Knowing When–Poems
by Mark Fleisher
26 Poems ~ 38 pages
Price: $12.00 + Shipping
Publisher: Mercury Heartlink
ISBN: 978-1-949652-26-0
To Order:
Or from: Mark Fleisher, 3939 Rio Grande Blvd. NW Unit 41,
Albuquerque, NM 87107. Send $12.00 Plus $3.00 shipping.

Reviewed by Michael Escoubas

Mark Fleisher opens his sixth collection with an epigram by poet Robert Graves, “To be a poet is a condition, not a profession.” Intrigued by Fleisher’s usage of that term, I looked it up. According to Webster’s, “Condition” means a particular mode of being of a person or thing. Indeed, Graves speaks the truth. As the recipient of the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry in 1968, Graves exemplified that writing was his life-long mode of being. Intuition tells me that Fleisher’s life would be bereft of meaning should he be denied access to pen and paper. Some things people do because it is “in them” to do those things.

In this review I strive to show that Fleisher’s “condition” weaves its way, like a golden thread, through Knowing When.

Fleisher’s lead poem “The Mystery Of It All,” is Exhibit A:

          Like bards and troubadours
          of days long past
          we roam the countryside
          a shoulder stooped from
          the weight of words
          carried in nondescript bags

          We stop at a microphone
          before us a gathering
          voluntary assembled
          to hear what we write
          messages crafted
          to set them thinking
          or merely elicit a tear
          perhaps a quiet laugh

          When all is said
          some find their way home
          feeling this time wasted
          some will understand

          We rarely know

When your reviewer appears at readings, all he desires is the opportunity to display his love of words. He hopes people “get” what he is trying to communicate. Similarly, for Fleisher, I suspect. What poets do as they ply their craft of words, is woven into the very fabric of their lives. We love it when we’re understood, when a tear drops down … but we are just as happy to simply stand before the mic, letting the raft of words flow forth.

Fleisher has that special ability to meet people where they live. In “Forever Seeing,” the poet is “Gliding southward on the Interstate / under an unblemished sky / the land flat save for / mountains on my eastern flank / a rocky outcropping jutting / from the southwest horizon.” Responding to an unexpected call while driving, he avers, “I can see forever.” He slows down, well below the speed limit, allowing himself to be “bathed by the stark grandeur.” The poem closes with a moment of sorrow for those “Sunday Speeders,” who go fast, “but not sharing what I feel.”

Poets are an odd lot. We would much rather go slow, taking in the surrounding grandeur, than live a “throw-and-go life.” This simple, yet profound theme, is pervasive in Fleisher’s work. According to “My Favorite Time,” the poet is most productive when he is not bombarded by distractions that “lay siege / to eyes, ears, minds.” Don’t miss this poem which reveals the time of day most conducive to composing his poems.

Fleisher has a knack for painting pictures with words. In “Winds Aloft,” title and first line run on:

          Wait at the intersection
          crosswinds buffet my ride
          get the go signal
          accelerate into a sudden gust

The scene develops, revealing the ravages of wind causing a ruckus of objects careering everywhere. A woman is seen chasing, “rebellious trash cans / down an otherwise / quiet country road.”

This gifted poet has a heavy heart for the senseless loss of life as depicted in poems entitled, “Unanswered Cries,” which studies the July 4, 2022, massacre in Highland Park, Illinois and “Now and Always,” a poem dedicated to the inexplicable slaughter of children in Uvalde, TX.

“Shelf Life,” asks the question: “This friendship / misinterpretations / about who said what / to whom when,” how much can it endure?

Each poem made me think more deeply about what matters in life. As is typical of Fleisher’s collection broadly speaking, “The Other Side of Loneliness,” displays his thesis that being a poet is a “condition” of life, one that is worthy of our highest aspirations.

          The Other Side of Loneliness

          Is an invitation required
          to a place we’ve never been
          or is entry up for grabs
          a prize we strive to win

          The other side of loneliness
          emptied of all our despair
          look for a one-way ticket
          to arms that welcome us there

          Think of all the goodness
          during the years we’ve earned
          do they add up to nothing
          when all our dreams are spurned

          Steel ourselves for the journey
          stay true to the daily grind
          say a prayer that one day
          we are lucky enough to find
          the other side of loneliness
          emptied of all our despair


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