Poem-a-Day - "Saturnine" by Patricia Spears Jones

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July 20, 2022 

Saturnine

Patricia Spears Jones
for Karen Taylor

We cannot feel microbes in the palms of our hands
or hear nanoseconds—we can see the laser slice wind. But 
how it shaves beards remains mysterious.

This talk of science & biologicals & viral crowns  
make old mean men crawl into bowls of cotton 
waiting to be plucked at some point
by cadaver slaves humming Tin Pan Alley tunes.  

What’s a pandemic
but one more mortality wake up call. Tongue dulled by wine salted
and cabbage stews happily forgotten. Buffed shoes shining, not worn.
No more the perfect Windsor Knot because the definition for knot
has swerved from necks to bandages.

If ever we could color the subatomic particles and smash them up
would they look like a Ken Tisa Quarantine Drawing—how that 
could brighten the feet step by step in August air. The summer

feels like a heavy cough that starts in the chest, lingers
until it exhausts patience and runs up through the throat
out into the embracing air carrying all manner of microbes, some

of which or what could possibly infect a city or laugh pyrotechnic
4 p.m. along with feral snarls and cheap guns shooting, poor man
Falls—
Mercy walks down a different block.

Copyright © 2022 by Patricia Spears Jones. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 20, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

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“I rarely use scientific language in my poems, but the pandemic and the growing panic brought those words and emotions. Saturn is, to me, the most frightful of gods—the eater of his own children. Saturn and the then president seemed prepared to do that in August of 2020. Ken Tisa is an amazing artist who posted daily drawings in 2020 during the quarantine, and a reminder of joy being drained away from all of us. The pandemic brought reflection and fear to us and broke the many ways we connect. Mercy indeed may walk elsewhere.”
Patricia Spears Jones

Patricia Spears Jones is an African American poet and the author of four collections, including The Beloved Community, forthcoming from Copper Canyon Press in 2023. The recipient of fellowships and prizes from the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York Foundation for the Arts, Poets & Writers, and the Foundation for Contemporary Art, she lives in Bedford–Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, New York.

A Lucent Fire
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Thanks to Erica Hunt, author of Jump the Clock (Nightboat Books, 2020), who curated Poem-a-Day for this month’s weekdays. Read or listen to a Q&A about Hunt’s curatorial approach and find out more about our guest editors for the year
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