Wolverine

wolverine

Wolverine

For years, I got it wrong when I said

it was a badger I’d seen on Hatcher Pass road,

squat brown animal that darted for the brush

when it saw our truck–I should’ve known,

badgers don’t dart and anyway

we don’t have badgers in Alaska

(a child formed in the third grade curriculum

told me this) but it was smaller than a bear,

bigger than a spaniel and I swore up and down

the alternative was too rare, too incredible

the sharp claws, the pointed teeth,

nature honed to hunt kill run, dark hump

of it’s back ringed with a lighter nimbus

of guard hairs. A glimpse and it was gone

and in its place the word impossible

I picked up like a wet stone

that dried and dulled in my hand

completely unremarkable

and good for throwing.

–Arlitia Jones

Dec. 1, 2013

A wolverine kit in its cute phase.

A wolverine kit in its cute phase.

Horses in November

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November’s Horses

 

for TM

 

This is the month trees crack

midnight bangs on your roof

with an icy hoof

 

Winter is just arrived

and already you’re running out the lies

that con you into believing this is your life.

Only November and all you have left

 

is air so cold and thick, stacking in deep valleys

you will carve stairs

into emptiness

and climb out over the mountains

 

when you know you must leave.

You know you must leave.

 

Abandon your neighbor. He has his own faith

that calls you stranger before his hearth.

Come dusk, he feeds his horses,

smashes ice out of their water trough,

sings a worksong to his fenced pasture–sound ricochets

like a gunshot and the blue distance shatters.

 

The horses flicker their ears. They heard

what you heard, make no mistake.

They bend their apostatical faces down,

knock on the ground, muzzle and trample

the splintering bale to nothing. They are already

leaving

 

ascending

white steam from their cloud red bodies

 

 

–Arlitia Jones

Nov. 30, 2013

 

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A Poem for Black Friday

306_1moon_rise_over_orca_whale_pod

 

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

When a poet sends you a package…

I got a package in the mail today from one of my favorite poets, Anne Caston. Wild woman of words, you can never predict what treasure Anne has carefully wrapped and taped and marked with your name and address. In the past she’s given me:

a mermaid

a beautiful handmade quilt top

hand dyed fabrics

her book of poems

copies of new poems

hand made soap

cookies

beautiful stationary

jewelry

Before she left Alaska, she gave me a little charm of orange haired theatre woman. I hung it above my bed. A little bright spot on the wall, I think of it as an eccentric stenographer taking down my dreams in short hand.

So today, this was in my package:

Must obey the mug! (Incidentally, I'm on my 3rd cup of coffee!)

Must obey the mug! (Incidentally, I’m on my 3rd cup of coffee!)

The motherfucker mug looks good next to the mermaid, don’t you think?

Anne, if you’re reading this, THANK YOU!!!! I LOVE IT!!!!

And I know exactly what I’m supposed to be doing at all times.

And for the rest of you reading this, if you don’t know Anne’s work, click on the link above for some of her poems. Explore the terrain of  your own heart with her words. But be warned, Anne writes an unflinching truth and rarely provides safeguards in her poetry. That’s what makes her so brilliant.

Sunday Brunch at the Old Country Buffet

BY ANNE CASTON

Madison, Wisconsin, 1996

Here is a genial congregation,
well fed and rosy with health and appetite,
robust children in tow. They have come
and all the generations of them, to be fed,
their old ones too who are eligible now
for a small discount, having lived to a ripe age.
Over the heaped and steaming plates, one by one,
heads bow, eyes close; the blessings are said.
Here there is good will; here peace
on earth, among the leafy greens, among the fruits
of the gardens of America’s heartland. Here is abundance,
here is the promised
land of milk and honey, out of which
a flank of the fatted calf, thick still
on its socket and bone, rises like a benediction
over the loaves of bread and the little fishes, belly-up in butter.

Poem with a Tiger

BengalTiger

I want to start an argument

with a tiger. I want to provoke him.

I want to growl back at him,

bare my teeth when he bares his

so we both flash the long sharp knives

of our conviction. I want to cross

the line. I want to call him out

from behind his leafy cover,

square my shoulders, match his crouch

and when he lunges, I want to lunge

so we crash against each other. I want

to tear his bizarre orange hide, bite into

his velvet throat. I want to suffer

his heavy blow to my chest,

I want him to open

my skin. I want him to stand

his ground so I can rise up

on my two legs against him, so we

can lock arms in a fierce embrace. I want

to push him back, I want him to shove

me back until we are both crazed

with rage, equally. I want the dust to rise

like an emptied arena around us. I want

to stay like this for days, deadlocked

for weeks, then years, constant until we shake

from exhaustion, caked in our bloods

and salivas, holding tight

to the others’ neck, breathing deep

the angry musk of a foe. I want

to hang on, to endure beyond logic,

until we could almost give it up,

go home—No! Impossible to forget,

no recourse but to live

straining hard against each other

while our opposing hearts drum:

one beats yes, one beats no,

the muscles’ rally to fight. I want

an oath to rise from my breast,

I want him to answer me back.

I want to fight a tiger to the death.

–Arlitia Jones

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Explain Yourself!

apple_tree_wideUgh!

On the spectrum of things I hate, ranging from downright despicable to death is better than dealing with this, it goes like this:

vacuum the house

eat a lychee nut

go to church

write an artist’s statement

shake hands with George Bush and/or Dick Cheney

touch a spider

Honestly, you’d have to threaten me with a spider to get me to touch a spider. As for Bush and Cheney, they surely don’t like me, either. Alas.

Then there’s the artist’s statement. Evidently, I can write a hundred page play, no problemo! But ask me to write my “artist’s statement” in five hundred words or less and I got nothing. I’ve been working on applications for writers’ residencies all day. I know I am not the first or the last writer who hates these things. I’ve spent hours on this–hours I could have spent on, oh I don’t know, my actual writing.

But whereas spiders are just pure evil, artist’s statements are more of the necessary kind. So I will endeavor to persevere on this application for a writer’s residency instead of working on a play or a poem. In the meantime I offer my ars poetica, from a few years ago, my first attempt at my explanation of myself as an artist. I read it from time to time, just to remind myself.

 

Public Domain

 

For instance nothing in this world

is single

not me making the poem or you

reading it.

 

You know what poetry is to me,

you said

God made a rabbit

set it in the grass,

Devil made a popgun

shot him in the ass

and goddamn if you don’t laugh.

 

It’s a poem, after all,

you’re supposed to.

 

Someone said of you once:

you are an apple unpicked

on the highest branch where harvesters

couldn’t reach you

 

up there where

the winds of heaven mix forever

with a sweet emotion

a place you and I converge

thee mine, I thine

and I ask you take my hand, take this, my body,

 

and years ago and years from now

when any of us true in love but truly writes,

it won’t matter if it’s Sappho or Jesus,

Shelley or Shakespeare or the man in a white apron

packing salt around a fresh leg of pork

for a six month cure in the cooler.

 

The words came from you,

they belong to you.

-Arlitia Jones

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

How I Hear Leaves of Grass

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When I was in poem school, the myth–now realize poets hold myth as ultimate reality–so therefore the truth we used to tell about ourselves was according to the theory of six degrees of separation we have all at one time been intimate with Walt Whitman. I’m not quite sure how it works. His atoms into our atoms. Six degrees of sex. Looking backwards, body to body to body to body to body to the Great Ecstatic Poet.

Yeah.

Me and Walt.

You and Walt.

Your mom and dad and Walt. Wow.

Your great aunt Myrtle in her grave crumbling  and becoming earth and Walt. (Way to go, Aunt Myrtle!)

Sex aside, when I read Whitman’s poems, they enter my body and soul. It’s poetry. It’s going to be intimate. For me, his poems are the song of us all. We are Whitman and he is us.

We imagine Whitman as the old grizzled poet, white beard and soulful eyes. What if we thought of him in terms of his voice and not his photograph. Below is a clip of the voice of Walt Whitman–well his voice as I hear it now. Listen to this young Whitman singing his song to us:

That young Whitman in the recording is my nephew in fourth grade. He’d asked to borrow my copy of  Leaves of Grass. He wanted to take it school for show and tell. They were doing a unit on poetry. He wanted to show it to a girl but he would never admit that.

When I read Whitman now, that’s the voice I hear in my head. He’s young and discovering each word, exultant in the gallop of his lines, his tone like a clear bell chiming in our midst.

 

Here’s the text, the first page of Leaves of Grass, the 1855 edition.

I celebrate myself,

And what I assume you shall assume,

 

For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

I loafe and invite my soul,

I lean and loafe at my ease….observing a spear of summer grass.

 

Houses and rooms are full of perfumes….the shelves are crowded with perfumes,

I breathe the fragrance myself, and know it and like it,

The distillation would intoxicate me also, but I shall not let it.

The atmosphere is not a perfume…. it has no taste of the distillation….it is odorless,

 

It is for my mouth forever….I am in love with it,

I will go to the bank by the wood and become undisguised and naked,

I am mad for it to be in contact with me.

 

The smoke of my own breath,

Echos, ripples, and buzzed whispers…. loveroot, silkthread, crotch and vine,

My respiration and inspiration….the beating of my heart….the passing of blood and air through my lungs,

The sniff of green leaves and dry leaves, and of the shore and dark colored sea-rocks, and of hay in the barn,

The sound of the belched words of my voice….words loosed to the eddies of the wind,

….

 

A young Whitman filling the bird feeder. Ninilchik, Alaska

A young Whitman filling the bird feeder. Ninilchik, Alaska

A Poem for The Man in the Wings

Mt Iliamna and Mt Redoubt

Mt Iliamna (left) and Mt Redoubt (right), two active volcanoes in the Alaska Range across from Ninilchik, Alaska. Photo by Arlitia Jones

 

Someone I knew died last night. Suddenly. Heart attack. His passing leaves an empty space in our community.

I didn’t know him well, but that’s beside the point. He was kind and creative and made the coolest puppets I’d ever seen. Each one was a work of art, distinct in their detail and personality. I used to wonder what his house looked like with a crowd of his creation filling it. If they all talked at once, what a fabulous cacophony!

He always encouraged me in my writing. Whenever he saw one of my plays he always made it a point to send a message congratulating me. That meant a lot. I know he’d seen a helluva lot of plays.

He was a member of the IATSE union, worked in the wings at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts. When I attended plays there I could always see his distinct outline moving set pieces in the blue dark of the scene-change light.  When he found out my play Rush was going to go up there this February, he messaged me to congratulate me and we made plans to celebrate with a beer at Darwins, his hangout pub right around the corner.

It’s the little things like that you look forward to. Sure, my play is going up, there’ll be opening night stuff happening, all the big deal stuff going on, but I thought it was really great that one of crew, one of the “cool” people in our theatre world, wanted to have a beer with me.

That beer is still going to happen. Anyone who wants to join me, Feb 14, yes, valentines, can lift a pint to Buzz Schwall and all the people who’ve touched our lives. All the people we miss.

 

 

Here in the Valley Between

 

Everything today asks the same question,

the great mystery our lives:

How long do we have here?

 

Across the inlet, two volcanoes

stare into the east, their steep faces

bathed in the soft light of this particular earth day.

 

But what of evening? when the sun

fires the atmosphere

and the inferno remembers

 

why it is here among us

–Creation and Destruction–

How audacious I am

 

brushing my teeth against decay, boiling water

for an egg three minutes from now, telling a friend I will attend

the Breast Cancer luncheon next Wednesday.

 

Tomorrow and tomorrow

and the day after that, I have plans

here in the valley between two volcanoes.

 

Probably not tonight, but eventually

they’ll shatter our sky. Let’s agree now to look

for each other in the morning.

–Arlitia Jones

Good

Goodbye, Buzz. We miss you. (Photo grabbed from Christina Kouris’ Facebook page. I liked this one because of the bee and because of his smile.)

Poem for the Reader to Title

Eklutna Lake, Alaska. Photo by Arlitia Jones.

 

 

Think of it as a green forest

where sun travels through

on no particular path,

with no real destination but the whole day itself.

There is song, the smell of earth,

a small table of water where the moon spreads her writings.

Each leaf is a green-lidded eye.

Love who you love. There is nothing

that does not see you.

 

 

–Arlitia Jones

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