My privilege to have witnessed this, so late in the middle
of the twentieth century
that already it seemed historical, almost like having seen
Erasmus or Thucydides:
a shack at the end of a field road, an eczema of garden,
domineckers on the porch–
the whole place stank of sweat, coal oil, and excrement,
and under it, the ghosts
of things rotted and desiccated so far past the organic
there remainded only
the stark elemental testimony of sulfur and ammonia.
Why were we there? Because the wife, the principal filth,
and raccoon mean, had been bootlegging and pimping
the grown daughters,
and the husband, the little cross-eyed gimp with the chaw
mark like a burn scar
down the neck creases, who might have been the father
of seven or eight
of the fourteen living children, like to lay up drunk
while the udders
of the Jerseys wilted and Johnson grass choked the cotton.
What else? Feuds, wrecks, debts, petty thieveries, arm-
twistings, and beatings–
When my grandfather, at the behest of my grandmother,
told the woman to get out,
she had sulled up, there had been a quarrel, a death threat;
he had taken out a warrant,
and now that the thirty days of the warrant had expired,
and he might
physically evict them, move their belongings out of the house
and set them on the road,
with what care they loaded these things onto the wagon.
First the brown sofa with the springs working out of it,
then the cable-spool table,
cane chairs nailed together or bound with baling twine,
fruit jars, kettles, and pots–
A straining and grunting with eyes–but the girl Sheila–
she was my friend–
and Paul–he would go to college and become something–
an architect? an engineer?
With what omissions do I lard memory? By what secret
do my inner committees invent logic and a sentence?
Almost half a century, what does it matter that the terrible
mother of sharecroppers
who prayed to Bacchus to become anything other than rows
has turned into a stand of pines and risen into a paper factory?
The shack is gone.
One night three drunk volunteer firemen came and set a fire
to practice putting it out.
I know the man who puts his neighbor out in the road
is a cold son of a bitch,
yet I am no sweeter than my grandfather. I study the ground.
About Rodney Jones
Rodney Jones was born in 1950 in rural Alabama. He has described his childhood and youth as “very much like being a part of another age. Our community still did not have electricity until I was 5 or 6 years old.” His poetry frequently celebrates the relationships and events of the small, agrarian community he was born into, as well as preserves the kinds of vernacular speech he grew up hearing.
Jones has noted of his youth in Alabama, “Many of our neighbors were illiterate, but books were the alternative and, even among the illiterate, there was a vital oral tradition: stories, jokes, music, memorized scripture.” Jones’s work is known for its investigation of place and memory, and its use of narrative, anecdote, and image. In books from his first celebrated debut, The Story They Told Us of Light (1980), which was chosen by Elizabeth Bishop for the Associated Writing Programs Award series, to the Pulitzer-prize nominated Elegy for the Southern Drawl (1999) and Salvation Blues (2006).
His most recent book is Imaginary Logic (2011), which includes the poem “Eviction.” The poem also appears in the 2011 edition of the Pushcart Prize: Best of the Small Presses.
Jones has written narrative poems that are also philosophical meditations. In an interview with Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum, Jones noted that his “narratives tend to be double-narratives, which not only involve a story, but also an idea of the story, or a philosophical counterpoint that sort of tags along and pipes up now and then…”
Jones studied at the University of Alabama and the University of North Carolina, where he earned his MFA. Since 1985 he has taught at the University of Illinois-Carbondale, where he is professor of English.
His many honors and awards include fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. He received the Harper Lee Award in 2003 and the prestigious Kingsley-Tufts Award in 2007.
Celebrated for his rigorous, thoughtful, and yet accessible style, Jones has earned high praise throughout his career. Robert Wrigley called him “a poet whose work is intellectually sparkling and at the same time beautifully readable.” In Poetry critic David Baker said Jones was “one of the best, most generous, and most brilliantly readable poets currently making poems in America.” And the New York Times Book Review noted, “Jones is a rowdy sort of poet who packs his language with noise. His poems balance on the edge of cacophony, then slip back into a clarity that is sometimes astonishing.”
“The Eviction” appears in Imaginary Logic by Rodney Jones. Copyright © 2011 by Rodney Jones. Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved. Rodney Jones biography courtesy The Poetry Foundation.