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Marlon L. Fick’s The Tenderness and the Wood
"A Poet’s Quest to Heal from Grief by Reflecting on the Spiritual and the Earthly"
by Christal Ann Rice Cooper
In January of 2020 Canadian publishing press Guernica Editions Inc. www.guernicaeditions.com published Marlon L. Fick’s poetry collection The Tenderness and the Wood;
cover design by Allen Jomoc Jr.;
interior layout by Jill Ronsley;
cover art by Francisca Esteve (Left);
Introduction by Francisco Avila;
with the book being fully dedicated to legendary poet Robert Bly, whom Fick had intimate conversations with about his pilgrimage, as depicted in his poem “Sitting By a Warm Fire.”
In the middle 1970s, Marlon L. Fick (born in 1960) experienced a quest for the spiritual. During this quest, he turned to poetry as a way to find the right path for him. (Left: Marlon L. Fick in 1980. Copyright by Marlon L. Fick)
Fick was surrounded by mystical experiences as a youth; only to recount those mystical experiences not as religious, but simply a form of poetry that led him to finally embrace Jamesian pluralism and Christian Agnosticism.
The result of this quest is the autobiographical The Tenderness and the Wood, which won the National Endowment for the Arts in the year 2005, with a forward by Willis Barnstone.
The quest of Marlon L. Fick continued and as a result, he rewrote some of the poems and those most recent versions of poems are included in the 2020 version of The Tenderness and the Wood, which consists of 31 poems.
Francisco Avila states in the forward: “The ‘tenderness’ and ‘wood’ signify both sex and crucifixion without redemption, passion without any purpose other than itself which Fick explains, is a view from which he has never recovered.”
Marlon L. Fick, in a Facebook interview with CRC Blog on March 1, 20201 stated: “It was, Avila says, the existentialists (Left) who I never got over, not the title's words.”
Fick also shed more light on what his pilgrimage or quest is: “The pilgrimage or quest is about chasing the angels (Rilkean angels)... ie symbols of my lost daughter (Sophia ) and lost wife (Laura). (Right: Rene Karl Wilhelm Johann Josef Maria Rilke)
There are religious connotations to that, but ultimately I think Avila had it right when he called it Christian Agnosticism a la Kierkegaard.” (Left: Soren Aabye Kierkegaard)
Perhaps the big question to ask is does Marlon L. Fick’s reflections on the spiritual things lead him to these angels? Does his reflection on the earthly things lead him to the angels? Or does his reflections on both the spirit and earthly world lead him to a sense of peace over the death of his wife and daughter? (Right: Marlon and Laura on their wedding day. Copyright by Marlon L. Fick)
In “One Never Knows" Fick draws the parallels between a church and a strip club.
I suppose there is music, all sorts of praise, donations, and
a lot of halleluiahs and speaking in tongues with the eyes
back in ecstasy.
In “The Tenderness and the Wood” the speaker of the poem sees the unification of male and female and flower and animal. All are one, unified.
We did not know male from female
or flower from animal
Then toward the end of the poem the man and woman make up the cross where they kneel and make a “sacrifice of scattered nails,” which can refer to the nails used in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. (Left: Laura and Marlon in Mexico City, Mexico. Copyright by Marlon L. Fick)
In “The Swallows of Barcelona” the church windows could be interpreted as the church itself full of lies.
Morning reaches the church windows, stained with lies.
In “The Flood” God is described as a brutal God who wants to possess both Adam and the land, even if it means, exhibiting violence
Not the way god reaches tenderly toward Adam,
but clinched, ready to possess,
to strip the land of its sex
In “Melissa’s White Dress” the speaker of the poem becomes one with snow.
I was warm and began to drift like the snow itself.
Then when he looks in the mirror he becomes a coyote.
Mornings in the mirror a coyote looks back at me
from a field of stubble-
In “The Angel over Mexico City” the traffic becomes the sign of the cross.
All night cars cross both ways
on the Avenue of Reforma
making the sign of the cross;
Later the speaker of the poem compares his sleep to a tomb.
I wake out of a sleep
which was a tomb robbed of its dreams,
Fick also compares rats to candles inside a church
the hurry of rats, their little white hands
thrumming their thumb like a flicker of candles in a church.
In “The Sources of Light” Fick is the 10-year-old boy who compares his lantern as an ancestor to God.
I was ten and confident and I thought
all sources of light had a common ancestor in God:
In “A Priori to His Will” the speaker of the poem listens to his friend speak when God walks into the room where the two friends reside.
And when I listened to my friend,
God came in the room – that is, he is searing fountain, jetsam of
image and idea.
In “Crows” there are numerous religious references such as “Sparrows purchased for pennies in Jerusalem/ and eaten by the poor” which can relate to Jesus’s sayings of how God takes care of the sparrow just like He will take care of the poor. (Right: Laura and Marlon. Copyright by Marlon L. Fick.)
The speaker of the poem than advises the reader as Jesus advised the disciples not worry. “Don’t worry a minute of your life./ Don’t gather stores for winter./ Don’t plant or harvest.” Even still, the speaker of the poem, the crow, Jesus, and other birds worry and therefore are in terror. This terror can also describe the emotion of the speaker of the poem as he seeks some kind of peace amongst the death of his wife Laura and daughter Sophia.
In “Zocala As the Sun Goes Down” the speaker of the poem compares violence to a Latin Mass. “It's not that different from a Latin mass:/ Either way the meanings are assumed." (Left: Laura and Marlon. Copyright by Marlon L. Fick)
In “Lent” there are numerous references to the spiritual but even still, Fick discovers that it is best to have no faith.
Although, surrounded by signs,
I have learned it is better to have no faith:
it’s the pigeon’s fate
to hop from its nest off a tenth story ledge.
I prefer the certain death of life here on the ground,
the cradle of broken glass
In “Parting Words” Fick is in Africa, and describes every spiritual reference with something that destroys the spiritual reference itself. For instance, Fick purchases a black cross made out of ticks and mites that infect the human body.
I bought a small black cross of acerina.
He then purchases a bowl of alms, which is a symbol of Buddhists purchasing food or money for the poor. This postman rejects the bowl of alms, which in a way, could be a rejection of God himself, another explanation of why it is better to have no faith. (Right: Marlon L. Fick in 1999. Copyright by Marlon L Fick)
I bought a humble bowl of alms and left it
in foreign language newspapers
and the postman, thinking it was for him, never came back.
The speaker of the poem’s affections for a woman are rejected and therefore he is turned to smoke. Even though the Old Testament God loves the smell of smoke, He does not accept the smoke from Fick’s body, as a result, he has no place to go. (Left: Mexico Literary Figure Ali Chamacero and Laura taken in their apartment that poet Octavio Paz go them. Copyright by Marlon L. Fick)
You imagine I still love you
after you set fire to the land and burned my letters
I suppose I do.
But I was only made of words, not places.
You turned me to smoke
and my spirit had nowhere to go.
He then describes the cross as being not real and painful to the soul and body.
The black cross with its fake diamond
This black and muddy claw at my neck.
In “The Dream of the Cross" the speaker of the poem gives his deceased loved one the power to walk on water, something Jesus was able to do in the flesh.
Remember the day you came back from the water,
which you tried to walk across
and now you’re floating in the dream world.
He further describes his loved one as dissolving into salt, which brings up the image of Lot’s wife dissolving into salt.
You went looking for the words washed out to sea, dissolved in salt.
While his loved one is in a coma he gives her the power to look at the plucked eye of God, a form of her death.
and it looked on you as nothing.
Your body vanished.
This literal eye of God enters a fish as it opens its mouth where nothing comes out.
a fish in the eye of God that opens and closes his mouth, and still no words
He then describes his loved one’s inability to hear as “His word/ like a feather/fallen from the moon,” and by the end of the poem she is able to ascend.
Presses the button that will end all time
and you will ascend.
In “Lost Gospels” he experiences some sort of peace in an abandoned yard.
Quiet days in the yard of a ruined church.
He compares guerilla fighters to visitors of the nativity and the wind and the rain becomes the voice of his beloved.
Here and there,
tanks, machine guns, the brown boys in their flat jackets
and Teflon helmets
posed in the corners of the square
or peered form the bell towers
like visitors to the nativity.
In “Lazarus, His Body Bag” Fick compares his eyes as priests. He then compares the hospital patient’s excrement to the rich jewels that flow from Christ’s body.
Hospital white liked a wedding gown.
room you get shit into like the rich jewels
that flow rom the wounds of Christ.
In “A Christmas Letter to My Daughter” Fick finally seems to find what he has been searching for this whole time. (Right: Laura during the Christmas season in Mexico. Copyright by Marlon L. Fick)
while I paced in the waiting room waiting for an epiphany,
not realizing that you were the angel, the revelation and the
But, toward the end of the poem there is still that sense of desperation that not even religion or spirituality or earthly things could heal.
Still waiting for some wise men to show up.
Been a lack of wisdom lately.
And Jesus might have wept – for all of us – but my bet is he’s still
especially for those of who can not.
In “Sitting by a Warm Fire” Fick converses with Robert Bly and finally reveals the way he tries to understand life and deaths from the most massive to the tiniest of idiosyncrasies.
I play both sides of a game of Chess
castling myself in opposing corners
like unwilling boxers.
One could state Fick’s desire to play both sides of the game of Chess is the same as trying to walk in another person’s shoes. It is also the ability to be aware of yourself, another person, the spiritual, and the earthly without abandoning one’s convictions. More importantly, it gives the speaker of the poem a way, not necessarily to find the answer or satisfaction, but to just find enough peace to make it to the next day. (Left: Robert Bly)
Marlon L. Fick holds a BA from the University of Kansas, an MA from New York University, and PhD from the University of Kansas. He is author of two poetry collections, a book of short stories, and the novel The Nowhere Man (Jaded Ibis, 2015), and is editor/translator of The River Is Wide / El río es ancho: Twenty Mexican Poets (New Mexico, 2005), as well as XEIXA: 14 Catalan Poets (Tupelo, 2018). Awarded fellowships from the U.S. National Endowment for the Arts, ConaCulta in Mexico, and Institut Ramon Llull in Catalonia, he now teaches at the University of Texas—Permian Basin. (Right: Marlon L Fick playing his guitar with his cat Awee (means Baby) looking in. Photo taken in 20201. Copyright by Marlon L. Fick)