Not What Good People Do

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Not What Good People Do: Poems by Paul Jenkins  


Yesterday I was going on sixteen

Thumbing beneath her waistband neither of us disrobing

This morning in the mirror I’m eighty-one

Silver tufts of hair escaping my left earlobe

Last night steeped in the old broth

I woke to a bear beneath me in a tree

Who smelled like green steak and an oil refinery

And woke again lugging a dead arm across my chest

Until it woke all by its lonesome

I lied about sixteen I was twenty-seven or fifty-five

Before my body caught on to its own sheer pleasure

The same year Montana relifted its speed limit

Now in two seconds flat I’m standing in Brazil

All it takes is a word

And the color of the voice returns exactly

Come five thousand miles and nine winters in the ground

To find me aimless in eucalyptus

The years between overlapping like starlight

Past lives please spare me as it is

I’ll never finish this one if I make it to a hundred

Lindbergh in the fourth-grade reader as remote

As a pygmy on the Congo now my near contemporary

Only a generation and a stray thought away

As July the lavish the extreme

Senses the night hours lengthen the buttons up its sleeves

Fat green houseflies bumping against my ankles

Will time ever die I confess

I am not a strong person I am a very weak person

Anything passes through me

As the dream-hours melt into morning’s stream

Cornbread to Cambodia back to her cotton underpants

Next Thursday and last Monday Free Jazz in the park

So all-at-once the drummer sits nodding in wonder

Time who has the inner life of a twig

And the saxophones like horses that have thrown their riders

And me every age I am



©1999 Paul Jenkins and Nerve.com, Inc.


To My Cock

I tried all the other words they were puerile or hurt

One was my father’s name

But a rooster yes I can get behind a rooster

That wakes up any hour of the night

Cranes its neck like a nun accepting the wafer

Shrieks like a person half-strangled to death

Then lapses into deep slumber

Oh no not another man gone back to boy

Pressing up again against school desk or locker

For the sake of a poem for Jane Sawyer

In the doorway under mistletoe I actually tore her blouse

Pulling her against me so embarrassed in the lurch

I couldn’t look her in the face for days

I remember the homeroom teacher’s exact words

That isn’t something good people do

What I’m going to say next I’m going to say very low

So the latecomers standing in back can’t hear

There was this sudden rush of air

Escaping my own lips last Thursday that wasn’t me

Someone shouting in a rotunda someone choking on a grape

Toppled by sex but overjoyed

And I wonder have I lost my footing entirely

But the light inside the river has never looked so green

And Cuba is an island I would really like to visit

For its tall doors and its missing plaster

And its most passionate question can people live for love alone

What about your father who is barely breathing

If you brush me once more like that I’ll burst




©1999 Paul Jenkins and Nerve.com, Inc.


God’s Kisses

“If the flesh live for the sake of the spirit, it is

a miracle. But if the spirit for the sake of the body,

it is a miracle of a miracle.”

          — The Gospel According to St. Thomas

Maybe she would like them Augustine claims

They take forever to begin even longer

A dry feather against the lips then the slightest pull

The tip of the tongue too intimate for words

Then the vowel the full syllable the diphthong

I concentrate on her being on her erotic soul

And the twin saltcellars along her tanned shoulders

When the word furrow arrives and unhinges me entirely

Pinned against the desktop again in the seventh grade

Or like the puzzled toddler look my penis is fishing

Lust it’s the puffed-up baritone’s high A

So exorbitant Don Giovanni suddenly turns tragic

No it’s a bulldozer and a shantytown on its knees

No it’s the 26th of July the sky deep green

And I’m restless as a telephone and her sundress is sleeveless

This lust that still holds us at arms’ length

After our souls those old Balkans lowered their gates

Cruel jest it was our bodies knew each other first

Strawberries suddenly reddening on our knees where we burned against the


Now her a great foreignness and me turned bold

Or not bold enough or how else

Explain the mystery of the body greater even than the mind’s

As we who once lived for each other’s lips

Add caution to our voices layers around our pearls

Daring each other to open up

reprinted from  Radio Tooth by permission of Four Way Books




©1999 Paul Jenkins and Nerve.com, Inc.


From Lots of Gods

Yes I pressed one ear to the motel room’s wall

As a couple made noises that even now arouse me

Halfway between an aria and an ambulance




©1999 Paul Jenkins and Nerve.com, Inc.

How Animals Think

I may look like a pallbearer but I’m thinking about the day

A woman’s skirt rode up two seats down at the movies

What is that ground squirrel thinking over there

Twitching above its hole

Like a seismograph inside a walnut

Does the pastor really believe the bodies will be raised

Does the elephant herd one year to the day

Return weeping to the bone pile and wildly trumpet

And the dog panting inside the closed car

Taste the rabbit it ate for breakfast all but the ears

I am trying to remember anything I can

About the dearly departed how her skinny arms

Flew up from her sides at the mere mention of naked

While the horse pastured beyond the trees

Tosses its head furiously then gallops off

I try concentrating on the undertaker’s shoes

And the crumbs of soil on the plastic carpet

As the hole opens its dark chute

Into the stairless basement and who

Was that woman and why didn’t I move down

reprinted from  Radio Tooth by permission of Four Way Books



©1999 Paul Jenkins and Nerve.com, Inc.