Rumpus Original Poetry: Three Poems by Marlin M. Jenkins






“I’m white,” she allegedly said, “I could kill you and nothing would happen.”
            Washington Post

In the ‘20s and ‘30s young men swallowed goldfish whole.
I suppose a recent equivalent is Tide-pods, yesterday
was gratuitous cinnamon—a million other swallowed things
we have paid attention to and then forgotten. In 1939 a college
student swallowed 25 fish in one sitting. Ketchup-covered,
OJ chaser: “They’re tasteless that way,” he’s quoted as saying
in the Washington Post. Of course sometimes the men choked
and died. But what of the survival of the fish? We can wonder
if the fish’s attention span meant a constant re-awakening
to the enclosure of suctioning tunnel. In 2018 in Madrid
the white woman took beer bottle to the man’s temple. Twice.
Seven stitches. I won’t repeat what she called him.
The fish-eating boy was a swimmer, had a nickname:
it was Gill. The struck man responds online with sadness
for the woman’s hate. His love, tame—and therefore
applauded. Does it matter if Gill hated the gilled creatures
as they shook scales against his throat? How much
blood and whose? At some point a senator filed a bill
“to preserve the fish from cruel and wanton consumption.”
“Spain still lacks an anti-discrimination law,” says
the Washington Post. A study says that the goldfish
has an attention span of 9 seconds. Humans an attention span
of 8. Of course, everything the woman said is just alleged.
Does it matter what she said—when the blood
splits into two streams down onto the white shirt?
Enough for a creek to fill with goldfish, swimming
upstream? I’m sure not a single young (but grown-ass)
man hated one of those fish, but how does hate matter
when the fish is dissolving in stomach acid?
How does hate matter when the men have fingers
large enough to pinch a tail-fin, a friend
to one-up, the buying-power to provide the fish?
No, it is not hate I fear. It is the bottle. It is the throat.
It is my body writhing down a dark corridor
until I am silent, not as strong as the muscles of a quick gulp.
“I will only be here for a moment and then I’m leaving,”
the woman said. Gill swallowed 17 fish, then paused
for a moment, then started right up again. The woman hit the man
with a glass bottle, and then—the once not being enough—
hit him again. She didn’t choke. The police came
and she gave a statement and then she left, like nothing happened.


metaphor exercise

            after Solmaz Sharif

we could start with the common one:
the black dog shaking off empty droplets
in the center of the room. is the room
empty or over-cluttered. am i
in it or just watching. i call the dog
just sadness but the dog is not
dog at all but a tiger cub with no stripes.
no, a bright slug. no, a split
atom. a black hole where all my
light and limbs spiral, crash into
each other. the emptiness is like
anything you love but hollowed out.
a hill, an avocado, ransacked cornucopia.
the void is like an ambassador. like
a largemouth bass. like a hundred
baited hooks. it’s deceptive and alluring.
like what that’s like. like a dust
seeping through the neglected pores.
like too-permeable membrane.
it’s a creeping deadline. it’s de facto.
it’s like a deal i never read the fine print
for. it’s so so normal it’s barely worth
speaking. it’s barely pretty: let’s dress
it with approximations, with the distance
between a word and its translation.
let’s make it art. let’s make it words,
the text itself. let’s kill the author.
no, it’s not like depression.
it’s nothing like depression at all.


death call

            “and when death call i’m good i got call i.d.” – Method Man

and if i call   the dial tone triggered   by knife or water or blocked neck
will death answer   will he let the receiver vibrate   click the call off
halfway through the third ring   let my trembled breath fill the voicemail
let the echo pulse until the sound can’t hold these crooked scared hands
or will he wake to the sudden buzz as if he wasn’t expecting the call
and fell asleep   answer with grog wiping the crust from charcoal sockets
will he turn the phone off   perhaps forget me as he watches
a movie a long movie in an empty theatre where he can be alone
and will i then leave to find him sit in the silence checking over
for a recognizing glance at jokes or gore   or will he see it’s me
again and walk from the dark room into the false light   follow the lighted
stairs and a trail of stale forgotten popcorn   or will he block the number
will he change his number   again   will he ignore calls to play bejeweled
hope the light from each shining stone reaches me through the unanswered
rings   i wonder what ringtone death uses   i wonder if he has an unlimited
plan   remember when there were plans where you could list family
and friends to call and text for free   would i have had death on my list
but not be on his  of course i must be honest   i have felt so unwanted
that it was darkness i tried instead to beckon love and attention from   i must
be honest   every time i have called the line has been busy   and so
each time i stayed on the line to hear the busy tone   let its regular
jarring beep give me a new rhythm with which to step away   i admit
i used to answer calls from unknown numbers but not anymore
i admit it death in all my mental pictures of you you have been
so pretty   i have wanted you to wait for me   to crave the phone’s ring
and be ready always to answer and thank you for not picking up
thank you for not calling back   i admit for a while if you had called
and if i saw your name i would have answered gladly   smiled
as i said hello but you never called   you never called   and somehow
and i admit i’m not all sure how   i learned to stop calling
and even deleted your number  and left my voicemail full just in case


Photograph of Marlin M. Jenkins by Emma Richter.

Marlin M. Jenkins was born and raised in Detroit and is the author of the poetry chapbook Capable Monsters (Bull City Press, 2020). A graduate of University of Michigan's MFA in poetry, his work has found homes through Indiana Review, TriQuarterly, Waxwing, and Kenyon Review Online, among others. You can find him online at More from this author →