Write as if you were proclaiming
from a pulpit to believers who
have ears to listen and eyes to see
a parable’s riches, prayer’s might.
Write from the heart, knowing
the heart is deceitful and full of lies,
knowing your heart has been broken,
emptied, so that the Lord in His mercy
could fill it with His joy. Trust God–
rise like a feather on the wind. Be
guided by the spirit, the same spirit that
groans as it lifts and carries your burdens.
Write poems because you have been shattered,
because poetry is sacred and holy, because
a poem left unwritten dies and you become
a walking tomb, a whitewashed sepulcher.
Searching for a Heart
I stumbled into the classroom
as though I’d been shot–
face pale, hand on my heart.
I staggered to the head of the table.
Waiting students opened journals,
observed and took notes
as with a knife I cut
the bullet from my chest.
Between finger and thumb
I held the misshapen piece of lead
like a diamond
for all to see,
then dropped the bloody bullet
into a tin pan with a
checking off names,
I cleaned the blade on my pant leg,
placed the knife back in my jacket,
and asked if anyone had a watch,
I could borrow
to manage the next fifty minutes.
I began the lecture
with a question for the class:
“Who knows a word
that rhymes with
Hands went up–
“Ink,” “Blink,” “Wink,” “Zinc,”
As Time hammered nails in a coffin,
the students helped their wounded teacher,
and together we searched
for the perfect word
with the exact meaning I needed.
Adam Praises Eve
She is so beautiful, it is enough–
her skin zinc-
white, like milk,
her nipples like cherries,
hair a long night without stars.
I find irresistible the ink
of the blue vein
pulsing above her left ankle,
the green of those intelligent eyes,
the sly wink.
Everything she wants, I want,
and though my mind is cleaved,
my full heart can only rejoice.
The apple snaps under my teeth–
a glad sound, like the link
of a chain breaking.
She reaches for me. I blink
and am suddenly ashamed,
but with original love
she takes my hand and leads me,
broken and free, out of the garden.
little piece of string
devil & saint,
salvation & ruin
You are the shadow, the shadow is you,
William says as we walk home from the pool
in wet bathing suits, shadowboxing.
It’s the sort of thing he says now and then,
a koan, the Zen wisdom of his six-year-old mind.
And of course what he has observed, or rather,
the enlightened perspective he is wont to teach
his increasingly absentminded, unseeing father,
is both true and useful, and I am suddenly ashamed
of the little regard I’ve had for my own shadow,
constant companion that stretches arms wide across
late-afternoon lawns, looms at night on alley walls,
or melts into nothing to hide from the noonday sun.
I would ask him to teach me more, but when we
stop on the corner, waiting to cross with the light,
I look down at the child’s shadow beside the man’s:
William’s small arms hooking and jabbing, two fists
knocking some sense into the darkness of his father’s head.
I need to witness miracles today–
a river turned to blood,
water become wine,
a burning coal touching the prophet’s lips,
black ravens swooping down
to bring a starving man bread and meat,
a poor fisherman raising the dead!
I’ve heard theologians say
this is not the age of miracles,
but still, I’m easy to impress.
I don’t need to climb out of the boat
and walk on water; I’d just like
to put my head on the pillow
while the storm rages, and rest.
These 6 poems from Richard Jones’s The Correct Spelling & Exact Meaning (2010) are reprinted by permission of Copper Canyon Press
Richard Jones is the author of five books of poetry–Country of Air, A Perfect Time, At Last We Enter Paradise, The Blessing: New and Selected Poems, and The Correct Spelling & Exact Meaning. He is editor of Poetry East, for which he received a CCLM Editors Award, as well as two critical anthologies, Poetry and Politics and Of Solitude and Silence: Writings on Robert Bly. He is a professor of English at DePaul University and lives in Chicago.