Mark Jarman, Centennial Professor of English at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, was born in Mount Sterling, Kentucky and raised on California and Scotland. He’s the author of nine books of poetry, two books of essays and a book of essays co-authored with Robert McDowell. Jarman graduated from the University of Califorina at Santa Cruz with a B.A. with highest honors in English literature in 1974.
His awards include the Joseph Henry Jackson Award for poetry, three grants form the National Endownment for the Arts, and a Guggenheim fellowship. His book The Black Riviera won the 1991 Poets’ Prize. Questions for Ecclesiastes was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and won the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets and The Nation magazine.
This poem is taken from Epistles: Poems (2007)
On the island of the pure in heart
On the island of the pure in heart, we did not see God. But an influx of
pink scallop shells, each the size of a fingertip, covered the sand.
On the island of the meek, a stench drove us back to the ship.
On the island of the poor in spirit, a glassy blankness came down like
rain and asked a riddle that stumped us.
Riflemen among spraypainted rock fired at us, on the island of the
righteous . One rock said, “Byron, 18—.”
On the island of the merciful, we obtained mercy.
On the island of the peacemakers, we depleted our numbers by hand-
to-hand combat, until there were only two of us – a soul and a body.
Even as they urged us to depart, on the island of the persecuted, they
begged us to stay.