Across the forest floor,
beneath shadow of spruce
and mountain ash
the daughters of the wind
… … … multiply
numerous as stars
a temporary galaxy
at our feet—
anemones to us,
we are mystery at great distance
–Arlitia Jones, April 19, 2017
The bear was as surprised as we were
suddenly face to face on a trail that had ceased
being a trail at least a decade ago when miners
quit this worthless claim
I am alive!
declared the bear
We are in love!
we said, backing away
Hey, Bear. Hey, Bear.
Above us mountains held the blue milk sky
of the in-between season—
not winter, not spring—unlovely April
with its dingy grass and slick mud
Husband and wife celebrating the anniversary
of their life-long joining , lost in the water-song of melt,
calling out to the bear and the un-beautiful world
as if our tongues were made of flowers
that bloom a month from now,
anemones high in the mountains.
Let us renew our vows, Bear, let us pass, Bear
into the birch, tall-throats waiting
for their green voice to ripen.
Hey, Bear. Hey. The bear considered us,
sniffed the earth then left us to our troth
— Arlitia Jones, April 18, 2017
The world did not end
in war. Dawn pinks the mountains
and the brown bear wakes
Portrait of the Demi-Goddess as a Child
There came a day when my father, a powerful and wealthy king
(he was a butcher)
Lifted me up to set me high atop the back of a gleaming black mare.
(It was a Huffy banana bike. She was pink.)
She cantered and tossed her head. I smoothed her neck. Her name was Sheila.
(Her name was Sheila.)
My short legs were barely long enough to hold the curve of her ribs
(I couldn’t reach the pedals)
The King declared me confined to an Empire the breadth of a day’s ride in any direction.
(Our driveway and the street in front of the house.)
But Sheila’s mane was silver and her tail flowed like water when she ran.
(silver handlebar tassels)
Along her spine, my velvet cape flared like a blue wing wherever we went
(I tied a dishtowel around my neck)
and wherever we went we galloped. Headlong. Breathless. We ran away to Ghost Mountain
(To the top of Deadman’s Hill)
where highwaymen beat their horses and turned them out on rocky cliffs.
(mean boys always drop their bikes in the dirt)
Braggarts who blocked the way of any traveler, tested themselves against all comers.
(You know, a guy really died on this hill.)
Together, Sheila and I made up a single body of will and speed.
(Bet you’re too chicken.)
Sheila was the best of horses, she’d always done whatever I asked–
(I pointed my front tire downhill)
So, now I asked her for her cherished legs, her roaring heart. I was fearless.
(I was fearless.)
–Arlitia Jones, April 16, 2017
Before and after have places.
—Lao Tzu (604-531 BCE)
Between fear and hope
now is where we are
now is the weight in the hand of ripened daylight
or it is the agile joke where laughter leaps from the tongue
now is the bright notes of a robin’s song spinning
inside the tornado, it’s also the mangled lawn chair
now is the blank ceiling that shelters us
when a star drops its gold coins from so high up
now is the disappearance of the moth vibrating its wings
same as it is the brown bat banked in careening flight
now is the bridge with missing slats
between birth and death–deliberate faith or folly
in between before and after, that coaxes
our first step onto the water’s back
–Arlitia Jones, April 14, 2017
The walls of the cathedral in Lima are made of stone mortared together
with a million egg whites from the sea birds that to this day
nest in perennial multitude on the nearby rocks elbowing out of the Pacific.
The workers used what they had to hand, our tour guide tells us.
Over the mountains, for instance, where there are no sea birds,
the workers cemented their cathedral with the blood of oxen.
It’s easier to crack a few eggs, than to slaughter the ox, no?
A few eggs and the leg bones of believers for bedrock under magnificence.
I raised my eyes to the domed vault. I looked a really long time.
God’s not up there, I thought—but what I say is: what did they do with the yolks?
In the catacombs it’s immediately obvious that cracked skulls
without their lower jaws, stacked one on top of the other
resemble punctured egg shells shucked of their gold.
–Arlitia Jones, April 13, 2017
She draws the outline
in the air between us
My country is here
the tip of her finger
taps the space where Senegal
I’m about to ask
if they have lions?
and if there’s tall grass
for them to stalk through?
We were the first
In the air between us
is her smile and a population
40 million Muslims and Christians
who catch buses and ride bicycles
in the striped shadows
of tall spires
I see her younger self
carrying shopping bags
on the street, calling out
the names of her neighbors
above a shining river of traffic.
Later I google the lions
of West Africa–
only 16 left
in Niokola Kobe National Park
in the country of Senegal
in the air between us
–Arlitia Jones, April 12, 2017
Who can see?
on jagged walls … … smoke climbing
the ladder of wind
to furl and hook
into the lungs
of the next city
the wide-eyed stars
in first contact
people on those worlds
a thousand years
-Arlitia Jones, April 11, 2017
On the road going past her land
we found one sock, a filthy thing
she said belonged to the bogey man
who comes at dawn looking for work,
his whole body wrapped in socks to keep warm
a woolen mummy with a red mouth
and seeping eyes
If I needed anymore evidence
she knew all the signs for terror
l had the new mole on my elbow
proof trolls dropped out of the ducts
while I slept to lick my skin, a physic
for their warted tongues,
just like she said would happen
No neighbors in sight,
I lived the pastoral summer with her in the squat house
in the middle of the field where the sky
liked to rest its heavy blue foot
Wheat-fringed horizon on all sides,
we stayed within our bounds
so the night we heard her garden gate crash open
when I tried to go to the window
she grabbed my arm to keep me
beside her on the couch.
Pay no mind. Witches can’t abide locks
In the tent of light thrown by one lamp
we pretended not to hear, I pretended to read a book,
she pretended to darn some torn relic
as night swirled around the house,
the dark whispered and cursed, conspired
to rob the old woman blind
The next morning, on hands and knees
she scooped dirt into the heart-sized holes
where beets used to be. She re-mounded
her potato hills and clucked her tongue
damn fools went right past the cucumbers
When I asked her why would witches steal
when they could do magic, anyway
she kept her eyes on the earth
Later in the afternoon heat
when I started to shiver
Means spiders running across the sun.
–Arlitia Jones, April 9, 2017
Inside the earth
I prayed for violence
waited for the frozen rind
above me to fracture
when I heard the snow
let down its damp
runnels of bright music
seeking lake bottom in my ear,
I took stock of my vertebrae
puzzled them back into place
renouncing my hunched devotion
to this myth
I wove my collarbones
back into their basket,
de-chimed my ribs
and let go the clack
curled in my hands
of new flesh softening my sharpness
I started to suspect
I am meant for blooming
and so what happens next—
the clawing sound,
the soil tearing above me
sunlight’s thick blade cleaving
the howling of the old woman—
comes as shock—her rusted hands
clutching, lifting me out of the husk
of every wrong ever done to her
She’s kept my name all this time
and when she says it
I feel the spade striking
–Arlitia Jones, April 8, 2017