Poem of the Week | May 13, 2019

This week we are delighted to present “Contrapuntal with Gladys Knight and Infidelity,” a new poem by Ashley M. Jones.

Ashley M. Jones is a poet, organizer, and educator from Birmingham, Alabama. She holds an MFA in Poetry from Florida International University, and she is the author of Magic City Gospel (Hub City Press, 2017) and dark / / thing (Pleiades Press, 2019). Her poetry has earned local and national awards, including the Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers Award, the Silver Medal in the Independent Publishers Book Awards, the Lena-Miles Wever Todd Prize for Poetry, a Literature Fellowship from the Alabama State Council on the Arts, the Lucille Clifton Poetry Prize, and the Lucille Clifton Legacy Award. Her poems and essays appear in or are forthcoming at CNN, The Oxford American, Origins Journal, The Quarry by Split This Rock, Obsidian, and many others. She teaches at the Alabama School of Fine Arts and the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and she is the founding director of the Magic City Poetry Festival in Birmingham, Alabama.

 

CONTRAPUNTAL WITH GLADYS KNIGHT AND INFIDELITY

 

oh yes                                                    I am afraid to love you,

I heard you,                                          a man who smiles

with your top teeth only                    hiding something at the bottom.

Oh yes                                                   I heard, love

the whole grapevine can                   fit under the molars

can hide under a tongue, even        as it says love, love, you

it can grow, love                                   through my ears and down my throat, love,

it can speak to me in my sleep—      even as you hold me, love,

my eyes are grape leaves, love,         covering the most bitter fruit.

even the birds sing this sour song.   I bet you’re wondering how I knew—

You could have told me yourself.      I wonder, too—

Am I worthy of love?                             I am

oh yes I am                                              the grapevine

 

Author’s Note

When I wrote this poem, I was preparing to assign my students to write a cleave poem (or, a poem which reads contrapuntally), and I like to be able to say that I wouldn’t make them do anything I wouldn’t do, so I endeavored to write one of my own. I wasn’t sure what topic would make sense, but I happened to listen to “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” by Gladys Knight and the Pips, and something about that song’s repetitive “oh yes I am” struck me in just the right way. That, and I started thinking about the grapevine which told me and has told all of us, at some point, something we just don’t want to know. There’s a split that happens, when we find ourselves in a situation which would have need for grapevines to tell us those undesirable things–one side of us wants to ignore the truth, and the other side is the grapevine itself, telling us that that truth is unavoidable.

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