Slag and Fortune cover

Slag and Fortune

Didi Jackson

Copyright © 2013 Didi Jackson. All rights reserved.





for M






Do we choose our own myths?
You, the hero, me, the columned girl.
How patient we are as they play out.
Although it can be hard reciting the right lines
and the few gestures to match.
Young men are thinking of riches
and fame, old men are leveling the planks
that one day will make a barge.
Ten days from your suicide to your funeral;
it was on the seventh I visited your body.
We cremate our dead in the tradition of the Romans.
You would have liked to think of yourself as Roman.
I don’t know what I am supposed to do
with my young son.  Sometimes I think of myself
as a koré and I swim in my Archaic smile.  But mostly
you and I were Mycenaean.  We could go
to the movies and still return home empty.
Great stones where the words should have been
corbeled around us.  You see, there are limits.
There are always limits.
There are moments in my body that remind me
of lying with your body.  Flesh can be tricky.
I touched your flesh when you were dead.
I had to do it.  There are moments
I remember that too.
I fear baldness and syllables, and
the beginning and end of beauty.
All are dangerous and sad.
Otherwise, maybe Tiresias
gouged out his own eyes after seeing
Aphrodite naked?  Maybe he just figured out
the impermanence of his lover.  The dog
needs to be fed.  I know for a fact it will bark
until a bowl of courage is laid at its feet.
Sometimes we just walk slowly up to the sea
and gather the scales and count the cowled
waves, and wonder about a life without a hero.


In the days we count the hours, the rain is light and cool.
Nothing is literal: summer downpours ended months ago
in a casual lingo. There is little I need to know.
We share a like-mindedness that grows tall and bends at the ceiling.
Like a mantra. Like liturgy. Like the global hum
of hunger. Like taking whatever comes and taking it again and again.
The godliness of winter, the sinfulness of summer. We lay it all down.
We gloss over the fable where she falls into an endless sleep.
We both know death rested here. Rested and waited awhile,
looking for other scraps, earthly and of flesh.
And in my dark night, I told you of his suicide. The shame of it,
the jaundiced eyes and the funeral, the ocean, the distance.
The husband no longer husband. The dive into the waves,
being belted to a narrative I didn’t want. The lash of the memory of love,
the drenching of new love, of flesh and bone, of kiss and kick.
So you know my secret. I’ll bake and knit and keep a house
more precious than any house, that I may keep a prayer book open on my lap
as I recline by the cold fireplace as in Campin’s altarpiece.
No one will provide a bench and a brass kettle, but you might equip me
with the myth of prurient lovers who over time find the smallest
detail of the other’s body irresistible. My freckle, your thigh’s curve.
I’ve been watching the grackles and now it’s almost dark. A light source
allies us with the Dutch Masters. We should emphasize sorrow and community.
I approached the task of destroying images by first tearing them
out of the heart through God’s Word.
How else will we reach salvation?
We gaze easily at each other over the fire as we drop,
one by one, the generations of our past.

The Florida Sandhill Crane

By wings whose shapes
are but half a heart?
Feathers oiled with
country clubs and
gasps of delight? Not for these
the sandhill crane
shakes her beaded voice.
Gauche and gangrene,
she is the gatekeeper of gibe,
a cement-grey song
edged and pocked in grassy
fields, a frock of scarlet
over her eye, her own letter
to time and her maker;
a bow, a leap, all a dance
to the heavens and the blue
plastic tarps mapping
the devil in a state
of wind and rain,
a crucifix in her throat
to scratch the itch of her fable.
Fruit flies darn the citrus fallen
and rotten in the late spring
she side steps and heads
for the wetlands, to a river
that flows North pierced with blossoms
and the song of Marsyas,
a Suprematist’s White on White,  blossom on flesh,
small Corinthian dreams gargle in her throat,
her voice of leaves and muck
folded up in an awkward flight,
a frieze of battles and victories
lining the sky as if in a couplet
of straight lines, as if she could know she would wed
the palette of one into a mural of two.


I have rummaged in steel cages, cut my finger
while I carved the apple of my health until the peel
lived, dancing like a string from my nipple.
From my shoulders, my black shawl measures your length,
your width in death.
Quit the landscape of knives.
I have tasted salt too many times,
worn a backpack filled with slag and fortune,
planted teeth and bone in a summer garden,
guzzled everything red and splintered.
I’ve roped a wrist, a neck, in my netted
dreams.  Cut out paper dolls but shredded their clothes.
Granted my eyes a flood of blood,
switched from screams to whimpers.
What could have steadied your hand?  Not my lips or breasts.
Broken branches from the winged elm stack like a trap.
Those who walk with me may not look back.


If the wind
once loved you
it would have uncovered the bone
beneath your flesh.
It would remember the twitch and caress:
that raw, winged song of skin.
Paper and hair:
that’s what the wind loves.
Braids that don’t remember
ever being loved so gently.
Who steps directly into a blaze
to be stripped of flesh?
Who walks into the weight of the storm?
Paper and hair:
it is a fine stationary.
You might have cut a question
and sailed it like a paper plane,
like a folded love letter.
You might have weeded the garden
in the pouring rain.
You might have grown basil and oregano.
You might have chosen cursive,
your letters blown on the page of parchment,
an almond-sweet gust, thin as flames,
lining the paper’s edge like bones
laid out in love.

Telling the Future

He was bread-tongued with
thick-shouldered syllables,
the distance between words
and tenderness was measured
by a patch of frost and a wide window.
He was muddy-mouthed with
fish-fleshed consonants
and gathered those soft c’s
into undivided lines
like soldiers with searchlights.
Afternoons resembled the hints
he gave, black
coffee grounds and honey-
combed thoughts, he was a luminous darling,
an Old Testament God,
a brimstone prophet of fire:
even the birdsong turned violent,
even the birch filled with flesh.
Sometimes, what we want and need can
come in the same season.
Sometimes, we don’t know if it’s snowing
or if our eyes are playing tricks on us.

No Fool, No Fodder

Did he prefer the knee to the ankle,
uncoupled and black tarred, the space between them
a dark roux of muddy water and a mouthful of moon?
No need to worry about the fattened pig
or the quick tap dance behind the shed.
Of all the things he used to claim,
a pasture of black-eyed Susans was never
one of them. He didn’t need a speedometer
or two more cocktails, his road was already
greased and graveled. He sped right down
hearing only a few suggest, Keep your eyes on the road.
And the finishing line? That dark place
of crackle and fizz? It could be his best of days.
No fool, no fodder.  Please, no skinny-dipping
in the black, fresh-water springs.

The Love Movement

for M

        Laughter, like the pages of a paperback, tears easily. For you, I’d meet my maker in the darkened corner of a bar. Love, can I ask you? Your answers are what tables are made of, your answers leave water rings, my questions knock us into the reupholstered day, tacked and stapled by the sun, seat-worn to a gracious grin. I love you as much as a bronzed necklace of bones, your bones inside a famine of caresses. How true for us: modern sails are rarely made of natural fibers; age-old cloth is porous enough for a pharaoh to pass. Howling into the path, your voice bears bunkers. You, survivor of pitch and war, of fire and fear, pick the pilgrimage. And, can I ask you? You are the jailor of tea and time, right? So where will I reside in this era of letters, where will I reside in this era of love?


I am grateful to the editors of Ploughshares for publishing my poem, "The Sandhill Crane."

An enormous thanks to my good friends Michele Randall and Tanya Grae for many late nights of writing and editing.

A special thank you to my son, Dylan, whose love is my inspiration.

And finally to my husband, a heart full of thanks for his overwhelming love, support, and encouragement even with the toughest of subjects.

Didi Jackson

Didi Jackson's poems have appeared in Passages North, Poetry South, and Sierra Nevada Review, among other publications. She divides her time between Vermont and Florida, and currently teaches humanities at the University of Central Florida.