top of page

Lois P. Jones: California Poets Part 2, Three Poems

Lois P. Jones

February 23rd, 2021

California Poets: Part II

Lois P. Jones

Three Poems


i. Mendoza, Argentina

You have never tasted a land like this.

––the wine black

as the sleep of earthworms––I was offered

a prize Tempranillo in Argentina at the finca

of an old heiress.

On her mantel, a menagerie of saints

and small crystal icons the colors

of the sea. She watched me

with a thirst for salvation,

as the girl in the corner rocked with one foot

in the underworld

and her ache to get out,

her throat offering its creaks and groans.

How they all looked away

as the cries grew louder,

pushing her oars in the air,

stirring the room with her storm

until she crossed

to hold my hand, and calmed.

ii. Glendale, California

My neighbor was from the old country.

Her babushka, the color

of a Bezoar goat and she came toward me

on Ash Wednesday as if as if I were an apparition –

a saint appearing like a gift

in her garden. Her bones had already lost

their breath and her eyes held

the remains of villages. Children too small to walk

the long road, parents strapping them in boxes

on the sides of donkeys.

Babies and the old dying without shelter.


where the danger hadn't passed.

At 13 I wanted to be a nun,

to love without filtering resin

from the grape.

I was called to the church more than once –

the church of innocence,

the church of the insane father,

the church of womanhood,

the church of poetry and its illuminated manuscripts.

They’ve all burned down except for one

in this half-finished heaven.

I clarify wine no more than I am the saint

my neighbor needs. Still, I smile down at her,

not understanding Armenian,

only the gesture as her hand hovers from right

to left shoulder. Am I dead or blessed?

I cannot bring back her ancestors.

iii. Saugus High School, Santa Clarita, California

Bless the boy who shot the children

then pointed at his own temple

with an automatic pistol, the mind’s nave closing

over the steel chamber,

each bullet hand-made

by the father. The father found dead

on the floor by the boy two years before.

Bless the mothers – swans

turned upside down – necks reaching

toward the moss of the seabed.

Bless the 10,000 souls who gathered

in Santa Clarita to grieve the ghosts –

the many who gave thousands

to the shooter’s mother. The ones who said

we must continue to bless all

the empty beds.

iv. Santa Monica, California at David Whyte’s Lecture

Didn’t it seem as if the nave of the church grew as tall

as a eucalyptus, our hush a mist hovering

above its crown. And didn’t it feel as if he were

holding our silence from across the dais –

certain as his linen shirt as he looked out at the pews,

his eyes reaching into our trenches,

our wounds of a nation split

down its middle. I thought of the Baruch ברוך

which says G-d is the true source of all blessings.

But I have been kissed on the cheek and it was

a small rain that left nothing but thoughts

of what it was and wasn’t. As if a tree pressed

lips to skin, its green skirting the house of you,

sweeping from room to room, filling the floorboards

with its breath, your walls becoming water

the body forgetting it carried anything at all.

v. Global Pandemic

What leapt into our veins leapt swiftly.

Breath our one blessing –

to rise and fall

and rise again.


*half-finished heaven from Tomas Tranströmer’s poem of the same name.

Four Nights in the Misty Fjords

She was inside the whalebone

counting the looped ritual

that followed her below deck.

She was the smell of crayfish

and crab, cracking them open,

tearing out their sweet meat.

This is what she did when the shells

split. She kept them until they dried

inside like a gull’s white dung.

She layered the hours with it –

when everyone lay in their bunks

and the stars were hammers on the sea.

She could feel their weight – hear

the surrender of the old halibut

before the hook found passage.

Blackwater pulling on a line,

pulling like the night, creaking

like a lie. And when she closed her eyes

and her body sank down

that’s when he would appear, cinch

in his hand, twisting the anchor

until it snapped, watching her drop

in the dark. The rope unravelling

from the rust so swiftly, it burned

to touch. Nothing left but nightfall

at the river’s mouth and the slow

motion of salmon waiting to be caught.

Previously published in Night Ladder (Glass Lyre Press).

A Stranger’s Needs

(Chateau) Muzot was extremely primitive. The rooms were comfortable,

but there was no electricity and no running water in the house.

—Frida Baumgartner, housekeeper to Rilke, 1921

In the beginning I knew nothing. Not of the steel

pots that required constant scrubbing, or the way

to press a shirt of linen—wait for the iron to smell

like burnt leaves on an October morning.

Not of how to bathe in a castle without plumbing—

cotton cloth dipped in an icy pail of water, a dab

of lavender soap to scent the skin. Nothing of how

to undress by paraffin lamp in the cold knot of December

or the desires of a body at twenty-six, all of me rising

into the belly. I had to learn to be invisible.

He wanted another Leni—a woman who walked like a cat

by moonlight and understood his needs with a single look.

How could I find my way to a man who has no map?

Sometimes I would say to the mirror,

this is not the life you promised. Sometimes I would say

to the bed, someone will carry me like a candle to their chapel.

Previously published in Spillway

Author Bio:

Lois P. Jones was a shortlist prize winner in the 2018 Terrain Poetry Contest judged by Jane Hirshfield. Other awards include the Lascaux Poetry Prize, the Bristol Poetry Prize judged by Liz Berry and the Tiferet Poetry Prize, with work thrice listed for the Bridport Prize and the National Poetry Competition. Jones has work published or forthcoming in Plume, Guerinca Editions (2021), New Voices: Contemporary Writers Confronting the Holocaust (Vallentine Mitchell of London); Narrative, Verse Daily, Tupelo Quarterly and American Poetry Journal. Her poem Reflections on La Scapigliata was a featured film-poem for the 2019 Visible Poetry Project. She is the Poetry Editor for Kyoto Journal and the host of Pacifica Radio’s Poets Café on KPFK. Her first collection of poems Night Ladder was published by Glass Lyre Press.


bottom of page