William Jolliff: Two Poems



At sixty, you know that even big ones run their course.
You pay off the mortgage, then the house floats away.
You’re tenured, yes, but due to certain exigencies. . . .
After thirty years of more-or-less-ok, a divorce.

So maybe now it’s less of a cliff to leap from.
He parks the car—parallel, that never used to be
a problem—and walks, fearless, past seven bars
in two blocks (even the bums are looking young)

to Lady Luck Body Art, just where the webpage
claimed it would be. He smokes behind the counter
of laminated books and thumbs pages. His age
crinkles beneath him. It turns in circles and squeaks.

Here’s where he wishes he could stuff himself
inside a derelict Subway bag and get blown
down the gutter, all the way to the Columbia,
then just keep floating clear the hell to Japan.

“Take your time, brother,” says the mottled gray
biker with his braid wrapped in a net. “You’ll wear it
a real long time.” Hmmm. Not as long as some,
but today at least he’s trying to hope it’ll be a while.

Which of you, by being anxious, can add a single
hour to the span of his life? And then it was clear:
“It’s almost a toss up,” he says. “I like the black rose.
But I’ve got to go with the bleeding heart. Right here.”

A Quiet Place to Pray

Simon Stylites left his shepherd’s manse behind,
but even the hut he built seemed just too lush.
With nowhere left to go away, he went up.
Still they came, the lovelorn, sick, and poor,
the curious and the kings. Thirty-seven years
on that pillar, and the pilgrims kept on coming.

Good Saint Henry built a cabin, quaint little place
facing the water, tidy pine desk, and the best—
a sunny step for meditations. Maybe a little close
to town for his taste, but it gave him space to write
about his sweet dead brother John, and of course
the other book. Disciples came, still come.

The blessed bhikku Kerouac bought himself a pack
and thought he’d hitchhike his way to the holy.
He found he had to keep moving his brakeman’s boots.
Fast cars and freights. I hope he found the silence
he was looking for before he found the bottom
of the last bottle. The hipsters trace his exodus.

Our local Brother Martin, Trappist raconteur,
follows his ascetic way on Oregon’s fairest farm,
prays hard among the gardens and wine vats,
sleeps behind the stone wall, comes out each day
to guide the spiritual way of professional wives:
the celibate guru of the lovely and young.

The hermit’s burden? It’s a trick to be alone.
Once people figure out you’ve pulled it off,
they can’t seem to stay away. What’s to say?
Isolation is one hot topic for conversation—
but it’s more than nearly anyone can understand.
Most people want to learn about it second-hand.

Originally from Magnetic Springs, Ohio, William Jolliff currently serves as Professor of English at George Fox University. His poetry and criticism have appeared in West Branch, Southern Humanities Review, Cold Mountain Review, Southern Poetry Review, Appalachian Journal, Poet Lore, Alaska Quarterly Review, and other journals. His most recent collection, Twisted Shapes of Light (2015), was published in the Poiema Poetry Series of Cascade Press.