Letter to Justin from Decatur: Eliot, Jazz & Peace
By Jeff Newberry
I’m sitting in a Decatur, Georgia,
motel room & thinking of Michael Harper,
who wrote he had a friend
who’d risen above jazz.
I tell him to stay there, the poem
says. I feel the same way
about politics: I want to rise
above it & stay there.
I’m not the enlightened speaker
of the poem this time,
heavy with epiphany & sacred knowledge.
I’ve taken to signing some emails
“Shantih,” that peace that surpasseth all,
& I wonder who among
my recipients bothers Googling
the term, & I feel the weigh of guilt
by assuming they don’t know the word.
Robert Pinsky said he knew a pipe fitter
who read poetry. I once worked
for an IGA grocery store & the milkman
was the spitting image of Phil Levine,
bad teeth & all. I couldn’t tell
him “Shantih.” We smoked cigarettes
in silence before unloading
gallons of Borden milk,
the jugs sweaty, wet in the morning
humidity. I remember their fat weight
in my hands, how I groaned
each time I lifted a crate of four,
how that exhaled breath was a kind
of poem. The milkman said
that black people wanted to take over
the world. Back then, that scared me—
anyone taking over the world scared me—
now, I’d say, “White folks haven’t done
such a good job running the place.
Let them have it.” Shantih shantih shantih.
Letter to Newberry about my Visit to Angel Lake, Nevada
By Justin Evans
Dear Jeff: Drove up to Angel Lake
nestled high above the small town of
Wells, Nevada. It’s the type of place
you might expect to find in Europe,
a small alpine lake, most might
consider nothing more than a pond,
but more than adequate for helping to
excise the demons of my mind—
Politici americanus. The clear air
at 8,400 feet is free from pollution
and more important, the vitriol of
this election cycle which started far
too soon. The only sounds heard:
birds, insects, water, and leaping fish,
are more than enough to blot out
the anger of uninformed arguments
shouted from the left and the right.
While filling out my parking permit
I saw an external hearing aid mic left
on top of the fee box—a perfect
metaphor for this lake—someone
leaving behind the world to enter
a different world where one might
hear with their own ears, unfettered
by external apparatus or translation.
Looking back from the lake, I could
see the vast serenity of Clover Valley
spreading out like a floral quilt,
muffling the tumult of commentary.
Of course that hearing aid was waiting
for their owner’s return and descent
back into the place where we all live
but for a brief moment they were free
from constraint and extremism; able
to breathe easier. Have you ever heard
the words, ‘Altitude, not Attitude’
in your years of reading? Having been
to this small mountain lake I can say
with some certainty, they are true.
Do you have some distant place,
far from the rest of the word, a retreat
where you can shut out the world?
I plan to return to Angel Lake, where
I hope to find the sound of my own heart.
All the best, Justin
Justin Evans’ latest book is Sailing This Nameless Ship (BlazeVOX). His next book, All the Brilliant Ideas I’ve Ever Had, is forthcoming from Foothills Publishing. He lives in rural Nevada with his artist wife, Becky, and their sons, where he teaches at the local high school.
Header photo of trumpet player by Oregongal, courtesy Pixabay.