Kelly Jones: Three Poems : August 2020


Southern Legitimacy Statement: Kelly Jones hates the sound of cicadas but loves lightning bugs, biscuits, and the way kudzu makes fun shapes out of old houses and powerlines. Their power animal is the manatee, and Wild Turkey is their strong drink of choice. They were born in Raleigh in the mid 80s and have moved between there and New Orleans multiple times. They recently switched things up and are currently living in a small town in the Piedmont of North Carolina.

Three Poems

Christmas Poem, a Genealogy

The year we decided to break from tradition and gather not on Christmas
but on the eve or two weeks early or three days late was the year
snow was a fantasy and we wore short sleeves and sat on the back porch
in the sun and feigned festive holiday spirits over eggnog
and too many baked goods while unwrapping presents
that were somehow too practical: the gardening kit, an electric heater,
the gift cards to sad strip mall eateries that are never set out for
but arrived at on a whim on the way home from vacation.

It was the year my husband mentioned he’d taken up genealogy
and his father told us about the time he was arrested
for fishing with a friend after hours in a state park in Virginia.
About how the open beer he tried to hide in his pants’ pocket
was upside down and leaked down his calf as they were led to the cop’s car.
I asked what happened to the can, if it got tossed in the woods or brought along,
but I never got an answer. When I asked my mom what I could do to help
she sighed and turned back towards the stove to make sure
the gluten free pancakes were frying up fine. A newly diagnosed celiac,
she is trying to gain control of her body again, was relieved the weight loss
and exhaustion and nausea were due to an allergy. Something that can be
contained. Avoided. Her mother’s memory is gone and she introduces me
to other residents of her assisted living community as her daughter. My mom
winces when she does this, not offended or forgotten, but slightly wounded.
We cannot control what my grandma remembers, so I play along.

My father sent us $40 in a card, so I called Christmas afternoon
to thank him and his wife. He asked ‘when will we see you, soon?’
I wanted to say ‘never,’ or hang-up and stuff it back in the envelope.
Seal it. Return to sender. But I said, ‘not sure, this is the first I’m hearing of it,’
and then waited for him to say goodbye or okay before disconnecting.

At my aunt’s house we say ‘happy holidays’ and drink spicy margaritas.
I listen to some of her neighbors talk about French bulldogs
and their upcoming round-the-world trip.
They question if it’s possible to vacation for less than $500 a day.
My cousin I and trade glances while counting up
what that sort of money could afford us.
She and her husband recently drove west with their dogs.
His dad, back when he was in the army, won some land
at a state fair in New Mexico and they tried to find it.
They took turns driving and sleeping in the covered cab of the truck.
They camped with the dogs in a state park. Drank beers and roasted smores.
They never found those few acres out in the desert, but one day it’ll be theirs.

The Sky Isn’t Blue

In North Carolina, even though there are songs about it,
and late night arguments in bars about the shade
of a shirt or the rallying cry of a drunken sports enthusiast,

the sky isn’t blue. The sky
isn’t blue anywhere, it is a spectrum,
a wave of colors that our eyes try to process.

Today I left work early
because I felt inexplicably dizzy.
I walked outside and saw the world tinged yellow.

The ground moved under my feet and I felt floaty
as pollen in spring, ready to wash away in the next storm.

Tomorrow is May Day and there is a protest downtown.

Meet me on the corner, at the edge of the crowd,
by the wildflowers. Bring a brick
that is perfect for shattering glass.

The sky isn’t any different here, but I am.

If the Future Was Yesterday, then the Past is Forever

I call my grandma, forgetting she doesn’t have a phone. The river fills with sticks and garbage overflows during the storm so we can’t go hiking. A mind can go slowly, then all at once. It is too hot and humid to be early February & I worry everything will bloom and die early. The tortilleria across the street from our apartment shut down and an organic café replaced it. My grandma’s husband died right before the storm flooded their trailer along the river. Last night I dreamed I was curled up in bed with an ex-lover I haven’t seen in ten years. Our apartment is in the basement of an old house that used to belong to my grandma’s friend from church, before a development company bought it and cut it up. A single wide is no match for a hurricane. Sometimes my dreams seem so real I am confused in the morning. Wildfires scare me more than floods. What if one day I simply slip back into the person I used to be? I’m tired of living in a space with black mold and a dehumidifier that never quite takes the damp away. I know I can float for a while but I cannot resist burning. My hair is turning grey and I am allergic to hair dye, so I embrace aging. Next door is a twenty-four-hour cigarette store and a shop that sells sweatshirts splattered with fake blood. My grandma screams when we try to move her from bed to wheelchair, from wheelchair to toilet. I’ve been daydreaming of getting something different inked over my first tattoo. When we ask her if she is in pain she says no. I like to believe covering up a mistake can make it go away. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night to gunshots or thumping bass. Is my grandma screaming at the realization of how she’s changed and where this all may be going? When the waters recede piles of trash are just left to rot along the riverbank. In the morning people are across the street standing in line, sipping lattes, waiting to brunch.