mark terrill | poems from an expatriate | part I

30 10 2009

PoetryDispatch No. 297 | October 30, 2009


Poems from an Expatriate
Part l

To begin with, a little bio on Mark Terrill:

While everyone else was going to school, Mark Terrill was working and traveling, shipping out as a merchant seaman, and touring with various rock bands in the capacity of road manager. In 1982 he was a participant in Paul Bowles’ writing workshop in Tangier, Morocco, and after extended stays in Tangier, Lisbon, Paris and Hamburg, he’s lived in Germany since 1984, where he’s been scraping by in various guises, including shipyard welder, cook and postal worker. Recent books include The United Colors of Death (Pathwise Press), Bread & Fish (The Figures) and Kid with Gray Eyes (Cedar Hill Publications), and his selected translations of Rolf Dieter Brinkmann, Like a Pilot (Sulphur Literary Review Press). Other writings and translations have appeared in several limited edition chapbooks and more than 300 magazines, journals and periodicals around the world. Four of his poems were included in the anthology Ends and Beginnings (City Lights Review #6), edited by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. He’s prone to giving readings of his work at various venues in Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin Prague and elsewhere, the details of which can be found at

The thing I love about Terrill’s poetry—he puts you there, exactly…where he’s comfortable…where you want to be, where he is…what he’s seeing, feeling, thinking—that too, a thinking man’s poetry…the street philosopher ruminating in plain words, ordinary lines set down so seemingly effortlessly. The there for me is heartbreakingly haunting, beautiful…where I want to be, as his poems come sifting through the mind.

I’m going to risk it, use a word most writers hate: “nostalgia”. A good word. A beautiful one. Nothing to be ashamed of. Echoes of ‘home.’ His poems bring me back to a time and place(s) I once knew. The writer (young) abroad. Temporarily exiled from middle-America. A longing to be back there—the old world. Paris …the cafes, the bridges across the Seine, the open buses, the streets that became poems with each step…that ramshackle four-storey walk-up hotel, off the Boulevard St. Michel…the old lady at the front desk with the cat, the tiny room (no bath), the rumpled bed, the flowered wallpaper, the shuttered windows thrown open wide to a small balcony with all of Paris within arm’s reach day and night…a Paris that was still/forever Hemingway’s, Stein’s, Pound’s, Proust’s …where you felt right at home with the long history of writers and artists. So, this is Paris!… I write, therefore I am.

Mark Terrill has been living in Europe for over twenty years. Some of this fantasy of ‘foreign’ has possibly worn off…though I sense it yet, still alive in much of his work. I sense, too, a touch of what Felinghetti saw and found the everyday language to express. A touch of Henry Miller’s gargantuan appetite to take it all in, get it all down, revel in daily life…the common uncommon touch of Jacques Prevert’s, PAROLES.

“I am sitting in the café La Madeleine de Proust in the Rue Descartes on a mild sunny October afternoon…” one of Mark’s prose poems begins…and I’m sitting beside him, (you too) taking it all in… —norbert blei

Ninety-Nine Islands

aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaA day off in Sasebo, Japan.
aaaaaaaaaaI’m down the gangway and gone.
I reappear on a sightseeing boat
aaaaaaaaaacruising the nearby Ninety-Nine Islands.
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaJapanese tourists along the rail,
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaacameras clicking and zooming,
me sitting on a bench, eyes shut,
aaaaaaaaaaaaaabsorbing the fallow winter sun,
aaaaaaaasavoring a brief respite from the
arduous dirty sweaty greasy toil in the engine room,
aaaaaaathe drunken brawling, bitching and whining,
aaaaaaaaaaaaagratuitous violence and hidden racist agenda
aaaaaaathat makes up life on the dilapidated tanker
aaaaaaaaaaaaaawhich has been my home
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafor the last six months.

I open my eyes and see a black-haired kid,
aaaaaathree years old at the most, with dark shiny eyes,
aaaaaaaaaaaasoft pink face, and outstretched hand,
aaaaaaunsteadily holding out a crumbling rice cracker
aaaaaaaaaaaain my direction, gently encouraged
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaby a silent smiling father behind him.

aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaThe kid smiles and I have to smile too.
I watch him working to overcome
aaaaaaathe last barriers of shyness and timidity,
seeing his tiny struggle as emblematic
of some greater, more meaningful struggle,
aaaaaaain which all of us are teetering on the invisible edge
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaof some last confining indecision.

aaaaaaaaaaaaaNext day, back on board the rusty tanker,
aaaplying the waters of the East China Sea,
amidst the deafening boiler-turbine cacophony,
aaaaaaabelly full of chicken-fried steak and pie a’ la mode,
pumping bilges, reading gauges, mopping oil and sweat,
aaaaaaaa sudden flashback puts the salty delicate taste
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaof the little kid’s sweaty rice cracker
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaright back in the middle of my tongue.

[from The Salvador-Dalai-Lama Express, Main Street Rag, PO Box 690100, Charlotte, NC 28227 (, 2009, $10/8e


I leave my hotel in the
rue du Cardinal-Lemoine
and walk down the hill
to the banks of the Seine.
I sit down on a massive stone abutment
just across from Notre Dame,
where grace hovers hesitantly
above the shoulders of stalwart gargoyles.

Still young and single,
no permanent address,
my pockets full of seaman’s wages;
a liter bottle of vin rouge
can still be bought for 90 centimes,
which stains the teeth a deep violet
and leaves the brain
throbbing in the morning.

In my bohemian apprenticeship
I’ve lingered outside
Hemingway’s old apartment,
drank endless cafe au laits
in Lipp’s, The Flore, and Deux Magots,
tossed down beer after beer
and bottomless Pernods
in Paul Celan’s favorite dive.

Now I watch an old man fishing;
black beret, rumpled army surplus sweater,
and all the churlish patience
of a surly Captain Ahab.
The name of the game
is perseverance.
What could Paris possibly teach me
that this old man doesn’t know?

[from The Salvador-Dalai-Lama Express, Main Street Rag, PO Box 690100, Charlotte, NC 28227 (, 2009, $10/8e

The Kiss

Early Monday morning the night train from Hamburg pulls into the Gare du Nord & I step down from the train & make my way through the crowded bustling station & emerge through the front doors & am confronted with the spectacle of intense rush hour traffic now almost at a standstill making the Place de Roubaix seem like a giant sea of sheet metal or a vast cubist-futurist collage accompanied by honking horns & idling motors & clouds of exhaust & the staccato rattle of jackhammers & the piercing blasts of the traffic policemen’s whistles as they struggle to maintain a semblance of movement through the obstacle course of metal barricades set up by the street department who have torn up huge sections of the street for some expansive construction project while people are loading & unloading luggage from cars & taxis & pedestrians are streaming in & out of the station working their way through the maze-like ever-shifting gridlock & delivery drivers & motorcycle couriers are vainly struggling to inch ahead as the collective tension increases exponentially becoming a palpable pulsing presence & suddenly I catch sight of a young couple standing beacon-like in the middle of the stagnating chaotic scenario locked in an embrace apparently totally oblivious to their surroundings deeply immersed as they are in the obvious sensual pleasures of a prolonged & passionate kiss thus putting a particularly Parisian-romantic spin on the otherwise harrowing reality of another Monday morning in the grinding-to-a-halt City of Light.

[from Sending Off the Godhead in the City of Light, Hydrogen Jukebox Press, Burg, Germany, 2006]

The Time Time Takes

I’m sitting in the cafe La Madeleine de Proust in the Rue Descartes on a mild sunny October afternoon having just finished a tomato & basil tarte & green salad & a glass of red wine now leaning back in my chair lingering over a cup of espresso aimlessly soaking up the atmosphere admiring the cloudless blue sky & the sheen of the black slate roofs & the stalwart stone edifices of the buildings & the cobblestone streets polished to a high gloss from all the endless years of use & eventually my eyes come to rest on the receipt in the little silver tray on the green metal table with its patina of age & spots of rust & reading the name & address I find myself in a sudden interstice where the names Proust & Descartes are overlapping & refracting my perspective & perception accordingly & then I’m thinking about thinking and the time time takes & all that goes with it when it goes & what little actually remains as proof that we are what we are merely because we’re able to think about it which in terms of substantiality really doesn’t seem like very much at all.

[from Sending Off the Godhead in the City of Light, Hydrogen Jukebox Press, Burg, Germany, 2006]

Sending Off the Godhead in the City of Light

Time to kill before the reading at the gallery—walk over to the Seine & descend worn stone steps in the darkness-fractured shimmer of neon & streetlamps scattered across the wavelets—over there two lovers kissing in the shadows-over there a dope deal going down—over there a lone cigarette glowing secret agent-like in the inky gloom under the bridge—& just downstream Notre Dame all ablaze in the zillion-watt glow of the incessant incandescent full-fathom perennial millennial fossil-fuel maximum blowout illumina¬tion apparently necessary to eradicate the brooding darkness in which all our latent fears might otherwise take root as a party boat motors by with oblivious revelers unknowingly celebrating the end of an age not yet named.

[from Sending Off the Godhead in the City of Light, Hydrogen Jukebox Press, Burg, Germany, 2006]

Also by Mark Terrill


  • Postcard from Mount Sumeru | Bottle of Smoke Press, 2006
  • The United Colors of Death | Pathwise Press, 2003
  • Bread & Fish (prose poems) | The Figures, 2002
  • Kid with Gray Eyes | Cedar Hill Publications, 2001
  • Love-Hate Continuum | Green Bean Press, 2001
  • Sorry Try Again | Red Dancefloor Press, 1998
  • Subliminal Madness | Triton Press, 1978


  • Here to Learn: Remembering Paul Bowles | Green Bean Press, 2002


  • Like a Pilot: Rolf Dieter Brinkmann, Selected Poems 1963-1970  | Sulphur River Literary Review Press, 2001



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: