> The Poetry of Luther Jett: Not Quite


Not Quite





Publication History





     Writing it down     I imagine her
hands not quite shaking     lines
creasing     her
     forehead there is fire in her
         words they are livid
               scars they bleed
across the page she is
      (she was)     in    pain
          that much is
evident that she had been
And though the words are   lined
         up against one
       edge     this     doesn't
detract -- everything flush with
        the left margin is how
            they like it --     so
you go with that sometimes even
       though it is not how life
              sorts itself nothing
really lines up that way
                     not fire
                     not blood
                     not pain
But it's so derivative    
          someone     already
               did that once breaking
the lines where it      isn't
          expected ripping words
                   away from the edge
Well, then     I derive
And these black marks lurching
          onto white stain
               pulp  burn  back
optic nerve-endings insist on moving
            away from that
      side and away
from the other cannot stay still
     (Nevertheless     it     moves)
And this          is all
          we should     not
need to say with words but insist
     on saying     there
               is fire
               in this
        (fire and salt)
So that I can remember
        to change fire into
           words       and because
there is no water and when  (night)
                  phone rang it was the
            call I expected
the voice at the other end saying
              come to the Home daddy's
                   gone and when      I
got there         keyed in access
    code with all the hallways
              dark at the station
                      they said he's
still     (still)     in his room the white
          curtain around the bed
                    (sanctum sanctorum) I
could not pull it back     could not go
          behind it why
               do I need to tell you
this (this) is not what I wanted not where I wanted to
           go there was no fire and my
              father did not rise up in the
green glow of the twilight lamps or burn
      with his eyes a
           hole in the ceiling through which
to escape chasing
          the birds he loved so  (or after
                    the only thing       he
ever did love that left him
     scarred            scared     --not quite a bird--
unable to try ever again with that same
             intensity to love) and my
                       father's voice is the
sound of not-quite-weeping and the
         hand holding this pen (these keys)
              could be my father's
hand red brown from a thousand
     thousand suns the same squint now
          and how it got
              that way or into this
                   poem I cannot
explain and I am tempted
            to go back and break
the lines the words up in a different
          way it seems all so
          but     if it is
        derivative of anything
           it would be my
father even so and not one single
              rhyme in the thing he
                    would read it with
bemusement and murmur     i n t e r e s t i n g
      and maybe he would not
     (and maybe he would)
understand a word of this but it
                  is and it cries
           (not-quite-weeping) black marks
       bleeding white red
stains flames and the heart of this
          is a helix       a vector
              smoke     salt     breaking
the lines telephone rings when      (she)
          least expected sliding
                away from one
edge into another and the night
     silence     she is     broken by
               the insistence
of a phone's black sound of not-
          a line of fire
drawn carefully around an empty
      hospitalbed stillness
               it is not (quite)
               of anything but
  the lines that crease the palms of my


Originally published in GW Review, 2000.

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