Jon Tribble



Koko Taylor, October 7, 1995, Shryock Auditorium,
Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, Illinois

The thunder is here tonight.
This balcony shaking with joy
and fury as she fights on stage,

fists clenched to knock out
the living passion in our lives.
No siren could call out this

emergency more urgently
as we have only this time
in her presence, in her world,

to make music hold us down
to real, lift us up to possible
and beyond Chicago streets

or the fields of Millington,
Tennessee, where a good hoe
and quick hands or fast talk

and slick practice would bring
whiskey and heat on Friday
night and razors, butcher knives,

or even an ice pick wouldn’t be
sharp enough to cut the line
between a really bad time and

the best one we’ll ever have.
This woman makes every breath
worship, call and response

that must be answered
in unison, the crowd spinning
on a wheel of communal ecstasy.


Any More a Reward


I wish my last memories of my grandmother
weren’t of those final days she visited us
before she returned to Tuscumbia where the cancer
would spread everywhere until she begged
her doctors to allow her some peace, some solace
in a death at home where her daughters and sons
could take turns bringing her a little apple juice
or broth so she might have strength enough
to stroke the hand or fine hair of one grandchild
or another for a little while until the pain
or medication weakened her beyond those last
tender efforts to stay. My mother drove alone
those miles to Alabama, took her appointed place
in the rotation of care that spun around
the final weeks, though I know at the end
she was at our home because she called down
the stairs to me in a voice of such anguish
I thought at first my father or sister or brother
had met with an accident, some unexpected force
had torn one of them away from this home.
I did not comprehend how her life would never
take the same shape, how the arc of her love’s
circle was now diminished, and I will only
begin to understand when my own living family
disappears like we all surely must, when my pain
approximates what I heard in my mother’s voice,
felt in the rough shudders as I held her in my
incapable arms. But it is her mother I find
myself turning back to with regret: not because
I did not know her as long as I might have,
since such complaint can always be voiced
of those we love and lose; not because of her life,
which astonishes me in so many ways—a widow
who raised six children during the Depression,
a teacher who watched her charges grow into
generations of parents and grandparents for over
most of this century; not even because of her
death,—there are so few good ways to depart
this world; no, my regret is that I remember
so vividly, so detailed and unforgiving those
afternoons she would fall asleep in front of
the television, Guiding Light or The Price Is
Right fuzzing in and out of our reception,
and I would settle in the easy chair across from
the sofa she rested upon, I would pretend
to read National Geographic or thumb through
the Reader’s Digest condensed version of Agatha
Christie or Irving Stone, turning a few pages
every five minutes, but what I was really doing
was counting her breaths, calculating the slowing
pace of life as it crept from her body each moment,
rise and fall fascinating me as I wondered if
the equation of muscles and blood had some
estimable shape, if I could see it in the growing
strain before me, if I would be there at the instant
release or surrender visited. I would like to think
adolescence or concern explains it all, but somehow
I know that I was there for needs beyond those
convenient excuses: a woman I loved, had reasons
to honor and hold in no slight esteem, that summer
slipped away before my eyes, and I saved nothing
but this memory. I ask her now to forgive me.



Mermaid’s Purse


In the surf’s curl of foam twisting between
the dark sculptures of basalt and time,
an empty husk bobs back and around

forearms of driftwood muscling themselves
up against the land’s shelf. The seed fled
from its leathery case—a new skate slipping

across the Pacific’s slow, deep current—
the shell now flounders in the rough waste
of the sea’s generations, a purse with nothing

of value left to conceal. Plovers and awkward
stilts investigate, but choose instead to mine
wet stones for worms and snails. Sun and sand

alone care for the ocean’s lost and found.
In today’s last light black skimmers cut like sickles
sweeping over tangled kelp nested in slow waves

beyond the surf’s breakpoint. From the shoreline,
the lift and rise of those dark forests seem like
the heaving of a chest forcing each full breath.



Jon tribble

Jon Tribble is the author of two collections of poems: Natural State (Glass Lyre Press, 2016), and, And There Is Many a Good Thing (Salmon Poetry, 2017). His third book, God of the Kitchen, is forthcoming from Glass Lyre Press in 2018. He is the recipient of a 2003 Artist Fellowship Award in Poetry from the Illinois Arts Council and his poems have appeared in print in journals and anthologies, including Ploughshares, Alaska Quarterly Review, Poetry, Crazyhorse, Quarterly West, and The Jazz Poetry Anthology, and online at The Account, Dublin Poetry Review, The Blue Mountain Review, and storySouth. His work was selected as the 2001 winner of the Campbell Corner Poetry Prize from Sarah Lawrence College and as a winner in the 2016 Nazim Hikmet Poetry Prize Competition. He is managing editor of Crab Orchard Review and series editor of the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry published by Southern Illinois University Press.