles of mythic age

gave wisdom to the few who braved

a life of heroic deeds and tales

not meant for petty mortal knaves

A prophecy

once spoken and publicized

became the stuff of gossip

in the public eye

and daily

when the tallies were finally taken

careful watch was given to who they thought

would fit the bill

So many heroes taken by surprise

The lots are thrown

and in the mere act of throwing

Choices are made
A wish spoken

sets our minds pursuing

Coincidences we call fate
Every day a moment closer to a goal

Every moment brings days that hold

a quirk of foretold intimacy

that only gods should know

but within reach

there lies

a clever line of circumstances

strung together like a spider’s web

We, each, spinner,

weaver, maker


of Destiny

in our lives


The Poet’s Thoughts: Idyll 5, the Idyll that deals with the idea of Fate, was actually begun before Idyll 2, but it did not become fully clear to me until a few years later. The Idylls are an example of poems that I feel are discovered more than written. I am given them in an unworded form and then I gather the phrases from that other place, whatever and wherever it might be.


Drawing down the Demons

The little imps come


as children

with tails and hooves

and sparklers

to destroy my sleep

And in my weakened state

they pounce

on my resistance

and squash it flat

until I can only lie

and pant

lightly smiling
A good romp always keeps me on my toes

Walking on a tightrope

above the beasts

that taunt and tattle
while throwing

empty cotton candy cones

quite a feat

to keep my feet

no less my toes

so high above

so close the fall

a perilous distance is all

that keeps me from their clutches

Hanging by my fingertips

and sitting in the living room

never safe from the dark corners

lurking in my mind

And when I look to see

head on

what stalks

and teases

whispering phrases

I never thought myself

I stand eye to eye

with a familiarity

almost frightening

what alter ego this

that haunts

from some other place

at home

as well here

and never sending thank you notes

after the visit’s done

Subtle overtones

in black and red

I’d always attributed

to checkerboard nuances

the pawn

and queen

and knight
in the complex set

of mate



never doubting

the sure hand

that drove the white king
never questioning

not once

what it was I ran from

and I draw them down

and lead them to the fence

playing to let them in

and when the turn is done

I chase them out again.


The Poet’s Thoughts:
Sometimes, I see my muse as all-powerful and beneficent, an enormous river that I can tap into. Sometimes, it is more impish and this is the result. My late twenties was a time when I felt powerful. I had come back from the abusive relationship. I had a good job. I had bought a new car. I was working toward my degree and I felt like my life had real purpose. I wrote a lot of poetry during this time, which makes up for the dearth of poetry I wrote in the mid-eighties when I was just trying to survive.


House of the Dead

I walk slowly up the steps

You are heavy in my arms

but I have the strength

I know

for this last journey
The door that holds my entry,

some ancient hewn oak,

is weatherworn and stained

with reminders of the fears I never spoke

The marble stairs

polished smooth and slick

beneath my wavering stance

leave no mark as I pass by

The walls—cold hard stone

against my cheek—

black obsidian

without seam or design

Ornamental brass adorns the door

like shimmering gold

and yet still cold
I am the only warmth

but it will not overflow

and take hold

in your small bones.

I enter slow and steady

greeted by the freshly washed ghosts

and some that had begun to mold

under the dust of time

whispering assurances

that ashes to ashes may be

but dust will settle

and leave only fingerprints

in the path of life.
Light falls in

through windows in the archway

stripped of heat
and warped by everchanging angles of the passing day
drawn into strange shapes on the floor

a pathway to the center canopy

I approach
the sacrifice is past

only this the final rite

Kneeling gently

swaddling falls away

basin filled with water

carved into the stone

receives a life now past

linen stripped away reveals

the last memory I have

water cleanses even that

until it is all very far away
The face that I once caressed

is no longer a face

nothing exists behind a cold blank stare
The body I once held to me

is stiff and unyielding

softened only slightly by the wash of warm water
What I hold now

is only an object with the marks of a life I loved

The death scent gone

a mercy I carry with me through the halls

Wrapped again in cloth

the soft covering that hides

what I will never forget
A site is set aside

a hole dug into the very marrow of this place

to keep

to hold

to free

the ghost.


The Poet’s Thoughts: My daughter died of SIDS, crib death as it is commonly called. She was almost six months old. She had slept through the night for the first time ever, I thought, but it turned out she had died during the night. I found her: a cold, stiff, miscolored doll in place of my warm and happy baby. When the ambulance came, they whisked her body out so that I would not see her. I have always regretted not being able to say good-bye. This poem is my way of going through the rituals that follow death, the ones I could not take part in.


She went insane by the dream
and when she woke up
nothing made sense anymore
He never realized
the woman who kissed him good-bye in the morning
was not the same lying with him the night before

All that day
she was alternately
startled and amused
The airtight monotone routine
took on a shadow of mystery
That by evening had dulled
to a shade of confusion

The dishes were still in the sink
from before when she was still sane
she stood in the kitchen alone
fingering the china, a pattern she hated,
from his mother long ago
and broke every one by the time he got home

His fury was more of an abject illusion
just another ripple
in a pattern she no longer shared
He wept in a way peculiar to both
because deep in his heart
she did not care

Yet her hands on his face
were gentle and warm
her passion heightened to art
he wasn’t aware of the state of her mind
but he sensed every inch of her skin
in the climax they shared in the shards

She laughed like a child
as he nursed her backside
a mandela of porcelain, dust and blood
in that laughter
he saw his role erased
and the years spent together annulled

She left the next morning
before he had awoke
he was more sad than surprised
she took her sturdiest shoes and left a brief note
“I’ve gone for a walk”, “good-bye”
the finality pierced like an arrow, but she was beyond lies

He sat in his nightclothes
at the edge of the bed
his face became pale and he faded away
every feature distinct for a moment
radiating a powerful light
until only an outline remained

It took two full hours
to walk out of town
away from all she had known
it blurred like the ink of a pen not quite dry
the commonplace now a kaleidoscope
she walked on, amazed at how absurd it had grown

A slow process
the eking away of a mind
begun as a trickle onto her pillow
into the vacuum her sanity left
into a pit of despair
behind the mask of genius
the rages flowed

She had answers
to questions she never would ask
answers at which her lover would scoff
but she had them
and with them she followed the road
to the end of the world and stepped off.


The Poet’s Thoughts: I have always had very vivid dreams. They can stay with me for the whole day after I have them, until I can sleep and dream again. So the idea of a dream having such an effect as changing the whole world was intriguing to me.


Looking For Swans

I look for swans

in the curious places

I follow a feather

a footprint

to faces

that hold just a clue

to the complex

of mazes

I’ve destined myself

to run through.

I hunt the swans

with ethereal nets

my hand on a line

within sight

of my dread

dispelling the fear

holed up in my head

that the capture of one

would do.

I follow the swans

through the deep underbrush

through the nettles

and puddles

when the forest is hushed
with nary a glimpse

or a sound

or a touch

of a prize that
might be an illusion.

I draw a swan

in a yet steady hand

in lines not yet sure

and in colors unplanned

I fight the perspective

realism be damned

in an essence

I know will

dissolve the confusion.


The Poet’s Thoughts: About a month after I wrote this poem I found this passage:

Brhad-aranyaka Upanisad IV.3.11

On this there are the following verses. Having struck down in sleep what belongs to the body, he himself sleepless looks down, on the sleeping (senses). Having taken to himself light he goes again to his place, the golden person, the lonely swan (the one spirit).

A swan, the symbol of the spirit of the universe.

Just another piece of evidence (to me) of the existence of Jung’s Cosmic Unconscious.


Gold Bear

Golden bear
walks among
the green ferns
sweet breezes
carry past
his muzzle
the scent of
lying still
upon his

Villages lie
in valleys
carved by drops
that ran through
granite rock
far below
guarded and
sleeping in
his shadow

Seekers worn
with eyes wide
pray and give
wait in awe
in timid
grace they hope
for knowledge
while they kneel
in temples

shake their heads
laugh at men
who sit and
wait for quests
scoff at those
who ask the
golden bear
to come down
bearing gifts

They gather
at the doors
and whisper
the stories
of the last
visit by
golden bear
eager ears
pause to hear

voice pierces
the darkness
‘this old one
knows I saw
I saw him
ground shaking
fire falls all
around us
children cry

dead too soon
river dried
up fish gone
‘I have come’
say gold bear
‘What do I
take back to
the mountain?’
‘This man calls’
I say ‘This

man goes with
you back to
the mountain
Take him leave
us in peace
come no more
from your peak’
‘I will come
if they call’
‘No’ I say

to gold bear
‘you go back
to watching
living in
the cloudy
sunsets men
who seek you
climb the mount
men who call
you sit and



The Poet’s Thoughts: Gold Bear has always brought to my mind images of Chinese art. I don’t know why. From what I understand there are certain rules that are to be followed when painting in that style; the rule I used for my poem is three syllables per line except for the last, obviously. In my lengthy (and still on-going) college career, I spent two years at UC Berkeley finishing my bachelor’s degree. People thought I wrote Gold Bear for that mascot, but I wrote this poem two years before I applied to Cal. Weird, but there you have it.


Rites of passage

i am walking on the bloody shore
moonlit autumn holds me near
to the journey
i have held in my gaze
the many ancestors i seek
wisdom i have only known in dreaming
passes through my heart
follows softly in the shadows
hides from the sun

i am witness to myself
an opening
a wound
that heals in rhythmic pulsing
warm flowing mysteries
will ever after encompass
all i will become

i have become the sword
a lock
a banshee howling in the night
i have become a moment
now eternal in my memory
the seeing eye that spans the breadth
of time
enigmatic flowering
a woman


The Poet’s Thoughts: This is another poem in the line of exploring femininity. There is the question of ‘how are the physical (which is gendered) and the spiritual (which is not) related?’. I
certainly can’t answer that. But at the time I wrote the poem I was working out a lot, I was in the best shape of my life, and so a certain literal physicality crept into my poetry.


Image of the Cave

High, high

above my home

The earth turns dark

and cool

The wind grows cautious

trembling in the silver leaves

catching up the straying


in my face

and in my eyes

I have seen the light

of your fire

I have crept to the mouth

of the cave

and left the forest

far behind

the green and murky distance

fades into the still of night


holds the starlight


back the moon

Under this sky

I seek the crystal warmth

lying deep within

thick stone walls

black and cool

from out the dark mother

this entrance into promise

gives me no guarantee

I call to the shadows

and watch them dance

Flint changes scene and scenery

in every breeze that passes

in every moment gone
Every time you stalk the doorway

I withdraw

I have strayed far

As you approach
I flash quickly

across and

down from the sky

light with the stars

bright as day

You call the thunder

rumble back when it responds

and meekly, meekly
it falls away
to wait your next reply

Standing in the rocky womb

you see a tangled forest

you have seen the path

wind steeply into nether green

my seeming tomb

quiet and still

belies the frenzy full moon


night watcher hides inside

the sunset waiting for the clouds

to clear away

You have come down

from the mount

following my fiery trail

into the mystic black laced night

to join me in the hunt
You have come

empowering a winter chill

emerging from the pliant ground

a numen wrapped in awesome shades of might

to lead me back again

halfway between
the trees
and the sky

Come run with me

I will give you passage

safety from the watchful eyes

that dwell so deeply in this place

they keenly pierce the careless


and no stranger treads

without stirring

the myriad spirits

Take my hand

I will enfold you

intertwine and braid

around you

warming gently winter’s ice
to carve the niche that suits my form
You relent a soothing kiss

caresses seal the covenant

and bind us in a locked embrace

I will follow to the mountain

echo lightly dryad hymns

As voices reach up to the tree tops

you have razed a golden path

Lasting mark of our intention

evidence in our designs

Lasting ever in this landscape
You and I


The Poet’s Thoughts: I have an embarrassingly large amount of love poetry from failed relationships and unrequited infatuations. Someday, when I can get past the shame I attach to these failures I might collect them all and try to just see them as an expression of a feeling. This poem is one that doesn’t have as many associations and I can just enjoy it.

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