Under the Influence

I am under the influence.

I should not drive a car.

I should not handle

sharp objects

or heavy,

dull ones.


I am under the influence.

Deeply under it.

Of winter



I am under the influence of Mark Rothko.

Of the Lone Ranger and Tonto and Sky King and Fess Parker and George Reeves.

Of Mr. Wizard and Mike Mars.

Of invisible ancestors

Of Chagall, Blue Rider and Montparnasse

Of Bob Dylan and Brookyn and dead rebbes

I should not wrestle alligators

Or hippos.


I am under the influence of the short-lived perfection of apples.

I should not climb a tree

Or plant one in the electric soil.


I am under the influence of blended whiskey.

Of day old bread dipped in six bit wine.

Of caffeine and hot sauce

And Soutine’s meat.

I am under the influence of frightened people.

I should not run with scissors.

I know that.

It would be a bad idea.


I am under the influence of a chain of springs.

Of no laughing matter, my friend.

Of hangers and needle points.

Of belt buckles.

I am under the influence of lost causes.

I am under the influence of Ashcan and Cobra.

I should not smile at babies.

I should not sail a boat, handle heavy machinery or talk to prostitutes.

I should avoid rooftops.

I should certainly





I am under the influence of innumerable breasts.

And collar bones.

Of necks stretched like the scraped residue of hash pipes.

Of Miles.

Of cold fusion.

Of bald lies and hidden meanings.

I should not play with matches.

I should not play with strangers or my food or with words.

I should avoid accidents of letters.

I should seize my pen from my claw like a frog catching flies.

Then I should hold my tongue.

For a time.



From  Spoken War

I Don’t Give A Shit

Okay, so yesterday I heard some guy is going around saying I don’t give a shit. Ticked me off. I steamed over it. After all, who the hell is going to tell me I don’t give a shit? But he didn’t tell me. He said it to other folks. It just got back to me. And now I’m going have a trouble liking this guy. What a nuisance.

He seemed all right before. Didn’t know him well but wanted to. Chatted a few times. Got the impression we were simpatico, and I don’t get a hell of lot of that sense around where I live. Now, in retrospect, I guess those conversations were just politics. Okay. It’s a political world. I don’t give a shit.

Most likely I don’t give a shit about some of the same shit he gives a shit about. In the context of the universe of which he is the center, my attitude probably does come off as more general. Context, if not everything, is a lot. And there’s no accounting for universes. We all make what sense we can out of the world, and we only have our own feeble perceptual and cognitive powers by which to construct the conceits we live by. Sometimes, when I get a glimpse into one of those worlds, I’m glad there are so many others.

I don’t have a need to get along with everybody. I don’t trust people who do. But that doesn’t mean I want to do anything about them. I just take it into account. Instinctively. Beyond that, I don’t give a shit. There’s too much else to do.

I like walking with people. I like it when there’s wine and the gab is good and we’re walking and picking up stuff along the way to make a noise with. I like the improvised syncopation that happens, the joyful stumbles, the sounds of voices charged with merriment. I like the word “merriment.” But when the route is mapped and the drumbeat insistent, I prefer to slip out. I disdain neat rows. The irrefragably programmatic. The very idea of like-mindedness as the highest aspiration makes my sinuses ache.

I kind of like that “build it and they will come” concept. But when it’s married to blaming the ghosts who don’t arrive, it loses meaning. They don’t come because there is greater nourishment elsewhere, or because there is some other place in that moment where they must be to manifest more according to their own lights. That’s obvious. It ought to be respected.

So what do I give a shit about? I don’t know. I think as long as there is food in the world, everybody ought to eat. As long there’s medicine, everybody ought to have what they need. As long as there are people, everybody ought to have a friend and a lover with whom to make crazy love all the time. I think there is nothing sweeter than a kiss, and I want everyone to know what that can be, to judge for themselves. I believe the world has a lot of hardness in it, and we ought to make things easier for the next person when we can. We ought to help one another find and do what each of us loves to do because, in the end, at the heart of things, it makes all the difference. The quality of our sleep depends on it. Every morning, we leave pieces of our dreams on our pillows. These get into the air we breathe.

I believe one of the greatest gifts we can give one another, one that is within the reach of everyone to give, is encouragement. The most remarkable state of being is not to be inspired but to inspire. And I know the value of that from having been given inspiration. And whatever the temple, no matter how tempting it is to appoint oneself gatekeeper, it’s better to “Unscrew the locks from the doors! Unscrew the doors themselves from their jambs!”[i]

Oh, and yeah, everything is personal. Everything. That’s probably why I was still so ticked when I started typing this. I wish I wasn’t so hot-headed sometimes. After all, it’s pretty stupid to get all fired up by hearsay. But I’m smiling now. In another couple of days, I’ll forget why I was so bothered in the first place. Maybe that means I don’t give a shit.



Meeting the Living/The Julian Beck Interview

I met Julian Beck through Jack Gelber in 1984, shortly after the Living Theater returned to New York for a run at the Joyce Theater. The press was harsh; more like ridicule than review. After 10 years of self-imposed exile and more than 30 years of relentlessly experimental work, the Living Theater was broke and broken up.  When I arrived…

To read more and listen to the interview: UbuWeb Sound :: Julian Beck

Ten Years After

In 2001, The Ari Files was a weekly column I’d kept for several years.  When 9/11 happened, my son, Noah, was going on three. Kezia, my daughter, had just turned one.  Jan and I were in a tough spot financially, so I picked up some classes at the University of North Florida.  I was on my way to teach what was my first fiction workshop there when I saw folks gathered in front of a TV screen in the public area of the building where the class was held.  Through the spaces between shoulders and heads,  I watched a clip of a plane smashing into the towers. A part of me didn’t believe it was real.  Another part instantly knew it was.  My brain couldn’t buy it.  But all the flesh and blood–it was like falling through myself.  Just falling. And I didn’t know I was crying until I heard the sound of it.

I know I musthave gone to the classroom, but that’s all blank now.  I don’t know what I said, what I did.

That night, I took down The Ari Files. I’d wanted to write something, but couldn’t.  So I just took it down.  And it stayed down for nearly two weeks. The following is from September 23, 2001.


Words and One Eye Open

Some folks have written me to ask why The Ari Files has gone dark.  I’ve thinking of two, a couple of pals–a Canadian and a Staten Islander–who thought I shouldn’t just clam up, that I should write something about what I’m feeling.

The Canadian had lived for some years in New York City, long enough to become part of a neighborhood.  That’s how you become a New Yorker.  That’s how she gets under your skin.   Once you’ve got a neighborhood, you’ve got the whole town, and you take her with you for the rest of your life.

New York makes you a part of her.  The timing, the tension, rubbing bellies in narrow green grocer aisles; breaths shared, mouth to mouth, over meek distances in crowded trains and elevators and laundromats; the confluence of streams of humanity bunching up on street corners and sliding, headlong, up and down sidewalks in human eddies; words spoken or left in the bubbling stir of thoughts behind blinking eyes; all the living and some presumed dead languages of humanity escaping from tongues and through ears to cling to the sides of buildings and on window glass, making dunes in the panes; words mixed with carbonic soot and just as black.  Black.  The color of the deep and distance and the unknown.  The color of poets in leather jackets or cotton Ts.  The black of boots and berets and moons beneath tired eyes and asphalt.  The black of Homburgs in Williamsburg and Borough Park.  The Lower Eastside black of fishnet stockings and hip tight skirts and dyed hair and painted lips and fingers and toes.  Ebony Jazz.   The black beard of dockside Romeo dropping fishhooks into the inky Narrows.  The glossed lampblack empty nucleus of an open eye through which everything may enter and beyond which everything is revealed, including the wonder of ultimate unknowability. This black pools in the pores of your skin.  You carry it with you.  It gets into your blood.  It stripes your soul with a brush dipped into a concentrate of richly mixed humanity.

My Canadian friend took the terror planes in his belly.  Just like the rest of us.  The Staten Islander lost a dozen of his people.  Oh God.  The scent of dear flesh blown from bones onto the air in fire and chemical smoke. Screams and tears rush into the hollows of charred periosteum.   Eardrums shatter.  Silence, desperate leaps.  There is no air left in the world.

Everyone is missing now.  Everyone.   What words could there possibly be?

We need time.  To catch our breaths after a blow to the windpipe.  To let cohesion return to the mind.  To let sadness have sway. To squeeze rage out of our rag hearts and let it drain into gutters.  To bury our dead.

What can I say?  Watch your back.  All this sadness and rage: we’re going to be crazy from it for a while.  You’ll have to sleep lightly now.   And keep an eye on that guy over there wrapped in a flag.   I think he’s looking for trouble.  Better keep one eye open at all costs.  For safety’s sake. I’m talking about the neighborhood here.

When any of you have a spare moment…

…if you feel up to it, please let me know what we are doing in our classes that is meaningful or significant in the lives of those we are charged to serve. I’m wondering about creative writing. I’m wondering about English, and I’m thinking we should stop teaching it. We should stop speaking it and thinking in it. Writing? Forget about it. We should only teach dead languages. If we’re just setting our unsuspecting (?) charges up for the dim fluorescence of corporate cubbies, give ‘em dead languages. If we teach what we are—and you’ve gotten a gander at the general condition of the professoriate, newbies and the more decrepit alike—dead languages are the only way to go. In theory. You know? I’m just saying. For the rest, I propose the prophetic gibberish of apocalyptic visions injected right into student brains if only for the explosive flash of momentary wonder. I’ll go first. It’s good pedagogy.

I mean, I hear faculty and students talking. Sometimes they’re talking to me, talking right at me, third eye to third eye, and I’m nodding my head, I’m nodding and nodding, but I’m thinking, “What? What the hell? How the fuck does this conversation improve my Kung Fu?”




You know, everybody’s working. Just ain’t everbody getting paid. Eating dust and being broke is about the worst gig there is. That’s on the hours and benefits alone. And sure, it’s the scare of that gig that keeps you pinned to the job and folks who are sucking life out of you—though some of them can’t help it: a black hole does what a black hole does. But, man, there’s them other ones, the ones who say, “Well, if you don’t like it heeeeere, nobody’s forcing you to stay. It’s a free country.”  Ain’t that a kick in the ass? Thank you sir, may I have another.

Anyway, here’s my nomination for a new national anthem, the better pledge of allegiance, or a rosary prayer for the goddam god of get a fucking clue.

Work Song by Dan Reeder

Again and Brand New

When my son, Noah, turned 12, he and I began a journey together to the time when he would become a Bar Mitzvah . I wanted something for him other than what I had experienced. It was. For both us.

Over the following year we read together—history, poetry, philosophy, sacred texts, prayers, short stories and novels. We watched films, looked at art, and listened to music. We tried our hands at some. We talked about it all. Asked questions. He decided he wanted to read Torah in Hebrew, so we studied together and learned to piece the sounds into words, and we discussed those words and what they might mean for us. He wanted to chant, so we downloaded the signs for the tropes and listened to recordings of the sounds they represented. Then we put them together with the words of his Haftarah.

It was not an easy year. I was working two jobs to keep us afloat. He had his schoolwork and music and all the things a boy of 12 has to do to be a boy of 12. But we did it. We made the time for it, because it meant a lot to both of us to spend that time together, he and I, on this journey. We each kept a journal of it, of our thoughts and impressions and things we wanted to remember. He has his. Someday, he’ll have the one I made.

On his 13th birthday, we went to the beach. No rabbi. No synagogue. Just him, his mom, his sister, me, and a small group of friends to make our minyan. Noah wore the tallit I had worn when I became a Bar Mitzvah. I wore the tallit that belonged to my grandfather.

Noah chanted beautifully. Afterwards, he spoke what he had in his heart to say about our year together, what he felt he had learned, and what it all meant to him. It was something. Then he and I left the group for a stroll along the edge of the water. I told him how proud I was of him, of how I admired him and loved him. I thanked him for the best year of my life. He put his arms around me and said, “It doesn’t have to stop now, does it?” “Of course not,” I told him. And it hasn’t.

Two years from now, this weekend, my daughter, Kezia, will become a Bat Mitzvah. One year from now, we begin. Really, we’ve already begun.
Kezia Ari



Real Bio

When Mark Ari unlocked his mother’s womb, he fell to soft vinyl where he lived under another name and the kitchen table.  Women with round faces bent down to pinch his cheeks.  Grandpa made Egyptian poses on the landing at the top of the stairs, nodding and winking and making a great show of brushing back invisible hair with his fingers.  Mother opened her mouth and sighed: ah-ah-ah-ah.

By the time the leaves on the trees were dry and beautiful—orange and cream and chocolate—he planted his feet, and the world got littler.  He did not notice.  He did not.  Then he did.  And he could read French and Spanish but spoke only a stutter of English.  So he made shapes with his lips that stenciled words on the air.  This has made all the difference.





Press Bio

Mark Ari was born in Brooklyn and now lives near of the edge of the sea between Jacksonville and the Ancient City.

Along with UNF students, Ari founded Fiction Fix and continues to serve as Editorial Advisor to the literary journal, Fiction Fix; edits EAT, a publisher of digital albums and audio chapbooks which includes the highly regarded EAT Poems series; and directs River House, the University of North Florida’s virtual writer’s house. He publishes fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction. Among these are two chapbooks: Bloodshot and Blue, a collection of poetry (Stony Brook Free Press) and Deathfoot Ha! (Stroker Press) His novel, The Shoemaker’s Tale (Zephyr Press), received high praise in international trade and popular periodicals like the New York Times, Kirkus Reviews, Publisher’s Weekly, Na’amat Woman, The Jerusalem Post, the Association of Jewish Libraries, and others. He is a performing singer-songwriter and has written and performed three one-man shows: Flatbush Serenade (premiered at the Maryland Theater in Hagerstown, MD), Blue Babies (premiered at the Paramount Theater, Wilkes-Barre, PA) and Songs for the Waste Laboratory, (premiered at The Living Theater, NYC). His paintings have been exhibited in group and solo shows in the United States and abroad, in such venues as Westbeth Gallery (NYC), Broome Street Gallery (NYC), the Southern Vermont Art Center, El Jueves Galleria (Seville, Spain), the Giralda Center (Seville, Spain), and Gallerie La Pantographe (Lyon, France). He has been awarded three fellowships the MacDowell Colony, two from the Ragdale Foundation, and one each from Fundacion Valparaiso and the Ucross Foundation. He has thrice won the Outstanding Undergraduate Teaching Award at the University of North Florida (2006, 2009, and 2013), twice won the DRC Professor Empowerment Award (2011 and 2012), and was recognized by the Student Coalition with a Distinguished Advisor Award (2003).


Contact: MarkAri@bellsouth.net


The Shoemaker’s Tale