NIGHT LADDER by Lois P. Jones (Glass Lyre Press 2017) is a book composed in gracious poetic thought and verse. It is a book, which dares us to converse closely with life and a lost awareness of what it truly means to be alive. Flowing throughout these pages is a symphony of verses and an orchestra of songs, which arise from an eternal place we have always known. Like the Orphic Hymns of the ancient Greek and Hellenistic world, the poet beseeches us to drink from the waters of Mnemosyne, to awaken and remember that humanity is a part of something greater. Even when, especially when, human memory leads to anguish, for out of our pain. We give birth to compassion and joy; we help to heal the world.
“In your next life, you will be birthed in needles of hoarfrost,” are the opening lines in the poem FOAL. As a literary metaphor, the words in this poem invoke a memory that there is something more at work within life, within the world, and within and beyond the self. Selflessness.
after reading “Fugue for Other Hands” by Joseph Fasano
In your next life you will be
birthed in needles
of hoarfrost, your eyes still
in the blue gauze between
this world and the next . . .
. . . This is the start
of your suffering for the children,
yours who became
the wanderers . . .
The poem calls out to the sorrow of life. In my own imagination, I see it as a promise. An assurance that even in our brokenness, life is a mystery we cannot quite name; a mystery in which we dwell. Here also, is the mystery that dwells within us, and draws out a sacrificial offering for humanity that stretches across the ages. Each reader must call forth the poem’s meaning and imagery within the context of their own experience and knowledge; becoming the foal roaming “between this world and the next.”
The verses summon mythic images of a sacred landscape and a heroic journey that bids us to follow, which is ours to travel. And that this happens when the world falls out of balance, harming creation. In the poem’s last verse, we are offered a resolution, a hope, when asked to wonder what will happen after we, “give up everything to winter.” In that probing question, humanity is reminded of what we have surrendered, and what we will sacrifice for our children in an insane uneven world. Everything.
In another poem, THE SCENT OF ARIEL –– we are reminded of what it means to be a traveler far from home, in another country. The poem is one of my favorites from NIGHT LADDER. It brings to mind a trip, my wife and I, once took to San Miguel De Allende many years ago. In the reader’s imagination, it is easy to become the poet; to enter her memories, as the poem captures with fondness and feeling the flavor and culture of a colonial municipality tucked away in central Mexico. There is something in each line that elicits for the reader the same experience; this is a rare gift of verse.
When the shuttle arrives at the old wooden doors,
her luggage bulging with too many dresses . . .
. . . when the teenage boy smiles after hauling the world
four flights of terra cotta steps to her room
with views of Calle Canal and red rooftops . . .
. . . And if this country is not hers,
if some resent her place here, still Ariana
remembers her each year and brings extra towels
that smell sweet as a tamale husk . . .
In the poem titled PICASSO’S GARDEN we find art and verse appearing together. The poem is inspired by Picasso’s 1938 abstract portrait of French photographer, painter, and poet Dora Marr – Seated Woman in a Garden. An iconic image of Picasso’s art graces the page; his art and the poem’s verses are paired in an exquisite fashion, creating pathos and telling the partial story of two lovers. Two lovers, who in their time together enhance their vision of life. Each lover expanding the other’s dreams and memories, and in their relationship awaken an intimacy between them and within the whole. Lovers who in their frailest moments do not always accept love’s fullest potential to transform. Lovers who meet fatefully, and then stop seeing the miracle arising between them, who misplace what is real and true in life. We, who cannot long endure the inevitable separation of their souls from the beloved. And yet, remain connected to one another by some mystery of risk and fortune.
He tears from my skin like a necessary
thorn, . . .
Plants me next to hollyhocks and winged seeds
of pine, places his paint brush in the tomato can,
demands I grow near wisteria. . . .
. . . I endure the scent of peat on his lips,
pack his brushes and pretend he is leaving, but we carry
one another’s seed. He will chase me into the afterlife.
In NIGHT LADDER, what you will treasure across all the interwoven pages and poems, of its gestalt – the whole, is a mature and lyrical narrative of human relationships held within creation. How, in this world, humanity is touched by the spiritual and sensual. How life teaches us something new every day, calls us into enduring and everlasting relationships. And that dwelling there at the edge of our awareness is the presence and the memory of an even greater mystery. Where we may become, more aware of the mystery in life, perhaps not in every given moment, but in our most lucid intimate moments. We do see – we do reclaim – we do become mindful of and celebrate a miraculous life. An experience of life that we cannot always name clearly, not today, not in this or that moment, or in all the moments we add together. Still, in a much larger sense one that is filled with grace and Thanksgiving. As these lines from BEYOND DIAGNOSIS imagine.
You’ve been carrying a body so long. Sometimes
you want to lose it like a dark country
even though you’ll have to return. Even though
some memory will ice and crack its way back
to you. No one could look at infinity
all at once, just as there is no one to hear
every prayer, but there is a presence who watches
and grows near you like a Bloodgood,
stout and florid faced.
Astonishing in their grace, compelling in their beauty, these poems are a remembrance, invoking a memory of the eternal and our sacred place within creation. They call out to how the eternal, in its greatest mystery, moves in and with and through us as a blessing – as life itself. Take the time to read each one slowly, to cherish every stanza and verse. Read them out loud, to those whom you are closest to in this life, and in public places too, amidst the stranger. Let all of humanity, drink from the waters of Mnemosyne and be restored.
SAINT JULIAN PRESS, INC.
By LOIS P. JONES
Publisher: Glass Lyre Press (July 10, 2017)
LOIS P. JONES is a recipient of the 2016 Bristol Poetry Prize, 2012 Tiferet Poetry Prize and the 2012 Liakoura Prize and was shortlisted for the 2016 Bridport Prize in poetry. Her poetry has been published in anthologies including The Poet’s Quest for God (Eyewear Publishing), Wide Awake: Poetry of Los Angeles and Beyond (The Pacific Coast Poetry Series), 30 Days (Tupelo Press) and Good-Bye Mexico (Texas Review Press). She has work published or forthcoming in Tinderbox Poetry Journal, Narrative, American Poetry Journal, Tupelo Quarterly, The Warwick Review, Cider Press Review and others. She is Poetry Editor of Kyoto Journal, host of KPFK’s Poets Café (Pacifica Radio) and co-hosts Moonday Poetry. Lois’s poems have won honors under judges Fiona Sampson, Kwame Dawes, Ruth Ellen Kocher and others.
Additional Sites & Links
Samsara: A Film: Poem by Lois P. Jones – Film by Dean Pasch
RON STARBUCK is the Publisher/CEO/Editor of Saint Julian Press, a poet and writer, an Episcopalian, and author of There Is Something About Being An Episcopalian, When Angels Are Born, and Wheels Turning Inward, three rich collections of poetry, following a poet’s mythic and spiritual journey that crosses easily onto the paths of many contemplative traditions.
He has been deeply engaged in an Interfaith-Buddhist-Christian dialogue for many years, and holds a lifelong interest in literature, poetry, Christian mysticism, comparative literature and religion, theology, and various forms of contemplative practice.
He has been a contributing writer for Parabola Magazine. And has had poems and essays published in Tiferet: A Journal of Spiritual Literature, an interview and poem in The Criterion: An Online International Journal in English, The Enchanting Verses Literary Review, ONE from MillerWords (Feb. 2016), and Pirene's Fountain, Volume 7 Issue 15, from Glass Lyre Press (Oct. 2014), and Levure Littéraire (France – 2017). A collection of essays, poems, short stories, and audio recordings are available on the Saint Julian Press, Inc., website under Interconnections.