The poems of Mark the Music are by turns tragic and comic, lyrical and prosaic, celebratory and mournful. Their subjects range from “the little / violences lifting their / scarred hands / in one poor truce after another” to departures of various kinds, to engagement with whatever the world brings to our doors and the daily acts of inventiveness that are among the bulwarks against chaos.
Bounded by two versions/visions of “What I Want of It,” Leffler’s poems can be affecting and warm, e.g., “Our Block,” “WPSY Streaming,” and sometimes grim as in “Negotiation.” They move between the lyrical and meditative, in free verse, traditional forms, concrete poetry, and improvisational riffs. Several, among them, “Memory,” “Words,” “Abraham Avinu, Our Father Abraham” draw on the Bible and the spirit of Talmudic commentary.
“Learn about pines from the pine,
and about bamboo from the bamboo”
Here at the window’s ledge, opposite me,
a sparrow’s pecking for crumbs that I’d not seen.
OK I say (to myself), you are there on one side
of the divide and I’m here on the other.
You’re under the high blue and I, under
a low ceiling — I’m pecking too.
It is clear what you’re after. What of me?
Perhaps I want to celebrate you, sparrow
there on that other side and out in the high blue.
Maybe I’ll go on to compare your ordinariness
with mine, your small brown wings
and my lack of them.
I don’t know yet.
So for our different reasons here we sit
each of us feeding ourselves, you on crumbs,
me on words. But what are mine wanting? Perhaps
to be a sparrow, for now at least, nothing more.
Perhaps they want to sail aloft without thinking,
to sit under the sky’s spring blue, then with little
effort rise high heigh-ho
and soar over the earth’s green furze below.
Mark the Music
by Merrill Leffler
128 pp., 7 x 9-1/4
Paperback, French flaps, $17
Distributed to the trade by
Small Press Distribution
Poetry Reading at
Library of Congress
Jewish Book World
Washington Independent Review
On the Seawall