Richard Jones: Three Poems
Selected by Alexis Rhone Fancher, Poetry Editor
Long Distance Call to My Mother
I speak a few words, and then listen.
When silence and terror come between us,
I’m torn: do I speak to reassure her
or give the ruined mind its freedom,
knowing my mother is stubborn
and shall be heard. In her gibberish
and stammering, I hear an iron will,
the desire to say a few clean sentences.
Because I am her son, she trusts me
to translate broken, inarticulate syllables
into questions her heart would ask.
I tell her the good and the bad, knowing
she is strong enough to bear the truth.
And sometimes I say the sweet words,
which she repeats back, annunciating
clearly in her rich accent, a slow drawl
that is like honey warmed by the sun.
I have a glass pitcher I fill with ice
before pondering which gin to pour,
the Tanqueray and stalwart Beefeaters
and Bombay Sapphire and Hendricks
lined up like blue and brown books
with the bottles of whisky and rye
and sundry liquors and orange bitters,
everything stored out of the light behind
two shuttered doors that hide the little
alcove bar’s shelves of glasses, sink,
marble lamp, and champagne bucket.
Today I am pouring a cup of cheap
but organic gin called Art of the Still
from Trader Joes where I buy
the cheap cabernets I sip when writing.
I take two glasses from the freezer,
the cups frosted, and slip a half jigger
of dry vermouth into the V of each glass
before swirling and pouring it out,
the sheen a thing of beauty to behold.
(At Christmas I rinse the glasses with
Cointreau to make the glass gleam.)
The glass shining from the vermouth,
I stir the pitcher slowly with a long glass
wand to mix and melt the gin and ice,
stirring delicately not to bruise the gin,
then pour the glass full and adorn the rim
with a long twist of lemon for my wife,
mine being dirty with a splash of brine
and a cocktail skewer with three olives.
I wave the vermouth bottle over the drinks
like a final blessing and call my wife,
who after a long day needs the taste
of winter and juniper and icy sunlight
more than I do. Together we lift our martinis
and hold them aloft for as long as we can,
just thinking about the alchemy of cocktails.
See us touch our glasses and take a sip,
the dainty gesture more refined than a kiss?
Then one day money grew on trees,
flowering as dollar bills, oddly enough.
George Washington looked befuddled
hanging like a pear or an almond
from millions of branches in thousands
of orchards. And at night, coins fell
like hail, making all kinds of noise
and denting the hoods of new cars.
At lunch in the cafeteria, if you bit
into an apple you’d find a silver dollar.
Money fell like snow on the mountains—
great drifts and avalanches of bills.
India’s Ganges and London’s Thames
flooded their banks with currency notes,
soggy pictures of Gandhi and the Queen.
Flemish fields flowered with francs.
The one-hundred cents of the Euro
became as ubiquitous as grass,
the Yen as common as rice.
The dunes of the Sahara and Kalahari?
Sun-dappled powdery flakes of gold
for as far as a caravan could travel!
Even the trash cans of New York City
overflowed with freshly-minted hundreds.
There was so much money in such abundance,
money didn’t mean the same thing anymore.
It was more like poetry, and came naturally,
like the sun in the morning, like leaves to a tree.
Photo credit: Alexis Rhone Fancher
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Richard Jones’s most recent book of poems is Avalon (Green Linden Press, 2020). His many poetry collections include Stranger on Earth and The Blessing (both from Copper Canyon Press). A new book, Paris, is forthcoming from Tebot Bach in 2021. Editor since 1980 of the literary journal Poetry East, he curates its many anthologies, such as Origins, The Last Believer in Words, and Bliss. In 2020 he published Poetry East 100, a 40-year retrospective of poems and paintings.