Poems by Jeff Daniel Marion


I think of her now dragging that scorched
and battered old ironing board, its screech
and creak as the legs locked into use.

My mother sang as the hot iron
waited for her to sprinkle water
on the unbelieving sleeves
and wrinkled collars, now blessed
and made new for the rituals of the day.

“Want to take a sentimental journey,”
I heard as sweat beads ringed her brow,
the words of that song almost a prayer.
“Want to set my heart at ease,”
legs aching from the long stand.

In that place where it is said all things
are made new and whole again,
may she find herself, beautiful and young
as we are only once, at the end
of a journey on some stretch
of tropical beach with unwrinkled 
white sands, that ironing board made
to ride cresting waves, surfing toward a far
and blue horizon, setting her heart forever at ease.

From a Riverhouse Window: An Almanac of Holston Days 

Section: Entrances & Exits

            Rarely in reading do I begin at the first page and go straight through to the last page. Say it’s a book of poems—I’ll sample a piece midway, look at the last few poems, then shift to the beginning. A novel or short story, the same practice—I want to taste the writer’s offering when he’s really got something cooking. And if it’s good, I’ll go back to the beginning and read through to the end, savoring each page. Strange habit, I know, but much of my childhood was lived in medias res.

            My mother was a great fan of movies and some of my earliest memories are of going with her to matinees when my father worked the 3-11 shift at Alcoa in Detroit. We’d ride with him downtown and he’d drop us off at one of the theaters. In those days of the early forties she didn’t bother noting the starting times of a film—instead we went according to my father’s schedule, bought our tickets and entered the dark theater to take our seats. No matter that we may have entered halfway through the movie—we sat through to the end and then through the 5 or 10 minute interval till the next showing. Sometimes I would be asleep when that gentle tug would come at my sleeve and the whispered words, “This is where we came in” would wake me. But as I grew older and the practice continued, I always waited for that moment when she would whisper those words and I would know the story/movie/film had not really ended but was going on even as we exited, that we were part of an ongoing cycle playing and replaying, that we came and went into those palaces of dreams not to go from Beginning to The End, but to be held in a willing suspension of time, the loop of story like the perfect circle. Even today I find myself enjoying entering a TV drama midway as I flip from channel to channel. But best of all are those channels that show the same movie back to back so I can enter at any point on the first one and then wait for that moment when, like the clockwork of some distant past, I can relive that gentle tug at my sleeve and the whispered words of my mother from childhood, “This is where we came in.”


I always waited for it—that moment
as my father’s Adam’s apple bobbed
up and down and the ice cold water
sluiced in a gush to slake his thirst.
Then came “aahhh . . .” drawn out
like the length of a hot summer’s day
come to a close, reaching the end
of a long garden row and leaning
at last on his hoe in the cool
elm shade before supper, “aahhh . . .”.

Department of the Ministry of Feet 

Who would’ve thought he could disappear so quietly,
footfalls soft and silent as cotton muffling ears,
this man whose life saw all their lives?

He disappeared behind curtains to a hidden room,
reappeared bearing Buster Browns, later penny loafers,
sandals, patent leather pumps, slippers, and oh

the sophistication of high heels. He clad them,
a town’s three generations of women who sat
at his command as he offered up

the incense of tissue, box, and leather, the gleam
of fashion, the leisure of a man slipping
them into style, kneeling thousands of times

to their desire, who bowed to offer grace
and comfort. What would he have thought

if only once she had bowed to him, setting free
those luxurious locks of auburn hair to brush
across his feet, tingling, cleansed and healed?


They’ll steal you blind right down to the butter
on your biscuit I heard. Dark and mysterious,
the band passed through, borrowing one 
of my mother’s blankets for the chill of early fall.
Stay away—they’ll steal you too, my grandmother warned,
but I dreamed nights of dancing to exotic music,
days of carefree roaming. Years later taking census
surveys, I saw a string of rusty camping trailers
parked in a row along Horseshoe Bend on the Holston,
mid-November spitting snow. At my knock
a door flung open to expose a kitchen table, 
an empty peanut butter jar with spoon stuck inside,
and a dark-haired woman whispered we only know 
enough to read road signs—behind the folds
of her skirt, furtive eyes hungry, stealing away.

Biology 1

1955 and we could not answer the $64,000 question
nor were we prepared for the unveiling
of mystery after mystery, the turning of tadpole
to tailless frog, sophomore biology stripping myth
and mayhem before our very mystified eyes. 
Most of all we weren’t prepared for the arrival
of the new teacher mid-semester following
bug-eyed Mr. Brown, this one a dark-haired
fluttery beauty who called us Mister and Miss, 
newly emerged from the cocoon of college education, 
a fairy princess long and lean with legs she crossed
and uncrossed from a lab stool explaining amplexus,
and ontogeny recapitulating phylogeny, every boy’s eye
unblinking in that briefest revelatory moment. 
Dutifully we dissected and traced the inner workings of whatever
critter lay before us, but dreamed nightly of stealing away
with our princess into realms uncharted until that day
come late spring, our heads bent over nomenclature
and taxonomy, lifted by a knock on the door
and in marched a full parade-dressed Marine,
click of heels and echo punctuating our reverie,
a bouquet of red roses in his arms held out to her,
briefest of smiles as she took them and he crisply
about-faced and marched out the door and into
oblivion, mystery we never penetrated and she never
told, only smiled sweetly at us in our primeval world
of algae and tadpole, she just having
seen her prince come and go.

Dog Story

           for Bob & Rachel Denham

It comes sidling up, wagging
its tale, a true story to break
your heart with actual events,
real people. In winter’s

death grip, snow smothering
frozen ground, they found
him, their pet, a single
wound in the chest,

hardly noticeable, but a quick
death, not ravishing their
Sheltie’s beauty of sable
and black, white mane

and collar; Tether they called
him who later sired
Cubby, his constant companion.
They buried him on a nearby hill,

the grave barely a mound
rising beneath new snow.
but Cubby found and kept
watch, his lone vigil, till

the owners came back bringing
only the burden of loss to find
a bowl-size indentation dug
on the grave and Cubby’s food

carried morsel by morsel
and dropped there, an offering
for Tether’s long journey,
a send-off to the nether world

or simply a last meal
left for whenever
it might be needed.

photo by Doug Berryhill
Jeff Daniel Marion has published nine poetry collections, four poetry chapbooks, and a children’s book. His poems have appeared in The Southern 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 Appalachian Writers Association. In 2011 he was awarded the James Still Award for Writing about the Appalachian South by the Fellowship of Southern Writers. Marion served as the Jack E. Reese Writer-in-Residence for the University of Tennessee Libraries, Knoxville, from 2009-2011. In spring 2013, his work was celebrated at Carson-Newman University (where he taught for over 30 years). The culmination of the Jeff Daniel Marion Festival is the newly published Jeff Daniel Marion: Poet on the Holston (University of Tennessee Press, 2016). 

Read Still: The Journal's interview with Jeff Daniel Marion 

Read a book review of Jeff Daniel Marion: Poet on the Holston



return to poetry                 home