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featured poets & artists


mark hartenbach

mark hartenbach, a.k.a. marko x & saint ishmael, is quite simply one of ohio's best poets. His poems have been published in Chiron Review, Black Moon, Fuel, Rio Grande Review, Bullhead, Wormwood Review, and Kios. he knows much more than he lets on, and he lets on quite a bit.



a poem pumped so full of thorazine

it doesn’t know if it’s coming or going


forgive me, but i’m operating at diminished capacity

there’s a drama unfolding here

it’s making me dizzy & nauseous

being rolled out ceremoniously with a red carpet

or laid down easy on green felt tabletops

i’m either snake-eyed sneaky or king for a day

that is, unless the boxcars are full tilt ahead


i get to be all these different characters

i wouldn’t call them personas

since that would imply i have more input

into each story than i actually do

but i feel pretty much the same

no matter who i’m supposed to be


i can’t keep my mouth shut

it hangs there dumbly

i have difficulty putting words together

into a coherent whole

so answering any questions is impossible

unless it’s nod one time for yes, twice for no


i try to poke holes through myself

but sharp objects have been confiscated

all i’m left with is an ink pen

& a few sheets of paper

sitting on a desk that’s the only furniture

except for two beds & a nightstand separating them

it’s always cold in here

but they look at me incredulously

when i ask for a couple extra blankets


since i can’t puncture the balloon

i settle for writing messages on my skin

i hide them under my clothes

they won’t check there

except on admission day


if i get too confused, which is often

i slip into a restroom

& read myself backward

it’s the only privacy allowed

unless there are tiny cameras i haven’t detected

but sometimes it’s all forgotten

before i get back

to where i think it is i’m supposed to be


the less said the better

takes on a whole new meaning here

i’ve become adept at waiting my turn

this is important

this goes on the ledger

though we’re not allowed access to paperwork


i think i’m the king today

or maybe the second coming

i can tell by the way the lines part

when i walk through

i might be a part that’s absolutely needed

to keep everything up & running


i’m definitely a transcendental icon of some sort

so i’ll enjoy it while i can

since i can’t explain it anyway

or at least breathe a sigh of relief

because one never knows

when they might be the whipping boy

i could be made to walk the gauntlet

& i shuffle along slowly

so i feel every frustration


tomorrow it could all make literal sense

& i’ll be wiping blood

from my blank stare

the entire day

trying not to stain my record


a poem for our lady of perpetual emotion


the incidental dialogue has found the cutting room floor

& the incidental contact screams no harm, no foul

but the tears continue to run down the alabaster

& the flock grows larger each day


they claim it’s a miracle

but they’ve never seen her flush with need the way i have


if were to mention this though

i’d incur the fury of the mob

so i wait it out

eventually they’ll find something else

to capture their imagination

& shrug her off as a one trick pony


then she can relax

get back to her anti-depressants

& her bottle of white wine

which would be considered heretical now

since only sacramental red is allowed

but she isn’t that choosy

occasionally someone will offer her a swig

& she downs half the bottle in one shot


i’m not an infidel

i just know the girl better than most

if i catch everyone sleeping

i’ll sneak her a smoke

a dragon to chase away the blues & responsibility

in case someone happens to be awake

i cross myself first

to show my reverence

so they can see i mean no disrespect

i’ll light a votive candle first

so i don’t have to fire up my zippo


any authentic historical acknowledgment

has been wiped from the slate

so she could be completely reinvented

all those mama’s boys & women libbers

need a matriarchal figurehead

to fill in for that which the early editors deleted

as a a way to control those uppity chicks

to keep the power structure in place

it’s no stone that can be rolled away


yet i’m the one on the defensive

i’m the blind beggar in need of a muddy face pact

i’m the horizontal wrap around

who’s stinking up the place

i’m the bombed deviant with legions that need driven out

& still i don’t qualify for a martyred sucker


of course if it weren’t me

it would be somebody else

but there are no ripe apples in my knapsack

there are no vulgar diamonds behind my back

there are no scripts i’m eager to sell


nevertheless i’ll continue to play this peripheral character

i’ll do my best not to draw attention to myself

& i’ll worship her in my own way

without the idolatry, the pomp & ceremony

with holes worn in my knees

& my tongue hidden firmly in my cheek

where i used to keep my prayers


a poem that aspires to be more than the sum of it’s words

“the function of the poet is not to point out ways,
most of all to arouse longing”-hermann hesse


i’m in a constant state of arousal & longing

only my mind has begun to refuse

to release this information

so instead of getting laid

i only arouse suspicion in return


i leave sweet hints & loving dedications

but when i come back

they’re still lying there untouched


what happened to all those late night phone calls

& soft, shy tapping on my door at indecent hours


i’ve worked hard to become a better man

a more heartfelt & decent man, a saner man

but somewhere i left something out

somewhere i made a mistake

i tossed all all my prior calculations when i began

this seemed like the right thing to do

i tried to make myself into everything i was missing


i was only able to love half of the time

& it was so mired in self-loathing

that i couldn’t see past myself

though that was exactly what i wanted most of all

on the flip side it was more of an arrogant gesture

than any true tenderness


i continue to be hard on myself

but i can separate it

from my relationships with others

& when i’m on top of the world

in a manic state eager to get all this down

i want to share it with someone


i’ve never imagined myself

as a particularly likeable man

i can’t smooze or flatter effectively

i say what’s on my mind

i don’t possess the necessary filters

to shave my conversations down

to polite company, or even modest banality


but i have been loved nevertheless

& i took it for granted

as most of us do

i no longer take anything or anyone for granted

i believe i can tell what’s real, what’s important

from junk jewelry & garish accessories

extraneous dialogue & shifty contracts

or anything that’s contingent

on what do you have to offer in exchange


i’m still far from where i want to be

i’m certainly no saint

but at least i’m trying

& though i shouldn’t care

i sometimes wonder if anyone’s noticed

sometimes i feel the need to point things out

in a way that’s part heavy-handed swagger

& part discreet poetic nudge

that no one would ever recognize as art


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