April 11, 2001 -- The second poet in our National Poetry Month series is Judy Jordan. Much of Jordan's poetry is based on her own life experiences. She was raised the daugher of sharecroppers on the North Carolina side of the North Carolina - South Carolina state line. Her mother died when she was seven, and her father was an alchoholic. Jordan's struggle has always been how to make beautiful poetry out of such ugly circumstances.
photo: François Camoin
After high school Jordan worked hard to scrape up enough money to send herself to the University of Virginia, where she was the first in her family to earn a bachelor's degree. Since then she has also earned a Master's in Fine Arts at the University of Utah. Her first book, Carolina Ghost Woods won the 1999 Walt Whitman award from the Academy of American Poets, and the National Book Critics Circle Award.
Jordan still lives in Utah. She continues to write poetry, and she says she hopes to give voice to her family and others who can't write their own stories.
Listen as Jordan talks about her poem A Taste for Falling for All Things Considered.
A Taste for Falling
Maybe it was the cold pulling through darkness stippled on darkness,
washing the world loose so I walked untethered,
floating above the frost-traced stubble of corn
in the trembling light to the rock-ledge above water.
If there was a moon, it fell from my hands
into the wild flowers we call white tears,
fell through nights textured like dreams.
But there was no moon.
Only me hungry enough to peel bark from birch trees,
aware always of the river's slosh and drift,
aware always how the slightest movement
swallows you in cold's toothy grin.
Say I scaled the thin wind and joined the wild children of the woods,
learned the language of the orphaned dead,
got lost on the trail between worlds.
Say I forgot myself,
became a stutter of blue light
swirling in a river bottom's spiral,
my voice wet winter branches against a soot sky.
Say it's the fog of my breath that's wiped from windows,
my shadow sputtering at the screen.
It was not the objects but what linked me to them.
Not the passage from the side yard to post and wire,
past the cemetery, past the restless cows,
not the clumped thorn trees or catalpas chattering in wind,
but my mother's room, her perfume lingering,
years after her death.
Eyes lit like jack-o'-lanterns slid across the field and I disappeared.
Twisted into the sky's whirl,
I didn't sate my hunger on sweet gum and stripped pine,
never ate pitch and needles,
didn't survive but one slack-mouthed night
the broken wing inside me opened to the river,
since when I've known nothing except a dream gone black,
a taste for falling, from which I never wake.
In the 25th Year of My Mother's Death
When the land shifts at day's end
and light sifts slow across field-fetch,
sun smoldering the tombstones cresting
the near hill in a small wind
ripe with weed and rot,
my mother, no longer caring
how day gathers into itself,
does not step from the back porch
to watch the blue heron
reel above the sedge, hover
then plunge into the rising mist.
Soon pines drop from the horizon;
lamplight doesn't seep across the lawn
through air no one breathes
which fills with the scent of apples
and the pitch of apples, snapped stem
and branch, to the root-buckled earth.
Bruised useless, they're not lugged out to the horses.
Geldings, sold to buy a casket,
don't stride shank-high through pond grass,
climb dripping from the banks
and shudder like a sleeper
shaking off dream.
In this ebb and sigh of dark easing all around,
no one searches the sky
for Antares burning the Scorpion's heart
or hears the bobcat's cry like a woman's scream,
exactly like a woman beyond any words.
See more NPR coverage of National Poetry Month.