« Henry Samelson | Contents | Jason Bredle »

Jake Adam York


I am three. Or four. Maybe even ten. I am sitting at the island in my grandparents’ kitchen as bacon cracks in the skillet and my grandmother is whisking eggs. Toast browns in the broiler. Some country song whines from the breadbox radio, then fades.

Paul Harvey comes on, brief news, then a longer story. Maybe a bank robber who stole an experimental car that ran on sewage so the cops just followed the smell. Maybe a young mother who lost her wedding ring while working at the Twinkie factory ten years back only to find it when her daughter bites hard into a snack-cake at her thirteenth birthday party, broken tooth and diamond ring. Page 2.

This reminds my grandmother, so she starts telling about the time she lost her ring in the trash and had every bag spread open on the driveway, stood knee-deep in the compost heap, looking for that little gleam when my grandfather idles up from work and hands over the ring he’d taken to the jewelers for a clean.

My grandfather walks in, bacon on the sizzle, toast crisping almost sweet, and says we didn’t have no compost heap, that happened back when we lived in town, before I started working the gas company route, and she says he doesn’t remember that he was already on the gas company route through Sylacauga, which is why he took the ring that day but didn’t tell her, and a train full of albino cattle decouples somewhere in Indiana and a small Mayberry reproduction town is nearly trampled by a pack of white. Page 3.

Remember that was the fall after we moved up here and I was helping my mother with the roses by her window. The only woman to live after being hit. Scratched the ring all up on thorn and root, found the small finger bones of a stillborn she’d buried there before I was born, had heard of but never. After being hit by a meteorite. And we didn’t tell her, pull the toast from the oven, so you took the ring from beside the sink but didn’t tell me. No you didn’t wear no ring in the rose-garden, it was after L— was born and you were putting bulbs in the yard of that little house on S— Road. Drives into Sylacauga today. And dropped it in some tulip wells, don’t burn the bacon, and I dug it out and took it for a clean and you stood on the road and yelled at me for pulling up the bulbs. To visit the pebble that dropped in from outerspace. Page 4.

Breakfast is served. Talk subsides. Some country song fades back in.

There is always a story. And a story. And a story. And a song. A disagreement about what happened and a disagreement about what happened. They rhyme with each other. They intertwine. One story prevents another, stalls another, music enters in, people stop to eat, to clarify, the story maybe never ends. But all these turns, turning against the story’s drive, direction, the maybes maybenots their own counterpoint their own story.

There is always a story. And another. Always a narrative in which music nests. Then the eggs are hatched and the birds spread in each direction. Or we are eating and there are birds in our mouth.


—Jake Adam York






Night kissed, tucked in,

he drifts in the crickets’ listen,


but the meteors burn

too fast to hear. Curtains


ghost, then fall to breath,

the river quoting wind.


Bats eclipse the float of stars,

say pine from oak,


chimney, furnace head,

twisting by bed-rhyme and prayer


to open water, tuned in

on mayflies and nymphs,


midges sly as the jazz

in every static. A wake


in the keels. Then quiet

as his parents’ lung,


as the channel deep

where every twitch is whispers


glittering in some far,

secret room of the dark,


someone saying

the touch of music


he’s wished he could say he’d heard

somewhere long ago.







His sleep like arms enfolds

the boy, blue-hole blue

easy not to harm his sleep

while the other arms braced

for a moment that wouldn’t happen.

No father in the door.

Just a wall made of mumbling

and t.v. And then an attic room

so floored. If he didn’t hear them

flipping Jeopardy, Touched by An Angel,

he’d curl into the tick, but this

was not the usual shack with him

in the icehouse off the kitchen.

I had seen it weeks before

when the one was trying

to fish his son from the river

at Stockholm Bend, while the other

broke his chain gang

for a vise and a map of Florida.

He could smell me in the attic

but told himself he had

someone else in mind. When

are they going to do something?

Watch his arms like water

enfold me. He holds a king

and two jacks, one he calls a knave.

He draws his house

then passes me a beer.

I know blue-hole blue cut open

would shine like clay, but the boy

bleeds like a thermometer

I can drink against my pocket’s weathers.

So I said not the usual shack.

In the icehouse off the kitchen

I can’t hear any of this.

Just a game show and the embrace

of beer cans on knees. Why

do they wait? Are they waiting? I told him

I was grabbing catfish, my arm

through a hole in my rotten boat

when I saw the camphouse and knew

my daddy wouldn’t take me.

So I drowned. That boy

never did listen. Listen. I drowned

him then hid in the attic

to wait for you. I smelled myself

but had someone else in mind.

I was on the bank poling for my drowned.

I was watching through the murk.

When I reached through the window,

I was in the next room waiting

for someone to do it. I agreed

to bury the coins by the stump

and was later asked to dig them up.

The others waited in the fringe,

arms itching with empty.

When I went over the bluff

I was waiting in the cove

with a six-pack and

a jar of silver dollars. The boat

was made from a Florida map

and for oars we used a criminal

and my dad’s remote control.



What You Wish For


Wind is the only braid for miles.

Then you descend to the river.

Mud and catfish stench twine in your hair,

the only waves. No nightjar

or solitary oar, but you imagine

a kid, laid deep in a thicket

guitaring to the stars and his lonely girl,

an open window miles away.

A wisp of melody, a radio

wide awake in an empty house.

Something you always wanted her

to hear. Maybe the hum of the body

under her hands, just rising from the water,

someone to whisper in your ear

before sunrise, like this voice you imagine

from faint notes of wind. Sources

say a tooth, silver and quicksilver filled,

can unfold radio, the skull

like a guitar’s face amplifies vibration

into your backseat darling. So perhaps

this girl, missing now since Tuesday,

or the girl in mind, perhaps this voice

is nothing you imagine, but a drift,

a weather grown audible

in the charge of your jaw. A report,

an echo. A fisherman working,

every grapple down, beneath the bridge

raised the body of , an echo,

this poor half-amputated girl, her arms,

tongue cut from her throat

raised from the waveless stream,

whose voice is lost in the forest

on the snag of a sweetgum tree.

You imagine the kid, awaiting

this hung reply, a wail gone out walking

after midnight, searching for you.

It walks for miles, along the highway,

but that’s just her way of saying

I Love You. The news is gone. The notes

thrill, a pulse in solid bone.

Or you imagine none of this

and no station you can raise

plays this tune. But you hope

you don’t know this any other way.

You search the car for a strip of foil,

chewing gum or cigarette tin,

and grind it down between your teeth

and your prayer for a spark

and the acrid pain to fill your mouth,

to make these voices all go away.





The water scars, blade

and keel


        the rotors’ pulse

blade down

    bleeds down.

When it dies

    I can break

from the silt’s thick hands

        to raise

a scent for hounds

             and rise without fear

from the clench of rock

and bone

              but water

don’t work that way,

                the river

holds its tributes

speaking like the drowned.

When the surface



         the chain iron’s


           I kick from the mud

and pull

            growing lung,



            rope and chain

break the water’s skin,


flickering rendezvous

  the rowboat


my conductor

     the sheriff

and his boys


things the water’s

            pulling in.





The map of heaven fades

beneath the levee,


its stars swallowed

in the slag’s obsidian coils,


Draco wrestling

moccasin and magnolia


till all eyes cinder,

its sulphurous whispers drown.


Twilight holds,

stoked by the furnace


and the gas-plant’s flame,

and the last coals


twinkle through the heaps

to the river’s scroll.




When midnight breaks the levee

the map is gone


and every fall’s

a crest catching moon,


a second’s etch from dark to dark

that ends in iron.


Then the channel whites,

a meteor’s burn


withering to the snake

that haunts the pumice shoals,


striking every eddy dead

till it mounts the slag,


its head arrowing through

the stranger’s smoldering wings,


its length, a mantle

on his shoulders,


black and scabbed with stars,

risen for this last tattoo.





Every pavement breathes


through streetlights’ and stars’


every wind, coal burned to


light (watt, watt), to


keep the city’s mansions white.


Now the only cool veins the ridge.


breathes from every light,


from all the valley’s darks,


the ore they purify and hearth,


a furnace working up.


The city’s finest blooms tuyere their


through cast iron bars and


fences, exhaust every arbor,


each street and shadow,


each sleep. We toss in every


and flux under frantic stars whose


we breathe and wake to eye the


mansions bright as lightning.


falls like stars, twinkling


twinkling down like iron, cauled in


waves through every thing.





When moonlight slips like whispers

through the slats and the oaks

hold all the wind they can, she hears

small feet coughing on the downstairs floor,

small lungs unchoking, almost laughter.

But it’s just the creek fluting bones downstream,

just oaks muffling moonlight and wind

as they try to split in twos, or just crows

folding like sin-eaters in the eaves

and coughing just a little

as they choke this down.




Moonlight its hue. Its hue

like water on rocks. Like bone

on bone. Like bone,

like moonlight stilled.

Like moonlight on water,

fold, unfold. Like moonlight

rise. Like water on skin,

starlight on clouds, breath

of wind. Like a moon

above the stream. Whisper

its tide, its hue. Its hue.

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