Jesse Glass – Poems and Photographs
Picture Postcard (1916)
He looks at us from the murk of a tattered
photograph, astride a nag,
holding the reins in his left hand, left wrist angled
before his chest. He’s in his Sunday go to Meeting suit
and from beneath his felt hat, darts a look half fear,
half threat, at the photographer. Pap in his sixteenth year
says: “Greetings from Jonesville, Virginia.”
We can see in that fading summer
a stand of trees, the faint shadow of a tangle of bushes.
The horse seems asleep, but Pap is pulling the bit’s long shanks,
not trusting horse nor photographer.
He’s already had his way with a girl, and his
first taste of whiskey burned going down but he took another;
is accustomed to cutting hay till sunset, packing straw
into barns by lamplight. He’s walked
one hundred miles behind a mule already, sweating the armpits
rotten in his shirts.
His horse is headed north into the mist.
When this picture is developed and he pays the photographer
Pap will ride home in time for the six o’clock feeding, send
this “fool thing” to a girl in Lynchburg who will give it back
when she becomes his wife.
Old Hilda Recalls Pap’s First Wife, Doloris
A cur dog nipped her
as she picked berries
with her sister up
on Clinch Mountain. Scratched
her flesh with a tooth
& ran away silencing the
catbirds. She bled a bit
but thought it nothing
to fuss about. She
tied a hankie around her
wrist. Three days
later & she got the twitching
fever, then the fever got her
delirious, & she called out
to him like a robin in a tree,
called out to him with a
catch in her throat
called out to him like
the dog that bit her. But
Lloyd was out plowing in the
fields, hat brim turned black
from a three-day rain. She’s not herself
anymore, said her mother.
Don’t go in there. Only Jesus
could help & the Preacher
came to pray but she
cried out louder than his prayers:
Where’s Lloyd? Where is he?
Bring my man here!
And he was standing next
to her bed all the time
in his soaked coveralls,
brogans bricks of mud.
Her eyes shining wild
like we was strangers
that hadn’t shared a dipper
of an evening. That new
husband never sang a
hymn to Jesus
For his bride, but kept
squinting up at the
clouded-over sun, while
us women washed her
clean for Resurrection day
& tied her ankles
in the back room. He brought tan
sacks of seed by wagon,
and stacked them on the
barn floor in a cloud of chaff.
He didn’t help to put her
on that wagon, neither– her
–brother and father–angry as
double-damn–did. & He
showed up late, & shameful drunk
talking about the harvest
like a fool. Then he threw the
clods of mud, washed his
hands on the grass
& never laid
one flower on her stone.
Yes, I’m the one who cut
that poor girl’s ankle
bands before they screwed
the lid down so she’ll dance
easy come Resurrection day,
(as I suspect she will).
And I know the first person
she’ll call to the dance.
On the Photograph of a Great-Aunt Who Died
(Pennington Gap, 1925)
I stand in the yellow
Arms at sides,
I cast a clean shadow.
My slippers never turned
On a barn floor’s chaff
While “Red Wing” fluttered
In the eaves,
And no man-friend ever dared
Hold my hand behind
The corn crib, or lean
Close enough to crush the orchid
At my waist.
My brow broad and plain as a heifer’s,
My face without a touch of paint,
Lips without no rouge,
I watched those dancers spin
Until it was time to say goodnight
And sleep alone.
So I remain with the dimming
Light of this moment. My body
Fades even as you watch.
I rise like fiddle music
From between your palms.・
Lock the lid
Of the album cover
across my distance:
You will never
She was a high school
reader of beauty magazines.
She rode with the brass bright, impetuous
owners of model T’s
but never went “all the way”
when they parked
back Race road, though she would
let them almost– enough to keep
a young man’s muscles flexed.
And here they are, the secret
swillers of flasked
gin from hip pockets
lined up for a picnic picture: “Say
cheese!” (Birds twitter.)
and cheese was said.
How she met the ashen faced
mechanic who truck-patched
on the side she will not say,
yet her mother disliked him on sight,
and her brothers said he was trouble
from what they heard in town
and from the whiff of whiskey
on his breath each evening
he sat cologned and coughing
down his pipe stem in their parlor.
(Hardly spoke to anyone but her),
but his low voice convinced the girl
to climb the mule he rode
& press her face against his solid back
one winter day when Monday called the others
to the mills, & ride all evening through hail
to the preacher’s where she said
her piece. Then later, stretched beneath
a quilt sewn by his dead wife’s hands,
she found him wordless in the joy of love,
and, buttoning her shift,
she begged to stoke the fire
to warm their chilly flesh,
this new harsh husband
who loomed over her,
rising up from one dry kiss,
as mountain crag above
the humid finger reach of trees.
Maw and Child (1935)
Here Maw on her knees wraps protective arms
about her first born, who stares out from the fortress
of that moon pale flesh, one comely cheekbone
resting on his head. Maw’s short cropped hair
black as rotten teeth, glitters in stormlight of a Tennessee day,
while three splintered outbuildings lean into the distant
valley, and the rolling hills of sedge and clay
evaporate in yellow distances.
How soon will those arms loosen
and the child run barefoot, bleeding among the nettles?
A chiding magpie fades from the reckoning….
When I was a kid my mother gave me an old emerald ring. I found out that if I looked through the stone just right everything was turned upside down.
Jesse Glass, a writer, artist, and editor, is Professor of American literature and history and of comparative literature at Meikai University in Chiba, Japan. Raised outside Westminster, Maryland, he holds a B.A. from Western Maryland College, M.A. from Johns Hopkins University. and Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He was closely associated with avant-garde periodicals, Goethe’s Notes, Cream City Review, and Die Young. After moving to Japan in 1992, he became involved with the Abiko Quarterly. In 1998, he established Ahadada Books, which publishes both online and in print. Ahadada Books began publishing Ekleksographia, a journal of digital text-work on its Web site (http://www.ahadadabooks.com/) in January 2009. Published collections of Glass’s poetry include The Passion of Phineas Gage & Selected Poems (2006), The Life and Death of Peter Stubbe (1995) and Lexical Obelisk (1983, 1990, 1996), and a selection of plays, Lost Poet; Four Plays (2011).
Author Photo by Hiro Ugaya.
*These poems are works of imaginative literature. Any relations to any person or persons, real or fictional, living or dead, are purely coincidental.