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Three Poems

Stephen Jonas




my ole uncle so & so

           (now w/God) had

(among other things I

             hesitate to touch upon—)

the (so help me God) biggest

       piece (‘Scuse the Xpression) in

the town athletic (unmaled)

assoc. Christ! he was al-

       ways (between workouts w/bar-

bells & the like) beating it (and

      at the mirror yet) outsized (and

      no exaggeration) down to

his knees

                what can I tell you

he was (a boy I played w/it

     in bed) hung (my hand ta’ god) like

        a horse & could have

(had he turnd pro & stopd

            playin’ w/hisself) kept

ole Christian Science ladies

            (w/fat dividend checks

from husbands mostly dead) happy









if you come right down to it the

                   hemmed-in Proteus the

                     lopsided whale

                                      stranded on a California

                                             beachhead, people

milling about all

                     phenomena –

critical poem

                     saying the

                          upside-down cake

                not in the sky that

                           canvas of surprise

         no, hidden within sub-


                 remoteness of human


To save? again no

                             to venerate this


                 (that’s innovation

without right.) the

     minute is found within

the narrow confines of space

where the ever lurking

                 presence of Time: the

myriad colors with

grounded principles like

            as Michael Angelo down

                                           on all fours mixing

                                           the Sistine ceiling with

                     universal dirt. unity? you say

yes, but where will you

             find unity unless you

sacrifice space

that diction of rhetoricians

                      like a backslider with

double barrel’d nerve.

                 we lend encouragement after

                  the fact.

                                 known? who

                      knows the Eternal outlaw

can safely say he

                            knows nothing.








O generation gone

     thoroughly to seed

yr. legislators, yr. heads

    of state

                       a great informal

racket without in-

                struction in-

capable of re-

     capitulation & no

distinction between

             subject & object

suffices anymore

to distinguish time &


Long gaps appear in the

     contours of the language

(as tho’ a mere pencil could

       Indicate so much grief.)

A language whose word

     of true meaning has been

                severely lost.



O lady carved in rosewood

     or set in alabaster

     I pray you

      make us again

the tall grasses

 to bend & part

before your football.

teach us to sin

      and not to sin.



Since his untimely death in 1970, Stephen Jonas’s SELECTED POEMS, edited by Joseph Torra (Talisman, 1994), has been on the shelves of many serious poets, and off the shelves more than on the shelves by most of those.  The SELECTED not only includes an excellent 12-page introduction by Torra, but includes the complete version of Jonas’s astonishing 100-page poem “Exercises for Ear,” which also includes a preface to the sequence by Gerrit Lansing, who is the executor to Stephen Jonas’s literary estate.  Here’s to hoping that the sampling in this anthology leads those of you who are new to Stephen Jonas to seek more.

   “be you also mindful

                 Love    lest you

forget     i too come from

        the sea scum     the

phosphorus lumi-


   -- “No. LXVI” of “Exercises for Ear”