Lightning, August

For Jon Montgomery, 1947-2012

Beneath the browning canvas, as evening encroached
On the wedding reception for my sister and your son,
And a promise to supplant the sword of Appomattox
With kinder submissions, we spoke for the first time.
The fireflies clung to the tents as rented torches glared
Through their tiny shadows. You held your glass of wine
With studied disregard – the outward sign of
A psychological reality, the protocol for holding one’s liquor.
I became self-conscious of my Dixie cup of bourbon
(A public apostasy of an inward dispositions to take
My clichés neat and conventions as artificial as possible.)
Instantaneous, the inspiration for our conversation
Arose with introductions: I heard more about you,
So’s the honor greater; you heard something of me,
So’s the honor to be known at all. The talk went literary –
You eased into it with great skill. Did you always breathe
A love of words, or were they markers for deeper things,
Perhaps a well-ploughed field that you’d walked as a child,
Contemplating secession from your heritage, holding
Defeat with honor as the only heritage worthy of victory?
The pride of a parent mixes with the sorrow of a child –
Let the past unravel itself as it may; we’re all here now.
As talk took a sudden turn to Joe Christmas and Lena Grove,
I gazed out from beneath the tent; the New Jersey sky
Repealed the night as heat lightning split its silent light
Across the ranging constellations, striking danger’s colors:
With chevrons marshaled off the cuff in butternut field,
The lanky arm of a cavalry colonel raises his saber above
The slouched ostrich feather and ragged epaulettes;
At his collar flecked in blood, silk wraps his neck in sweat.

Your fierce ideas spilled softly, squash and pumpkins across
A velvet cushion. The tempered sounding of Virginian charm
Took me in a clever raid – and here I was, full of college
In my head, and nothing wondering by my fortune
That I found a true Southern woman talking William F.
Taking him and I by the truculent hand, you showed us
The fur piece you too have walked, the column of smoke
Always in front of you, forever fixing and shifting
Horizon and destination. You closed your eyes and spoke
About the eternal feminine, surviving the rich sense of loss
That healing would help but never resolved. “The plow blade
Always returns in spring,” you might have said, “and the seed
Will always quicken.” It was something agrarian,
Though the vague verbatim husks these years from then
Have been long winnowed out from meaning’s bran.
You chose gentle words of discrimination, inviting solace
To find its rest; your face then gave a moment’s thought
To your past. I only understood half of what you’d seen;
Your failing smile and quiet, throaty chuckle left much unsaid.
Opening your eyes again, you took a sip of wine, looked around
As shadows gathered beneath the rented tent, found your way again,
And welcomed my confidence as we returned with vigor
To your novel South: how the loamy odor of morning
Would rise from its furrows, freshly disked and turned
In the midday sun; how it smelled of cold river stone
And dry red wine in early evening; how it never grows old.


image credit:


  1. Jonathan Webb says

    JOB, this is marvelous. Poetry and art at its absolute best.

    Made me think about death.

    Everyone I know is dead now.

    What do those moments all mean anyway.

  2. Cubeland Mystic says


    You’re in a class by yourself. Why aren’t you in the Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry or sumthin? Why aren’t you the poet laureate of Wisconsin?

    Webb, when you become president of the United States you should appoint JOB as the US Poet Laureate.

  3. Angelico Nguyen, Esq., OP says

    Your fierce ideas spilled softly, squash and pumpkins across
    A velvet cushion.

    This totally bizarre image works in spite of itself. It’s untranslatable into prose, yet it evokes something fairly definite. And it’s so unaccountably memorable. In a word, poetic.

    • Cubeland Mystic says


      I think he was channeling Potter

      The river bends and blends
      in eddies and backwaters,
      slackwaters and rapids and glints,
      nudges and fingers and fists,
      velvetty nuzzles at sunset.

      • This is just fun to say out loud – a wholesome feast of palatals, liquids, labials and aspirates!

        Webb: the “moments” were my first of only a handful of meetings with my sister’s mother in law; I did not find out she died until a week after the fact (Feb. 29, requiescat in pace). It’s one of those “always thought I’d see her again” sort of deals. Well, I didn’t. So I tried to capture something of that first meeting as a matter of the forever she’s hopefully experiencing now.

        CM: “Class by myself” – i.e. with a big chunky Ticondaroga stuck in my fist, scrawling across some primer paper,out in the mobile remedial van parked off school grounds lest it violate that mythical wall of separation between church and state. In later years, that state-funded RV became the far end of some dive bar off Route 33 in NJ, the end no one goes to, with the video poker machine idiotically playing it’s dummy hand over and over and a sloppy pile of sticky, greasy plastic booster seats left over from when the place used to be family-friendly…

        Angelico: I appreciate you’re eye/ear on this image. It was the most excructiating to manage – and who knows? Maybe it doesn’t work, but you’re right, it’s not a metaphor in the usual sense. There’s a audial/tactile thing going on which has much to do with the individual, irreproducible experience I had listening to Ms. Montgomery speak in her charming I-could-listen-to-you-read-from-the-phone-book sort of knuckles-to-teeth style.

        Thanks for reading, all!


  4. Re: great poetry

    It was the Haughton’s lunch, wasn’t it? I can’t say the food led me to poetry but I did get a lot of writing done!

    (yeah, everyone. I got to meet the author yesterday. I know you’re jealous.)

    • Shhh! I was TRYING to keep you to myself.

      (Oh, it was a great conflab – the food was not up to the par I’m used to – but the talk was better than I’ve had since…SAN DIEGO!)

      And yes, the Houghton’s lunch helped. The word “agrarian” rattled around my head like that mysterious marble in an otherwise empty spray paint can, helping me get that last bit of expression out – splotted on the poem like a rosarch test gone bad…

      The poem has been hanging like a wire hanger in a forgotten closet – the bump in the middle of the night that instigated it – the kind you know neither day nor hour of – brought me down in my pajamas to investigate.

      How it never grows old.

      IC – thanks for the time.


      • No thanks necessary, the pleasure was mine. The meeting convinced me that you all on this blog may actually be real live people. 🙂

        And! I got the roughest rough draft done while I was there, so let’s not knock the power of the food.

  5. Jonathan Potter says

    The name/gender question threw me off at the git go. Her name was Jon? Had to go back through and parse that out with Faulkner’s fur piece. Love the dixie cup lines. Love the whole thing’s evocativeness and intimation of larger worlds and eternity under rented tents.

    And what’s this about an IC/JOB meet-up!!!! Astounding. I’ve been reading about heaven of late and methinks we are getting some hinted foretastes of it here in the combox.

    I dreamt the other night that Lickona and I were riding Prytania Park luggage carts down a grassy slope and having a fine time of it.

    • Jonathan Potter says

      Even though Prytania Park doesn’t have luggage carts in reality.

      • Jonathan Potter says

        It took this comment a full minute and a half to load. Anyone else having trouble with slowness hereabouts? Not that I’m complaining. I take it as a lenten feature of the blog.

        • Angelico Nguyen, Esq., OP says

          My load-time is a little pokey, too.

          I think the meager Lenten diet is making the Expat, O’Brien, Lickona, and Webb children too lethargic to keep up their usual pace in the hamster wheels.

    • ‘Tis true and it was fun. Not every bad Catholic lives on the West Coast….

      Also, my comments are slow to load too, but it’s worth it for the “lenten asceticism=slowpoke internet” insight.

  6. Papa,
    Beautiful poem.=) I read it aloud to Dominic and Liam; they proclaimed that you were “really good” but that they only “kind of” understood it.=) It was sad to learn of Uncle Jon’s mother’s death, but this poem is wonderful.=) Beauty born out of sadness.

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