Jake Marmer

*

 

Growing up on the outskirts of the universe — provincial Ukrainian steppes — I was a devout reader of science fiction, in particular that of Eastern European masters, Strugatsky Brothers and Stanislaw Lem. At some point coveted translations of American sci-fi classics started to slide under the curtain. They were all the more otherworldly for their foreignness, for the shadow of another language and culture, which, even without aliens or portals, felt as remote as an extraterrestrial civilization.

 

After I settled in the US, I let go of sci-fi for nearly two decades. Perhaps because “alien” — resident alien,” “legal alien” — were trigger words for me as an immigrant. Or maybe, sci-fi was just too bound up with my old-country self, which I was trying to erase.

 

Encountering the work of Samuel Delany, Ursula Le Guin, Octavia Butler, and Sun Ra not only rekindled my interest in the genre but altered my understanding of its possibilities. Rather than imagining a defamiliarized present or the evolution of technology, these artists searched for the deep future of the myth, spirit, and language. They searched for the future of otherness, desire, and the epic. 

 

In these poems you may also find more than a hint of the Talmud, Midrash, and Zohar — texts that allude to alternative realities: some of which exist alongside our own; others, tangled within; and others yet, completely unrelated, made of pure Light or pure Text.

 

Living in the Silicon Valley for the past four years with self-driving cars, security robots, drones, and remotely operated librarians may have something to do with all of this, too. — Jake Marmer

 

 

Anima

 

wasn’t the light of the unpronounceable name

wasn’t the shadow of another future, burning fingers

but the way the craft

encircled her body

with intimacy so ultimate

it could only be achieved by a machine

as it mimicked

the splintering

emotional carpet

she unrolled every time

the noise dropped for 8

seconds, when she was utterly alone

and as all space settlers

ritualistic

about —

this knowledge

you’re being disassembled

into a diaspora of atoms that know nothing

of each other’s existence

before coming together again

like water poured into a new glass

without any objective guarantee

of continuity


 

Testimony In Regard to The Vast Foam-like Umbrella

 

some call it theological equivalent of money laundering

I take issue with that —

gravity is contagious

and as a member of clergy I am entitled to —

it’s like parking anywhere —

the green shape

pulsates with its scraped horizons, circularity of obsession

I am standing, alone, with the tightest optical strain known to man

and you want me to — bless your — ?

 

yes, I took the unbearable pink envelope

gematria equivalent of your soul’s worth

as a donation, as a joke, and chopped it, and rolled the color’s distance —

before I knew it, the thing

cuts its “eternal stasis” short

starts nipping at the non-representation

 

if anything, it was — numinous fundraising —

like I said, gravity

is contagious

so when the beam gave out

as a thigh might,

at sunrise, I was barely surprised

“there’s no need for it, really,” I said, three times,

as is the custom 

everyone else

was already at the bath-house, dunking

 

just because you are being extrapolated

doesn’t mean you can’t be having a ball 


 

No Eyes

After Zohar 2:94b–95a and 1:15a

  

not a telescope but a phantom limb

stretching towards the invisible —

 

is how the experiment’s outcome

was described to me; my consciousness, a small

price for this new form of travel

 

I was told I’d have to become

a mythic being with no eyes

concealed and revealed

in the garments that are not

 

calligraphy of life’s post-script

 

when I woke up blind and wanting

it was not my hand that reached across

cosmos to the stars we so wanted to see towards

the outside we were so desperate to find —

 

instead, their hands went into my corpus

my memory bled unto their fingertips

I could speak no words but laced

their echoes, in patience & sorrow

 

*

 

in the beginning, a burning mirror to erase

the dream of semblance, created

the dream of the missing alef,

which became the breath

of Elohim, the edge

 of your song’s void

 

 

Cosmic Deregulation

 

I lost loads of time

eating information

pills in the ship’s abdomen —

we called it “the library”

(as a joke)

until one evening, in the back

of a bar on a desolate, backwater moon

I was introduced to methods

of ingesting vacuum

and felt cosmos not beer

running through me

in knowledge’s stead

“consciousness,” I called to the librarian,

“consciousness is a ritual, 

not an organ

and intergalactic history

is a contracting theater

of shadow puppets

performed by my own hands

which keep opening

like goddamn eyes”


 

Mnemonics

 

alef is for the alien

bet for the great

            alternatives to alienation

            what are they?

vet for the inevitable

alienation from self,

from Marx

gimmel is the game-plan:

breathe

don’t alienate

other aliens

daled, face it: you got dealt

ancestral language you don’t even speak

hai is hail,

            locusts, darkness

vav is David Meltzer’s: “Void

Angel Vav / Flea in my heart”

zayin and rules of creation

het: pull it

over your big alien ears

tet is taking alien to bed

yod, comma in sky

kaf the cup of alienation — runneth over, lookout

lamed for lame faux alien fur

mem is Middlemarch

nun is dawn — of aliens —

samech — same, ugh —

ayin for all you got your myopic Cyclops alien eyes on

pey for peyote toothbrush

tzadi whichever side you’re on, a thorn in

kof is cough, all aliens got it

reish for head rush, brain freeze, dead

giveaways of an alien

shin is for wake-up kick

tav for the vat

of drek & pride may we all rise from

 

 

[Cosmic Diaspora, Jake Marmer’s third collection of poems, is now available from Station Hill Press here. Of the work’s achievement and complexity, Clarence Major writes: “Jake Marmer’s reflexive and visionary Cosmic Diaspora is a passionately rendered and timely exploration in verse of postmodern ritual and mutations. Marmer also takes a deep celebratory look into black holes, gravity, light years, and the cosmos. He also pays homage to some of his speculative heroes: Delany, Acker, Stein, and le Guin. And all the while Marmer hears the wisdom of the Talmud whispering in the background.” (J.R.)]