Back when Roberta was the same age as Lucille
for David Trinidad
What love is
once was there in her voice
and she knew
the chronicle of tears
and the sparkling motion
water made when her
hands entered the pool
Narcissus strayed this way
and we all knew him.
It’s twenty years later
and sorry are we that passion
lies not with the easy clutter of young bloods
on the prowl but here in life’s great middle.
What is sweet is that sweetness
stays fresh as dawn’s whispered light.
And we need only mark the way
we remember the fools we were
because the fools we are
can only make the tears drop
a little less frequently.
Valentine’s Day, 2001
she’d finished eating the wildebeest—it took all night
former lovers cursed her shoes
all other dreams
Fire and spit, roasting the beast
heat, not enough
white hairy belly subway morning
every body hot
Chinese government fakes the immolation of martyrs
Fulan Gong members hand out fliers
wind harsh, snow not much
hairy belly subway morning, he’s addicted to display
her mouth is wet with half-cooked beast
her mouth is wet with hair
her mouth is licking white hairy belly subway morning
Air is snow.
Free Tibet banners slung along Second Avenue
Fulan Gong members hand out fliers.
She dreams a feast and then the flat-bellied man appears
subway morning her bloody mouth, the wildebeest.
Fire and spit
Who is free?
Plump red valentines dangle Grand Central.
Huge bouquets in big metal buckets stand ready for plucking.
Mouths bloody. Hot meat. Hairy belly. White
subway morning. Work.
Morning ride. Grand Central orifices enclose and release
woman satisfied. Fulan Gong hands out fliers.
Chinese government fakes martyrs’ deaths.
Fire in the valentine
plump red restless.
Bloody mouth. Air is ice. Street is ice.
Radiant curbside, the beast growls.
When I meet someone named Cecil, I think THE SEA SICK Sea Serpent
’50s cartoons like gospel music are not easily forgotten
Here are the ingredients for self-identity
raucous religious music and insipid fables
righteous spirits released by music stamping ground
fierce monsters pared to bold lines and subdued colors
set at world’s end, or sea shore, far from the clutter
of childrens’ rooms
where fantasy made to order on the television
renders beasts cute and clever as if danger comes only in human form
the hunter, the farmer, the factory boss
The rabbit cracks wise, the mouse is a balladeer
and the duck is always angry
but the Sea Serpent confuses everyone.
He smiles a fangless smile and forgives all the other creatures
their bad habits, their mean exploits. He can’t stand the sea.
When someone loses her mind is it the sea serpent disappearing
or sacred music corrupted, slumped over, moaning low?
Comfort and Joy
in memory of Felix Gonzales-Torres
The white-face clown rolls out of clown alley like a whippet at the dog track.
He’s stopped in his mad march by the August who makes the most marvelous of grimaces
Fascinated, sugar-loaded pink and chubby children squeal like piglets.
pleads an old man in last year’s sports coat.
Trained beasts turn their generous bodies, roar, growl, moan.
Their human partners step outside, spy the expanding stars,
smoke forbidden cigarettes. Pray.
In center ring, the lead tamer enters the stench and dream
of the lion’s cage, flashes even white teeth and a practiced whip.
The big cats lick, roll, and tease.
Where’s the blood?
The colorful band pitches a martial melody
as the aerialists ascend to their conjugal dance.
Could they miss the breath that leads to first touch?
Will they find that moment that defies the idea of air?
The audience gasps, applauds as the couple’s sequined costumes
fracture light. They descend to the floor, bow deeply, then run—
he to the east; she to the west
as if from the dream of a happy marriage.
The ringmaster tosses his rainbow hat high
extends the crowd a grand farewell.
The audience reluctantly leaves. Astonished by the beasts’ blood,
the clowns’ tiny cars; the smell of pleasure spent. Still.
They stumble into a night illuminated by strands of bright naked bulbs,
electric pendants crossing this field of vision,
casting forth the moon’s corrupted globe and
the faintest rays from Venus’s distant seductions.
Satisfied in their security, lit by the carnival’s utilitarian lights,
the audience navigates invisible paths
to that tribal notion of comfort and joy some call the American Paradise.
—Patricia Spears Jones, a poet and playwright, is author of the poetry collection The Weather That Kills (Coffeehouse Press, 1995) and the play Mother, produced by Mabou Mines in 1994. Her poems have appeared in The Poetry Project Newsletter, Ploughshares, and Heliotrope and online in bkyn: an online journal of the arts, and have been widely anthologized, most recently in Best American Poetry 2000 (Scribner’s) and bumrush: a defpoetryjam. She also writes on the visual and performing arts and is the coeditor of Ordinary Women: An Anthology of New York City Women (1978). She teaches creative writing at Parsons and the 14th Street Y in New York.