Five Poems by Jeff Daniel Marion

            to Clarence "Red" Tipton

Must’ve been that metal plate
in his head, no visit to Uncle Red’s
was ever complete without a tour
of what room or wall he was tearing out

to build bigger or better but always ended
in a carpenter’s nightmare of out-of-plumb,
gapped, or sigogled. His world misshapen
as the dogs he raised on sausage or chicken

gravy ladled over biscuits and gnawed-clean
bones, or just skillet grease—they grew
bloated as barrels, ribs like staves bulging,
stick legs spindly as a cave drawing.

And when they dropped dead in the yard,
Red declared them poisoned, prayed
for the perpetrators on Sunday, 
and come Monday swore he’d catch

the little sonsabitches, whip their sorry
asses, the kids who’d do such a thing,
never once catching himself red-handed—
all that grease and gravy poison enough

to take them down easy, keeling over
from a heart attack as he did
one morning in a room off six inches
and spinning madly toward darkness.


Hymn of Departures

Who will remember those sonorous voices
echoing through the cathedral of arrivals
and departures? Isn’t the memory of voices
first to go? Let us name a patron saint
of disappearing sounds, call him time’s 
Saint Echo, let him announce, “Tennessean
arriving on Track Nine; L&N departing Track Ten.
Last call, All aboard.” Let him whisper
the litany of typewriter keys, their clack-clack
another train on a different track, the screech
of a screen door backflung in summer,
the ring of an old telephone at midnight,
the whisper of a fountain pen on paper.
Let’s hear it for all of the family names no longer
heard but engraved in stone: Verdie, Clara,
Eloise, Kizzie, Ina. Names for you,
O Saint Echo, receive them well and say them
back to us, O women of great recipes
handed down through generations
like a seasoned cast-iron skillet darkened
with memories of all it once held,
from cornbread to the sizzle of fresh sausage
and tenderloin on hog-killing day, first
hard cold announcing winter when the sounds
of axe and gunshot ring for miles or the long,
low lonesome call of a distant train departing,
its haunting cry one of far away and gone
and arriving who knows where.


My Father, the Poet

Boring with too big an auger
came the succinct reason
for a friend’s failure,
no detailed analysis
but metaphor delivered
as undeniable truth,

right as the neat rows
of labeled cans in his junkhouse:
washers, toggle bolts, wingnuts,
and ten-penny nails, all lined
and perfect to scan—

order so the hand knew
where to turn in the great
storehouse of what you
might need someday,
you never know

but the very moment
you do, there it is
at your fingertips,
a rhythm so natural
it’s almost like breathing,
the rise and fall of work
turning to leisure and pleasure,
a rhyme to match his grubbing
the garden’s harvest:

O sweet potato, O sweet potato,
the magical, musical root;
eat some and see—
Rooty toot toot-tee!


Playing to the River

She stands by the riverbank,
notes from her bagpipes lapping
across to us as we wait

for the traffic light to change.
She does not know we hear—
she is playing to the river,

a song for the water, the flow
of an unknown melody to the rocky
bluffs beyond, for the mist

that was this morning, shroud
of past lives: fishermen
and riverboat gamblers, tugboat captains

and log raftsmen, pioneer and native
slipping through the eddies of time.
She plays for them all, both dirge

and surging hymn, for what has passed
and is passing as we slip
into the currents of traffic,
the changed light bearing us away.



Once so nimble, my mother’s fingers
skated across ponds of postcards,
icy little white lakes of letters,
her swirls and loops gliding
in a rush of words to waiting friends
far away. Through the long winter
of childhood I watched the dance
and gleam of her Parker pen,
its luster frozen in a wine-dark sea
of plastic. Another season now
and her friends reside beneath summer
grass, her worn and tarnished pen
tucked away in a desk drawer.
They have left no addresses,
only their names chiseled in stone,
letters in cold print, no correspondence
to the hand with such flourish.

Jeff Daniel Marion has published eight poetry collections, four poetry chapbooks, and a children's book. His poems have appeared in The Souther Review, Southern Poetry Review, Shenandoah, Atlanta Review, Tar River Poetry, and many others. In 1978, Marion received the first Literary Fellowship awarded by the Tennessee Arts Commission. Ebbing & Flowing Springs: New and Selected Poems and Prose, 1976-2001 won the 2003 Independent Publisher Award in Poetry and was named Appalachian Book of the Year by the Appalachia Writers Association. His latest collection, Father, received the 2009 Quentin R. Howard Poetry Prize. In 2011, Marion was awarded the James Still Award for Writing about the Appalachian South by the Fellowship of Southern Writers. He served as the Jack E. Reese Writer-in-Residence for the University of Tennessee Libraries, Knoxville, from 2009-2011. In spring 2013 his work and career will be celebrated at Carson-Newman College and at Walters State Community College.

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