When I lived in Chicago, I developed an appreciation for excellent storytelling. There are a number of storytelling shows and open mics in that town, and plenty of amazing storytellers. Sharing a good story well is one of the most important ways we have to connect with each other.
Marcus Jackson knows how to tell a story well. He understands the essentials of narrative, choosing and expressing the appropriate details to give a story body without slowing it down. I think this poem in particular is a fantastic example of that strength in his work: if you look at Jackson's line breaks throughout the poem, many of them can be read as phrases unto themselves. Although his speaker's overriding tone is matter-of-fact, the breaks create a kind of quiet undertone that deepens the complexity of the story. Jackson's work is subtle, intelligent, and beautifully constructed. Please enjoy.
Fighting with Mama, Dad shattered
a lamp, slammed the door, and headed
to the Ottawa Tavern. Mama took you
from your rickety crib, and we both sat
on her lap, as she smoked and hummed
in the unlit kitchen. Her Merit burned
on the glass ashtray, while Dad arrived at the pub
where the barmaid knew what he needed
before he spoke. What was Mama thinking,
her biceps bruised, her thin hair held back
by a doubled-up rubber band? Is there
a sure way to love a man the world won’t
quit dealing trouble to? Why is the future
a fog-faced thing, whose teeth we can’t see
before being bitten? That night, Mama simply
kept on humming—some song now lost
in the long line of exhausted songs--
and she swayed, until sleep’s clean sheet
wrapped the brains of her babies.
Marcus Jackson was born in Toledo, Ohio. He earned a BA from the University of Toledo and continued his poetry studies at NYU and as a Cave Canem fellow. His poems have appeared in such publications as The New Yorker, Harvard Review, and The Cincinnati Review. He lives with his wife and son in Nashville.