Shining Rock Poetry Anthology

"Ghosts," and "The Fringe of Town" by Patricia Spears Jones


He was filled with beauty, so filled he could not stop the shadows
from their walk around his horn, blasting cobwebs in the Fillmore's

Somewhere dawn makes up for the night before, but he is floating.
Dead in the water.  And yet, my lover tells me, he saw him

As did others. It could have been the acid. Or fragmented
His reed ancestral. This perilous knowledge. The band went home,

shivering. A girl threw roses in the water.  Carnations, daisies. And 
               bright red sashes.
Like ones the Chinese use for funeral banners. A drummer intoned

From the orient.  Police wrote up the news. Years later, my lover told
Friends would hear the whisper, then a tone, full throttle from the

Ghosts on Second Avenue, jazzmen in the falling stars.
If you catch one, your hands will glitter.

Note: This version of Patricia Spears Jones' poem is her preferred version, but differs from the version published in A Lucent Fire, so the reviewed version in Current Book Reviews differs, as the review was based on the published book.

The fringe of town
(apr├Ęs Jeanne Larsen)   

At the corner of the Laundromat, a tall light complected woman complains
about the heat--it's not even 70
She tells the Bangladeshi man to turn on the big fan.
But it blows in dust, he says.
"I don't care", says she

It's not that hot.  And I sit somewhere in 7th Century China
with a woman of the court writing a poem about her travels
to the Changning Princess's Floating Wine Cup Pond.
For some reason I read this as Changing Princess.  But, why not?
Was the court woman's journey a swift escape
from the palace heat; her tiresome duties of charm and submission?
Or merely the annual pilgrimage up a mountain
so that her descent would carry the same urgency?

Would that pond really please these women bitching about the heat, that isn't really here?
They enjoy ordering around the skinny man who runs the Laundromat.  He's a foil
for their husbands, supervisors, bad news boyfriends, sons-in-law, sons
who roil their lives in ways small and large.

If given the chance, would they dive in the Changing Princess's Floating Wine Cup Pond? Not likely--Scary items to city dwellers:

A lack of chlorine.
The possibility of bugs.
That chaos of parties -those floating wine cups.

Sometimes it is good to be at the fringe of town
Just this side of the hubbub, gossip, the need to demand
Obeisance from a little man who is making maybe $10 an hour.

Sometimes the search for the floating wine cup is as much fun
as drinking from it the first time--wine heavy and tart somewhat

To be the Princess who named this pond, well we can make up her story.
The pond's name and festive frame that surrounds the Princess's retreat.
Was she pretty? Was she smart? Did she catch the Emperor's eye?
Or feel the Emperor's hand brush her neck?
Did she piss off a scholar who could have helped her escape to a convent
before the cups took over her mind?

As for me, childless, husbandless, book reading- happy to observe
How these women's shout a weary pride in their daily lives
Mothering so many or burying the poor men who used to hang
At the corner of or organizing the fete for Friday after next
As huge washers rinse and spin and dryers remove yet another layer of fabric.
I am the woman barely visible, the intellectual, the possible slut.
Not one of us will jump into the floating wine cup pond but it is pleasing
to know that one existed centuries before at a town's fringe.

Those centuries old breezes from China brush my neck
as we stand here folding clean underwear
& worrying about what to make for dinner. 

Riffing off of Shangguan Wan'er aka Shangguan Zhaorong's "Twenty-Five Poems upon Traveling to the Changning Princess's Floating Wine Cup Pond" in Willow, Wine, Mirror, Moon: Women's Poems from Tang China (Boa Editions) translated by Jeanne Larsen.

Patricia Spears Jones won the 2017 Jackson Poetry Prize, one of the most prestigious prizes in American Poetry.

Poems reprinted with the permission of the author.

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