We are all familiar with “actor’s actors,” those who embody the craft with such mastery and grace that others, often more well-known, look to them as gold standards. Patricia Spears Jones is a poet’s poet– a true master. Here she shows is how a poet thinks about the everyday-ness of being alive and forges observation and perception into art.

Arkansas-born and raised, resident of New York City for more than three decades, Jones is author of the poetry collections Painkiller and Femme du Monde (Tia Chucha Press) and The Weather That Kills (Coffee House Press). She is also editor and contributor to Think: Poems for Aretha Franklin’s Inauguration Day Hat and co-editor of the groundbreaking anthology Ordinary Women: An Anthology of Poetry by New York City Women from the late 1970s. Her website is www.psjones.com.


Painkiller

I can taste the metal
lose my desire for red meat

relax, every muscle
relax
emotion
relax
the time of day
I can give you
the time of day

What I talk about is how
love eludes me
No what I talk about is
what’s wrong with me

No what I talk about is
what will happen to me

Fear
is the secret.
Always fear.

What you get from me is
the edge of a trace of shadows
and that’s all you’ll get

I can’t give anymore
I don’t want to
Everything hurts

This hurtle into living space
and that swift slide out of it.

You want secrets
I say every reckless act
results from a moment of fear.
While compassion is the simple recognition

That what is done cannot be undone,
may not be forgiven.

And a recognition that the murderer and the martyr
the adulterer and the healer can at any moment
change positions, become the other.

It simply depends on how much pain
You need to kill.


Son Cubano

We are at the genesis of a bolero
eyes, lips, thick, kinky dreads
beds, cars, stars

a singer’s words curve
through memory and shadow
rhythms stumble and stop,
come again, the night air a willing audience.

men huddle near a long, brass bar rail,
shoes gleaming, lips smiling, eyes lit
as women, young and old, stroll pass them
on their way to the powder room

las mujeres motion a dream of sand and waves
a Cuba that only the restaurant owner
and his waiters may have truly seen, heard.

late winter, rains slicking the streets of lower Manhattan,
Son Cubano’s portals reveal a theater of nostalgia
the scent of Havana scripts so well.

And we play along
mouths flavored with rum, lime, sugar, our tongues playing
the kisses stolen game as the song phrases
a fierce sadness promised
in the wake of lust’s mercurial ascent

We flee these orchestrated memories
our hands in each others, our mouths hungry for each other.

Our song is bluer, harsher, North American
the rhythms African, yes, as dearly measured in drama and depth.

Our exile is internal.  There is little longing
for the good old days when Havana was a mean place
for dark people, but a real fascination
for these songs and their makers.

Your arms cascade a trumpet solo, the piano’s
harmonics thrill my back.
My lips are waiting for yours.

This is our bolero  
accidental
lovemaking      Friday night              New York City
Everybody’s exotic.

Everybody’s from the South.

(From PAINKILLER, forthcoming from Tia Chucha Press, November 2010. Distributed by Northwestern University Press.)