Jonathan Claybourne: Poetry: May 2020

Southern Legitimacy Statement: Lives in my town! Can’t get much more southern than that. Jonathan is a consummate writer and a wonderful gardener. He’s been southern all his life.


A COVID-19 Halloween 

Out there:

No pale horse
Or long, black robes

No latex masks
Of grisly horror

No long queues
At the movie theater

Drawn by an R rating
This is an R-rated life,

A fever dream
Creeping into reality

Revealing the fragility of order
The thinning seams of


The long tendency toward chaos

The fragmentary psychology of virulence

I look inward for comfort:
In the plastic skulls that hang

Year-round from the nearby

And find warm memories
Of orange trick-or-treat pails

Filled with safe, sweet-smelling candy

I gaze in wide-eyed wonder
At the plastic hands
Reaching from behind a stack of books

The foam jack-o’-lantern
With first place written on it

Notes of ending
Ride the damp breeze

I ponder the shape of death
The cardboard skeleton on the wall
A grimace cracking its bleached face

I smile involuntarily, reflecting the skull

My own head awash in memories of the Halloweens
For which I lived

The disease counts rise
The wards fill up
The maps turn red.

I wonder when my turn will come.

We all wonder what’s in the air
Outside our private domains of memory

I look to the cardboard skeleton
Its jointed arms and legs frozen in mid-dance

I rise and dance in fleshly imitation
My cat and my dog watching benignly
From the couch.


Southwest of Asheville

Moonshine tunes echo down
The evergreen hollows

Of this eroded chain
With its primeval monuments to
Geologic time

And native songs
Still sweep
Evergreen valleys

As tourists zip over
Cattle paths, railroad beds

Scarcely noticing

Weary balds and
Gentle mountain laurel,
Pink rhododendron in

Mid-May riot

At top
There is an alpine trail
Snaking through the deep out-country

Where wind-whispered and
Faint melodies

Subtle scene changes
On this thickly wooded stage,

A blue-smoke veil

Washed softly in
From the near moon

And shades of
Lapis-lazuli haze


The late sun
Fades in slow
Dewy parks,
Open places

Bathed in clouds
Where control is an illusion
And the maintenance ends

The natives,

The endemic flowers,

Are rare now,

Nearly vanished

From this rough-hogback

A vertiginous
Series of

Ragged spines

With bold truths unseen
At center stage

Opening the wings

For anyone who wishes

To chance the hike
And try her unheard voice

Where Earth is
So much older
Than flatland years suggest.