Jack Marshall
Smile On A Skull

- for Commandante Marcos, Chiapas
Searched for so hard, Commandante,
must make you feel like prey
in your own native ground, heavy earth
underneath your feet, thick jungle all around...
Arrowhead cheeks, sloped
backs bearing ore from the miscarried mother-lode,
permanent dusk is etched on cactus faces
that won't show but sometimes
will lift an eye toward the horizon; an eye-
lid itself a horizon you can see
so much hope in.
Yet will the hopeful have
any chance but to be gone
before what they hope for appears
among the last things they'll see?
For them, tomorrow is water
flung on a grindstone. It's all one day.
And while it takes only a moment
to unmake us, the whole
unknowable, crypto-coded, parsed and pieced together
cover story from so many spliced lips we call
"History" lives: abstraction with a hunger
periodically for pogroms.
Is it any wonder
the sweetest winds are tattered with good-byes! -
or that to the question, "How does the dying go?"
A masked campesino answers, "Here we are,
the dead of all times, dying,
once again, this time
for the sake of living..."
Smile on a skull.

© 1995 by Jack Marshall

Jack Marshall's nine collections of poetry include Sesame (Coffee House Press, 1993), which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and winner of the PEN West Center Award and a Pushcart Prize. His newest volume, Chaos Comics, appeared as a chapbook (Pennywhistle Press, 1994). He lives by the ocean in San Francisco.