The Brooklyn Rail

JUL-AUG 2020

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JUL-AUG 2020 Issue


Black lives pandemic protest (vaccine)

I want a tree house, the Hollywood kind—huge, luxurious
Built with a really soft bed and paneless windows for ventilation
and star observing. In this third-floor tenement, fantasy is free.
Please send pandemic poems. Please send Black Live Matter
Poems. Please stay on topic. Please show your rage, your wisdom,
Please stay on that third rail. Step there and implode.
Why more poems on Stalking Death? We want more
poems on Black Sacrifice. Black Sacrifice and Stalking Death.
Let us note the Cardinals’ seasonal migration from South
to North from Virginia to Connecticut—that red bird swaggers
back yards and park bench oak trees & the occasional pine.
Or the electric energy of the many voiced youth, chanting
I can’t breathe or Defund the Police or expletives deleted
& the President’s name—the current one, fat snake coiled
in or out of his bunker.
O builder of that fence surrounding the White House
You now have that gated community paid by we citizens.
O thrower of poisonous globs—desirous of adoration.

Youth, oh youth, mobile & motivated moving the energy flow,
Lightning strikes of faith & dream & right now & no more. Yes
Black Lives Matter and there they are living matter striking
The Washington Monument while little hands and little feet
negotiate the Bunker’s chilly moldy moonfaced rooms.

But that tree house for me and my dreamed happy family.
The cardinals, robins, starlings & finches paths delight
while their scary cousins: turkey vultures, hawks, & crows
float or flash clouds their warrior wings on brisk display
Another day for the birds and their loud trilling. Another
Day and the world shakes from marching feet. Another
Day masks punctuate faces, Virus loops the planet,
“Strong Men”
erect fences on which the people post Memoria & cartoons
and at one corner someone is

For Jac’leen Smith

First and last nights in Virginia, January and May, 2020

First night in Virginia, we stop at a CVS, late, the store is vast & sorry
The lone clerk slow wipes a counter. She slumps, sags all that worry
in her spills onto the counter’s hard plastic top. I gather items & wait
for her suddenly cheerful acknowledgement. It seems as if fate has
made this place a symbol of American want—everything in this place
seems cheap except the products for sale. The lighting, the railings, that
Counter. This is replicated in Walmart, Walgreens, only the Dollar Store
Does not pretend to be anything other than a repository of things you
need and things you don’t. The clerks are not well paid & at night left
to fend for themselves in this plastic vastness. On my last visit, the clerk
stands behind a cheap plastic protector. More symbol, than reality.
She wears her mask and behind it smiles—she has a job & that’s good,
But, this is yet another display & she’s expendable. We all are.

For Jennifer Sutherland and Jeanne Larsen

Poem for the man whose sister disappeared

There are stories that break
a night’s quiet    trouble spoken once, heard all too well

Damage is shallow, easily repairable claims
The psychic, if only scar,

But wound deep is harsh and ever there
Yet memory of flesh scarred
of days clouds lingering, summer sparse
the horizon warning—fog coming autumn’s favor

A call to your earliest encounter with the mystery
Of kinship-little brother to bigger sister--
Pulling her pony tail, discovering her secret trove
of suitors’ love notes, mocking their plaintive pleas
house chores, home work, math uneasy
singing with the radio on
brother protector competitor
On the playground, who did cartwheels best

Where is she? What happened –this cold case
Decades cold—that woundedness at family gatherings
Christians with their version of Elijah’s chair.

You drank whiskey enough to appease the whisky gods,
The wrong gods—they don’t point to the story’s end—her aged
Face creased by doubting years or upended bones near a river

Huddling terror or accidental falling,
A pretty face framed and stored—at least there
She can be found, remarked upon, her cartwheel perfected.

Siren Song

I have no metaphors today. All the analogies are taken.
No one is wise enough or kind enough or smart enough
To say what no body wants to actually (should) say
Sex is messy.
Humans hurt each other
Power shifts depending on who wants what more
And everybody knows how to blame.

There is no shame in owning the truth of one’s ambition.
Or the tupsy turvy ways in which we switch on or off
What we think will get us what we want. He wants sex (maybe)
Or she wants sex (maybe) or both think that is what they should
Want and then he does something stupid or she acquiesce at
An in opportune moment or they find themselves 3 a.m.
Waiting for 7 a.m. to come. That’s the easy part. The dull
Date part.

It’s the other uglier part that gets the headlines. The mad talk.
The guy who just happens to have hands in places where they
Received no invitation. The guy who thinks his girlfriend, his wife,
His daughter, his sister, his mother is a punching bag—oops that
Metaphor. The guy who brings roses for bruises. The guy who
Calmly drives his car across the mother of his four children.
That guy. He is a menace to society and we all know it.
So how does he get a way with doing this daily, hourly by the minute
And why are all these roses stomped on?

In the grave are too many women who once had roses
For bruises. In offices, too many women who have
Had hands placed uninvited across around beneath
Their bodies. In homes, there are fathers who find
Incest the anecdote for the dreariness of their wives
Or maybe it’s the romance of it all.

The romance of it all is done for.
But the guys are stealthy and intelligent.
It is not the back lash, but the proffered alliance.
The sweet tongue trying ever so hard to say
Just the right thing to make all the wariness
The necessary wariness go away. In Greek mythology
Sirens are female, but now the gender’s
Changed. Women watch for the rocks
Be careful the talk and examine the heart
The un-honeyed tongue may be a new undoing.

Fire can take a long time to ignite.


Patricia Spears Jones

Patricia Spears Jones is an African-American poet, playwright, writer and cultural activist. Her fifth full-length collection, The Beloved Community, is forthcoming from Copper Canyon Press and A Lucent Fire: New and Selected Poems (White Pine Press) continues to find readers around the globe.


The Brooklyn Rail

JUL-AUG 2020

All Issues