Polymaths, Dabblers and Moonsails

Happy New Year, friends.

Are you ready to take it slow?


“…a ship starting, spreading all sails, carrying even her moonsails…”


We had a blizzard last night and this morning I’m looking out on a bright, mounded, blank world and I don’t have the least intention of getting out there and making something of it. I tried that last year and it almost broke me.

Let the beautiful world be the beautiful world in its own form, in its own right. Let the snow have this day untracked. Let the oyster keep its pearl.

Over the past year, I have been learning to paint and draw. Rather, I should say relearning to paint and draw because I did these things all the time when I was a child. They were second nature. I’m not sure at what point they became third nature behind the writing, and then 10th nature, and 34th nature, and finally falling off the scale entirely until I had to rediscover as an adult how much I have missed and love creating visually.

I am not a polymath. But maybe I am the thing that comes before the polymath. The poly-curious. The Dabbler in all things.

It’s so scary to put this work out there, but one of my goals this year is to share more of what I can create with the world. Friends, I’m hoping this is one of your goals, too. I love seeing what you do.

It’s also one of my goals to reacquaint myself with this blog which, I admit, I forgot I started. I’ll spare you the emoji face with the big eyes, but that’s the face I’m making right now.

Last year, somebody called me a polymath… oh, if only!

It is a great compliment, and it is not true. I do not have great learning in numerous varied subjects. I can’t read music. I don’t know the names of Jupiter’s moons. I can’t point to Kuala Lumpur on a map. For the love of all that is holy, don’t ask me to multiply and divide fractions. If you can do this, the throne is truly your inheritance.

I am not a polymath. But maybe I am the thing that comes before the polymath. The poly-curious. The Dabbler in all things. For no good reason, I read two books last year about dinosaurs. I like saying the names: Amygdalodon! Harpymimus! Muttaburrasaurus!

I researched the benefits of doing headstands and have gotten so-so good at executing them. I’m learning how to pickle Japanese eggs. I have an app on my phone that showed me what the star constellation for Psyche is. I actually watched the World Series this year. But I couldn’t tell you who won.

This morning, I came across moonsails. It’s from Walt Whitman’s “The Ship Starting:”

Lo, the unbounded sea,
On it’s breast a ship starting, spreading all sails, carrying even her moonsails,
The pennant is flying aloft as she speeds she speeds so stately––below emulous waves press forward,
They surround the ship with shining curving motions and foam.

Since I have no idea what a moonsail is, and also since I’m a poly-curious Dabbler, I looked it up.

The moonsail, according to google, is “the moonraker, also known as a moonsail, hope-in-heaven, or hopesail, is a square sail flown immediately above a skysail on the royal masts of a square rigged sailing ship.”

Moonsail. Hope-in-heaven. Hopesail. Oh, yes please! Let us journey forth! Let us raise anything and everything named Hope before the wind this year.

Ok, 2020. Let’s see what you got.

One Poem. One Planet. April 13, 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

Learn more about One Poem. One Planet.

Yesterday’s Poem

Tomorrow’s Poem


March 31, 2016–Kara Lee Corthron, Playwright and Inspiration


Playwright Kara Lee Corthron

Kara Lee Corthron started this. I’m so happy she did.

“My hunger for knowledge is practically pathological,” writes Corthron.

So is her passion for storytelling and sharing what she learns with her fellow travelers on this big blue marble.

Every day for this past month, I have been profiling a different woman to celebrate Women’s History Month, along the way enlarging my world and finding connections to positive role models. I got the idea from Corthron who did the same kind of thing in February on her blog, Things I Think About.

“For each day of February, I’m going to feature a Black individual on my blog who falls into one of the following categories: 1) someone who rarely or never receives any attention during Black History Month, 2) someone whom I’d like to learn more about, or 3) someone I’ve only just heard of!” writes Corthron in her introduction to the project.

“Keep in mind that these entries will be very casual—I’m not a historian or a biographer—so please feel free to add other facts that I’ve left out or to add your own discussion questions/topics in the comments section. I want this to be an interactive project so I hope readers will be inspired to contribute.” Read More

Winter of Discontent



It snowed on Easter.


I cracked the door open just enough to let the dog slip through. She was out like a shot and off into the woods, nose down, following the fresh tracks of a rabbit.

My first thought was, Run, Easter Bunny!

My second thought, Up yours, Winter! Read More

We Who Are The Quick

We lose people, we who are the quick.

Or maybe it’s more accurate to say they leave us. We hold tight to them, for all we are worth, but in the end, if they see the crack in the door and clear path to get to that sliver of sky beyond, they go.

Our mothers and fathers, our brothers and sisters, friends, lovers, enemies, they go.

“Go” is a helpful euphemism, isn’t it? Let’s agree to say go for now, because we can’t bring ourselves to utter that other final verb that defines how a life that walked beside us can end.

Read More

A Poem for Black Friday



Whatever, Moon


If only the moon–

give me something anything

a hint of yourself as a grail

or a swan’s egg,

even the petrified face

of someone I miss or mourn–

it would be so easy to write a poem


Moon, you’re just being a moon

which makes me nothing more than a woman staring

through dirty glass

at unnamed brightness

this morning after Thanksgiving.

Yesterday, I was so grateful.


Today, I’m cold and convinced the world

is ruled by a policy of ice and commerce


Why should writing a poem be any easier

than standing in line through the long night

for the discounted holy cup of the xbox? 


Whatever, moon.

Go be the moon. Keep your metaphors.

Your silver horn blaring through the trees

doesn’t work anymore. You’re out of the band


and according to this black dog under my desk

knocking her white-tipped tail against my leg,

I’m the big drum that booms the call to march.


–Arlitia Jones

Nov. 29, 2013

Gift Ideas for the Bad Writer

hemingway cat

Portrait of a Red Flag–no shirt and way too many cats.

The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in shockproof shit-detector.

–Ernest Hemingway

Since May this year, I have spent some portion of every day writing something. A cracked poem, some loopy dialogue, a journal entry that says over and over and over one word scribbly pencil: Breathe.

(That’s as close as you can get to yoga without actually having to do yoga. Also, licking the wheels of a lawn mower is also the equivalent of downing a shot of wheat grass.)

It’s all writing. And it makes a difference. The act of writing something down on paper has a profound effect on how my brain engages with language for the rest of the day. I don’t care how bad the writing is, you have to write that shit in order to ever have any hope of getting one kernel of beauty in a manuscript later down the road.

Last week I was working on one of my new plays, rewriting pages into the wee hours. I had a deadline looming. I stayed up til 2am writing pages and pages of new dialogue, witty and emotionally deep with tons of story-propelling momentum and cool hurky-derky words. I thought. I woke up the next morning and read over what I’d so painstakingly scribbled the night before:

Garbage, my friends. Not even worthy of the deleted scenes reel. Utter trash. 

I was grateful I hadn’t hit the send button the night before. No one needs to see that.

Hey, bad writing happens. No, that’s not right. Bad writing needs to happen. Now it’s a week later, and suddenly one line of all that nonsense I wrote is rising into the sky and can be seen for miles for what it really was trying to be, even by me, the myopic playwright. One line out of pages and pages of writing. Totally worth it!

And since I’m pulling inspirational quotes about what you need to do to be a writer,  here’s my favorite from Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild:

Writing is hard for every last one of us—straight white men included. Coal mining is harder. Do you think miners stand around all day talking about how hard it is to mine for coal? They do not. They simply dig. You need to do the same. … So write… Not like a girl. Not like a boy. Write like a motherfucker.


Listen to the mug! Go write your garbage.
ps. Dear Santa, I’d like world peace, healthy oceans, a spotted pony and a write like a motherfucker mug for Christmas. xo love, grampus

Happy New Play’s Eve

Leopard, Masai Mara, KenyaTonight is my last night with sole custody of my newest play.

Tomorrow the Leopards run out in the open for others to see. Tomorrow, director and actors and designers will gather around my kitchen table with the newly printed scripts in their hands and read words I wrote out loud for the first time. Tomorrow, my play comes alive.

But while the anticipation is killing me, there’s also this bittersweet sense of saying goodbye forever to a world that only I knew of, to people that only I had met, to the story that only I knew.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled as hell to hear my play read tomorrow. I wrote it with the intention of wanting to share it.

Playwrights live for this day.

My cast is amazing. My director brilliant. The designer, she’s out to blow our minds with her visual interpretation and mythic space. This first table read is the necessary and exciting step in collaboration as the play moves toward its workshop production in October. The play is ready, so ready to open its borders to other inhabitants.

Still, we never forget, we knew each other first and best. Yes, I’m talking about the play as if it were a “self” apart from myself, at the same time claiming it as a part of myself.

Tonight, I think about those initial inklings that made me write the play in the first place. I think about the hours I spent just staring at it, seriously just staring, staring, god all I’m doing is just staring at it because I don’t know what the hell it wants to be. I think about all the scenes I’ve deleted–in the case of this play, I  think I’ve deleted far more pages than I’ve kept. (The old write 50 pages at night and cut it down to 4 the next morning scenario.) I think of my main character standing in a pool of light in my mind’s stage asking:

“How can I go on?”

All these months writing I’ve been trying to answer that question for her and for myself. And now the day is almost here when we hear that answer.

Tomorrow, I introduce my play, Come to me, Leopards. My Leopards, Jolianne, Sydney, Annia, Evelyn and Sharon will run through the woods together, fleet and strong, calling out to each other with new voices. My job tomorrow is to be the playwright and listen, to keep up with them and figure out exactly where they’re going before they get there.

A Poem for Labor Day

The guys I work with on coffee break. Photo by Arlitia Jones.

The guys I work with on coffee break. Photo by Arlitia Jones.

Poem for a Small Meat Shop

for Mit, Rudy and Son of Rudy


Monday morning always a zoo,

freight rolling in and the restaurants calling in

out of sirloins, out of tenderloins, out of pork chops

for godsakes and now it’s up to you

to stand hours cutting

the day into 8oz portions to replenish

the larder behind a city’s appetite for the weekend.


You work for the wage and live by the yield

and take five at the next coffee break

when you wipe your hands on your apron,

lean your hip against the cutting table

to cross your arms and listen

to the other meatcutter’s joke about the guy…


but the damn phone never quits ringing

and across town some executive chef

is clear out of bulk sausage

and the whole fucking world

is going to come to a bad end

if it’s not delivered before lunch.


Pick up your knife.

You belong to a class of people

named for a verb, to a trade of men

stained with blood. The red

on these steaks is vital, brilliant,

against white mylar, the only color

in the whole damn place.

400 each center cut tops.

You made them.

–Arlitia Jones

Cheers! Mother Jones and a Beer on Jesus


Mother Jones, c. 1910, marching in Trinidad, Colo., Photo courtesy of The Newberry Library, Chicago. Call # MMS Kerr Archives.

“Mother, we haven’t had anything to eat today,” said the three miners from Mexico, “or yesterday, or the day before, and we are dead broke.”

I said it would be remarkable to find a miner any other way. I said I had enough money to get them plenty to eat, but to be sure and steer clear of the charity organizations .

I said, “I can tell you where you can go and get filled up. Go down to the saloon and get a free lunch, and they will give you a schooner of beer to wash it down. I will have a meeting on the street tonight, and as this is the tourist season the collection will be good and I will give it to you.

We had a collection of eighteen dollars that night, and I gave them five dollars apiece and kept three dollars to get something to eat.


Mother Jones

Then we saw a gang coming down the street and they were hammering each other. I asked a policeman what the trouble was. He said it was a row about Jesus.

I said, “Who’s in it?”

He said, “The Salvation Army and the Volunteers are fighting about Jesus.”

I said, “that is a hell of a way to fight for Jesus. Why don’t you arrest them?”

He said it would not do because there were fighting for Jesus.

They had beaten each other and the women had pulled each other’s hair out. They were fighting to see which side Jesus belonged to. While they were hammering each other the collection that had been taken up rolled on the street. I jumped in and rescued the coin.

When I had some coin I didn’t have to fight for or talk for, but got it by bending my back a little, I said to the policeman:  “Don’t you want a drink on Jesus?”

He said, “By God, I do!”

So we went to a restaurant and got supper and some beer, and if any fellow wanted to get an extra jag on we were ready to pay for it because we had Jesus’s money.

–Mary “Mother Jones” Harris

Speech at the annual convention

of United Mine Workers of America, 1909

Here's to Mother Jones and Jesus, who bought her beer--Cheers!

Here’s to Mother Jones, Mexican Miners, Sympathizer Cops and Jesus, who bought them all a beer–Cheers!

Happy Labor Day weekend, everyone.

Thank you to all the unions, organizers, workers, agitators, liberals and lawmakers who finally pulled their heads out of the owners’ asses to give us a day to celebrate people who work.

And thank you, too, to everyone who has encouraged me and commented and viewed my blog in my inaugural week. I’m enjoying the conversation.

Go have a beer with the boys, Mother! Copper miners and Mother Jones in Calumet, Michigan, 1913

Go have a beer with the boys, Mother! Copper miners and Mother Jones in Calumet, Michigan, 1913.

%d bloggers like this: