Three Poems by Ashley M. Jones

Addie, Carole, Cynthia, Denise

          Amen, Alabama.
Bring in the Dixie sun,
          cover us in the
delicate, glassy sunshine
          erupting all over.
Find us, fevered, in the
          glen, Jones Valley.
Have you seen the churches with windows stained?
          Infinite steeples,
just turn any corner. Do you
          know how we bleed, like Jesus?
Loud vibrato
          melting the Sunday sky,
new mercies exploding, dynamite,
          over our brown bodies.
Pretty little ones, dressed in lace, beneath
          quivering old ones in hose and hats.
Remember how 16th Street shook,
          symphony of fiery coughs
that turned our Birmingham to blood.
          Under what God’s hand did we die like this?

Villains, victors, what did you see?
          Wa wa watermelon, a chorus of coons,
X’s on the eyes, a grim cartoon?
          Y’all come back now, hear?
Zippety do dah till the day you die.

Salat Behind Al’s Mediterranean and American Food

This evening, in Birmingham,
when I’m meeting a friend
for fried chicken
and poetry,
you prostrate before God
on a piece of cardboard box
in the back alley.
Beside you, there is a dumpster
whispering styrofoam
and onion skins.
The shells of dead cockroaches
bend and crackle
under your knees. Even they pray.
The backdoor of the restaurant
and the towering
University Parking Deck
shelter you in shadow.
Fifteen minutes from now,
you will bring me cheap fries
and fingers,
and when you ask me
if I’d like ketchup,
your accent heavy as oil,
it sounds like a proverb—
clean tomato,
sovereign God.

Rammer Jammer

George Wallace Stands in the Schoolhouse Door -June 11, 1963

Between the thighs
of the doorway,
you are powerful.
The confetti of camera clicks
and your smart business suit
and the swamp of teenaged protesters
swaddle you with sweat.
June in Alabama is rife with heat.
Important men
from Washington have come
to clear you out.
thick and bitter
as a watermelon rind.
From the doorway,
you see Vivian and James
waiting in the government car.
They wish to register here.
From the doorway,
you see walls and waves of
ballot-faced whites.
They are checkmarks
in the next election.
It is only after
your speech is delivered
that you realize how thirsty you are—
your cottonmouth
is unbecoming
for a state leader.
How nice it would be
to sit on your porch
with Lurleen and a glass of sweet tea.
How nice it would be
to get out of this heat
and out of Tuscaloosa
and back to marbled Montgomery
and its halls that echo—
obedient, loud, and white.

Ashley Jones headshotAshley M. Jones earned an MFA in Poetry from Florida International University, where she was a John S. and James L. Knight Foundation Fellow. Her work has been published in various journals nationwide, and she was a 2015 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer’s Award Recipient. Her debut collection, Magic City Gospel is forthcoming from Hub City Press in 2017. She lives in Birmingham, Alabama, where she teaches creative writing at the Alabama School of Fine Arts.