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Rodney Jones


Remembering Fire

Almost as thought the eggs run and leap back into their shells
And the shells seal behind them, and the willows call back their
And the oceans move predictably into deltas, into the hidden
     oubliettes in the sides of mountains,

And all the emptied bodies are filled, and, flake by flake, the snow
     rises out of the coal piles,
And the mothers cry out terribly as the children enter their bodies,
And the freeway to Birmingham is peeled off the scar tissue of fields,

The way it occurs to me, the last thing first, never as in life,
The unexpected rush, but this time I stand on the cold hill and watch
Fire ripen from the seedbed of ashes, from the maze of tortured glass,

Molten nails and hinges, the flames life each plank into place
And the walls resume their high standing, the many walls,

     and the rafters
Float upward, the ceiling and roof, smoke ribbons into the wet cushions,

And my father hurries back through the front door with the box
Of important papers, carrying as much as he can save,
All of his deeds and policies, the clock, the few pieces of silver;

He places me in the shape of my own body in the feather mattress
And go down into the soft wings, the mute and implacable country
Of sleep, holding all of this back, drifting toward the unborn.

The Bridge

These fulsome nouns, these abbreviations of air,
Are not real, but two of them may fit a small man
I knew in high school who, seeing an accident,
Stopped one day, leapt over a mangled guardrail,
Took a mother and two children from a flooded creek,
And lifted them back to the world. In the dark,
I do not know, there is a saying, but he pulled
Them each up a tree, which was not the tree of life
But a stooped Alabama willow, flew three times
From the edge of that narrow bridge as though
From the selfless shore of a miracle, and came back
To the false name of a real man, Arthur Peavahouse.
He could sink a set shot from thirty feet. One night
I watched him field a punt and scat behind a wall
Of blockers like a butterfly hovering an outhouse.
He did not love the crashing of bodies. He
Did not know that mother and her three children
But went down one huge breath to their darkness.
There is no name for that place, you cannot
Find them following a white chain of bubbles
Down the muddy water of these words. But I saw
Where the rail sheared from the bridge-which is
Not real since it was replaced by a wider bridge.
Arthur Peavahouse weighed a hundred and twenty pounds.
Because he ran well in the broken field, men
Said he was afraid. I remember him best
At a laboratory table, holding a test tube
Up to the light, arranging equations like facts,
But the school is air over a parking lot. You
Are too far from that valley for it to come
All the way true, although it is not real.
Not two miles from that bridge, one afternoon
In March, in 1967, one of my great-uncles,
Clyde Maples, a farmer and a commissioner of roads,
And his neighbor, whose name I have forgotten,
Pulled more than a hundred crappies off three
Stickups in that creek-though the creek is not
Real and the valley is a valley of words. You
Would need Clyde Maples to find Arthur Peavahouse,
And you would need Clyde Maples' side yard
Of roadgraders and bulldozers to get even part
Of Clyde Maples, need him like the crappies
Needed those stickups in the creek to tell them
Where they were. Every spring that creek
Darkens with the runoff of hog lots and barns,
Spreading sloughs, obscuring sorghum and corn.
On blind backwater full schoolbuses roll
Down buried roads. Arthur Peavahouse was smart
To run from the huge tackles and unthinking
To throw himself into that roiling water
And test the reality of his arms and lungs.
Many times I have thought everything I said
Or thought was a lie, moving some blame or credit
By changing a name, even the color of a lip or bush,
But whenever I think of the lie that stands for truth,
I think of Arthur Peavahouse, and not his good name,
But his deciding, as that car settled to the bottom,
To break free and live for at least one more moment
Upward toward light and the country of words
While the other child, the one he could not save,
Shrugged behind him in the unbreakable harness.

Rain on Tin

If I ever get over the bodies of women, I am going to think of the rain,
of waiting under the eaves of an old house
at that moment
when it takes a form like fog.
It makes the mountain vanish.
Then the smell of rain, which is the smell of the earth a plow turns up,
only condensed and refined.
Almost fifty years since thunder rolled
and the nerves woke like secret agents under the skin.
Brazil is where I wanted to live.
The border is not far from here.
Lonely and grateful would be my way to end,
and something for the pain please,
a little purity to sand the rough edges,
a slow downpour from the Dark Ages,
a drizzle from the Pleistocene.
As I dream of the rain's long body,
I will eliminate from mind all the qualities that rain deletes
and then I will be primed to study rain's power,
the first drops lightly hallowing,
but now and again a great gallop of the horse of rain
or an explosion of orange-green light.
A simple radiance, it requires no discipline.
Before I knew women, I knew the lonely pleasures of rain.
The mist and then the clearing.
I will listen where the lightning thrills the rooster up a willow,
and my whole life flowing
until I have no choice, only the rain,
and I step into it.

The Mosquito

I see the mosquito kneeling on the soft underside of my arm, kneeling
Like a fruitpicker, kneeling like an old woman
With the proboscis of her prayer buried in the idea of God,
And I know we shall not speak with the aliens
And that peace will not happen in my life, not unless
It is in the burnt oil spreading across the surfaces of ponds, in the dark
Egg rafts clotting and the wiggletails expiring like batteries.
Bring a little alcohol and a little balm
For these poppies planted by the Queen of Neptune.
In her photographs she is bearded and spurred, embellished five hundred times,
Her modular legs crouching, her insufferable head unlocking
To lower the razor-edge of its tubes, and she is there in the afternoon
When the wind gives up the spirit of cleanliness
And there rises from the sound the brackish oyster and squid smell of creation.
I lie down in the sleeping bag sodden with rain.
Nights with her, I am loved for myself, for the succulent
Flange of my upper lip, the twin bellies of my eyelids.
She adores the easy, the soft. She picks the tenderest blossoms of insomnia.
Mornings while the jackhammer rips the pavement outside my window,
While the sanitation workers bang the cans against the big truck and shout to each other over the motor,
I watch her strut like an udder with my blood,
Imagining the luminous pick descending into Trotsky's skull and the eleven days
I waited for the cold chill, nightmare, and nightsweat of malaria;
Imagining the mating call in the vibrations of her wings,
And imagining, in the simple knot of her ganglia,
How she thrills to my life, how she sings for the harvest.

                   -from Salvation Blues, Rodney Jones' Selected Poems