James Lee Jobe

May 1998

Listening to Him Describe his Wife’s Death

for Arthur Butler

“I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams . . .”

Even the pigeons knew something was wrong. They shifted
from foot to foot on Capitol Avenue, looking up

at people. the bus went by, a truck went by; there’s a pattern
to it all you know. When pecking the dirt near 18th Street

the pigeons moved with a sullen nervousness. I hear
snippets of a friend’s conversation from across the noisy cafe.

“Coma,” I hear. and, “I didn’t even feel anymore.” “It was us,
just us . . .” It is his season with death. Outside the window,

the pigeons look up at me: for what? Answers? Keep pecking.
My friend talks and talks, a gentle man, a singer, a poet.

The cafe becomes full of the weight he carries, people
are uncomfortable for things they cannot know, only feel.

That is in us. It is far too heavy for the pigeons, who move
off towards 19th Street without much hope in their step.

Even the trees seem to bow their breezy heads in grief.
Tomorrow is solstice, the longest night of the year.

Victor Wong on the #31 Bus

I am riding the bus in midtown Sacramento on a damn cold afternoon
when Victor Wong gets on, Jack Kerouac’s pal, fine actor and poet,

he sits down beside me. I decide to run a game on him, and pretend
we know each other, “Vic, What’s up, man?” He turns to me,

with that one eyebrow cocked crazy up high, he doesn’t let on
once that he doesn’t know me, “Oh, you know, the same ole same ole.

How are you?” I answer, never say my name, just chat.
The bus gets into the busy downtown streets, people get on and off,

Victor pulls the cord, lines up at the exit. We say goodbye.
Just before he clears the door Victor Wong looks at me,

straight through me, says, “Hell, I’ve never seen you before in my life,
have I?” “Nah.” Victor Wong laughs like hell as he steps onto the sidewalk,

looks up at me through the window, same eyebrow up, the afternoon
suddenly just a little bit warmer than before.

Beginning a Poem with Mary Oliver’s Line: I Lift my Face to the Pale Flowers of the Rain.

I had already decided to worship the animal god,
to live inside my own animal brain, alive, ecstatic.

It was the animal god that touched my face with rain,
and I became tender, fierce, and totally unafraid

for the first time in my trembling life.

Beginning a Poem with Neruda’s Line: Tonight I Can Write the Saddest Lines.

I can drag the sadness into my body,
into my re-newed chest. It then hides me

like Quasimodo in his cathedral sanctuary.
I stride through the one door you left open,

into the windy midnight. Alone, facing the sky,
I call out your name, knowing you can’t hear me.

Finally, I return to my desk, lift my pen
and write a poem that reduces me, once again,

to tears. The night passes.

September 1999

What the Hog Said

They give me food, so I stay. How wonderful to have nothing more
expected from you than pleasant obesity. I eat, therefore I am! It is

so beautiful the way the corn goes down, the joy of the swallowing;
the humans miss all that! They worry about numbers, bolts of cloth,

what color the shed is, and why the chickens aren’t laying! Fools!
The food is why I am here! I eat now, so they can eat later; it is a

simple plan. If not for the glorious food I’d push on, move west.
I’d stand on my hind legs and just walk away from it all.

Nixon’s Body, Dug Up By Wolves

He had finally stopped sweating. For once
Nixon didn’t look like he was trying to sell
us a ’65 Ford Galaxie with an off-color
hood. His body jerked and flipped as
wolves, in winter, tore long, dry strips of
flesh from Nixon’s carcass, shewing on
sinew under the moonless sky. Nixon’s
internal organs were already gone and
his bones hung like sugar skeletons inside
his skin. When the grisly meal was finished
the wolves trotted off, their almost silent
footsteps fading into the trees.

Salvation: An Open Letter to God

for Rob Allbee

In East Texas, people bake biscuits in the morning no matter
how hot it is, such is tradition, and I’ve seen turkeys stare
stupidly at the hailstones pelting them down. My father gave
up on salvation, but I am more mule-hearted than him.
Lift me up!

It won’t be easy; there’s a body count that goes with being me.
Jobes and good fortune walk down vastly different paths.
Guess which path I’m on!
Lift me up!

I did something evil in the last life,, or didn’t learn my lesson.
I knew this even as a boy, whenever my mother beat me with
a belt, or an extension cord, or a ladle, a switch, a flyswatter,
paddle, or her fat, ugly hands. My father knew it too, and
shamed me, left me in a bus station, went west, married
a hard-faced woman, smelled of tobacco, whiskey,
and cheap aftershave.
Lift me up!

I had a wife when I was young who held so many men
she could have staffed a factory to make the soap
she needed to cleanse her soul.
I left her for a hard-faced woman of my own,
who slashes my tires and lies to children
about what is right and what is wrong.
Lift me up!

I killed a man, or was it two? Two are dead, one died slower,
suffered a few blind years with my name on his lips.
Where’s my salvation now?
Lift me up!

Are you listening! I’m bleeding from every pore here!
My heart feels like its throat has been cut! None of us
gets out of this alive!
Lift me up!

The train doesn’t stop here anymore, but I am not afraid to walk!
Look at me; I am talking to you! Show me your broken face!
Lift me up! Lift me up!

October 2000

Embracing Beautiful Failure

There is no need to go through life apologizing and longing for release
or understanding. No one needs to wear a hairshirt, or to walk

as a cowed dog walks, whimpering and afraid of a human voice.
You may start your life anew at any time, just as a baby does.

Give yourself permission to cry out loud like a newborn, scream if you
need to, and then when the crying is over, play as you wish to play,

as a child does, as an animal does. Let your body speak for you,
let your body tell you what is true or false. If you fail, so what?

It is a beautiful failure that can set you free. Embrace it! And then,
unafraid, you can begin a life where you will no longer need a name.

July 2001

1st Wife

Hi. I saw a woman this morning that looked a lot like you, or rather,
She looked as I would imagine you might look today. It is more than 20 years
Since my passion for you was as a young man’s passion should be. I wrote you
Many poems, wrecked a relationship to be with you, went down in flames
When you walked out on me. Let’s just say it was you. You looked good, baby.
Your eyes were darker than I remember, that might be the wear of years
And other divorces, other late night clutchings that went south on you.
You were standing in line for cinnamon buns at a stand when I saw you,
this fine spring morning, the air was as cool as a dream, and the sun
Draped across my skin like warm velvet, and I fell into line behind you,
took a chance and smelled your hair, clean and fresh, new, just like before.
The line was slow, way too slow for you, the way married life was. You grew bored,
Made little snuffling sounds of protest , and finally just wandered off, leaving
Me there on my own. This time I didn’t crash, dear Laura, first wife,
I stayed, waited it all out, smiled at other people who were waiting too,
Had a delightful breakfast on a shady bench, found a quarter on the ground,
And pulled out my notebook one more time for you. Goodbye, goodbye.

What Coyote Said When I Turned Down His Party Invitation

Kid, you need to get out more! Poems?! All day long
you’ve had your nose stuck in some book! Those weak
translations of Francis Ponge will never replace getting laid!
Get out! Grab your wife, for Christ’s sake! Drink the wine,
dance naked, and count the stars till you go mad!
Poems?! Give me a break!