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Jim Daniels at IU South Bend

Tonight, Jim Daniels appeared at the IU South Bend English Department Student Writing Awards and performed a reading.

Unfortunately for me, I was unable to attend the reading. Call it an example of how a writer must lead a double-life, split between the artistic edge of experiencing poetry and functioning within the “real world” and/or workforce.

However, I still wanted to share in the excitement. While I may have not gotten to see and hear Jim Daniels recite his own work, buy his books, meet him or get the books signed by him (siiiigh), I can at least still appreciate his writing!

Here is a link to one of my favorite examples of How a Poem Happens.

Here are two videos, the first of Jim Daniels reading from From Milltown to Malltown, and the second of Daniels reading from Having a Little Talk with Capital P Poetry.

And finally, here is one of my favorite Daniels poems.

JIM DANIELS

Taking the Leap

My faith had gone to the dogs.
Dogs will eat their own vomit
if you let them. That’s faith.
They swallowed my faith,
and I’m not sure they kept it down.

Fifteen, drunk, I fell back through the plaster
to avoid my mother’s kiss. She’d jumped
off a chair in front of me.

*

She’s eighty now, and blind.
My son, fifteen, forgot to take out
the garbage last night. I’d offered
to help him earlier, but he declined.
Declining is the slant here.

I’d tap dance through hell
to get a smile out of him.
Is he drinking yet?
I can still jump off chairs.

I’d jump off a chair to surprise my mother
if she could see me, if I could be sure
she would not fall.

*

Fragile and faith get rewound, refined,
redefined. My dog Prince once chewed
Jesus off the cross. Oh, we all had a laugh
over that. Helluva way to get resurrected.

We never gave my son faith in God
so he has not lost it. Just his faith
in us. He smiles a little when he’s lying
but he’ll cure that tick soon.

*

I edited that part out—about me being drunk—
for the family oral history. Just a cute little tale
of a man-boy not wanting to kiss his mother.

Last time we embraced was after he ran away
then came home. I’ve told him to run away
many times since. Even though that night
the porch light glowed and I sat there waiting
for him to leap back into our lives
and may have even prayed.

*

She pulled me out of the wall.
My ass covered in plaster dust.
Everyone admired the empty tomb
except my father who stuck his fingers in
to assess the damage.

My mother got another shot
in her hip last week so she can keep
that wheelchair in the garage.

*

It was hard throwing Jesus away,
even a chewed-up Jesus. No way
was he going back up on that cross.

My son, fifteen, forgot to take out the garbage.
Last week, a girl sprayed him with perfume
as a joke. He wouldn’t come near me. Sat alone
in the back seat as I drove him home.

We’re in freefall here. We’re tearing the walls
back to the studs. We’re excavating for relics.
We have no evidence. We’ve stopped taking pictures.

What did my mother see then? Why wouldn’t
I let her kiss me goodbye?

I’ve got enough sight left. The dogs
bark outside in the cold. Their breathe rises
in the street light and disappears.

He tells me he’s heard all my stories,
though I know that’s not true. He broke a chair
last week just sitting down.

My father sealed up the hole, though you could still see
the faint outline of where I fell.

He barges into my room without knocking, but won’t open
his door to talk, tries to shut it on me.

We fight about the basics—sleep, food, time—
we stick with what we know. My father hit me
for the last time when I was fifteen

and I’m sure I deserved it. Just an open hand
to the cheek. My son jolted away from my hand
on his shoulder on Christmas day

but opened all the gifts. We’ve got baby Jesus here
in the house of unbelievers. All I can say is
sometimes a good story can keep you going

a long time. I tap danced through hell
and even Satan applauded. I lifted
my guardian angel’s robe

and saw nothing underneath. Jesus escaped
out of a hole in the wall. My mother
got her sight back. She threw away her walker,

she sang, dancing with me like back
when I was little and laughed, thrilled
to be in her arms.

We lost our wings a long time ago, my son,
so take me in your arms, catch me
as I fall.

*

from Pleiades 31.2 (2011), Eds. Wayne Miller and Phong Nguyen

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