Jo Jensen: Middle school teacher. Pot Luck Poet. Southsider. MFB. Bon vivant.

Art Party

Here I stand
with my rancid boxed wine
in a small, plastic cup
single piercing in each ear,
middle-aged, rounded and gray.
I wasn’t always like this.
Once, with hennaed hair,
hippie clothes and hashish-induced high,
I mingled with the arty set of a bygone generation.
Now I look like somebody’s Mom.

I am attending an art party
And I must say
The artists are more curious
and compelling
than their work.
Dissonance and asymmetry
In technique, style and musical appreciation
The evening’s muzak is difficult,
challenging like a traffic jam.
The plaintive wail of a horn in minor key
Toodling like a snake charmer
made me look hopelessly for an off ramp.
This music isn’t Coltrane
It is new and nebulous—
All departure and no arrival.
Ungrounded, free, chaotic.
Those were the days…

Arty people, art people, artists,
standing and sitting in clusters,
like unusual stones one might find at the beach—
leftovers from a castle that washed away,
bleached pale.
Some bodies
like maps found in antique bottles,
watery blue, cryptic, intricate tattoos.
Satanic and tribal imagery, hex signs, mazes and Asian script
Enthrall me, make me wonder what it all means.

Art mavens coated in black, with black rectangular Italianate eyewear,
expensive haircuts and foreign cigarettes,
bring to mind corpses—
colorless, languorous, thin.
Just a little scary,
distant and mysterious.
I wonder how I must appear.
I wish they had some decent beer.

© 2003 Jo Jensen

   •    •    •    •    •

Our Fathers

Our fathers
in their last days
became ethereal
ghostly and fragile
ready to float away into eternity
fractions of the men
who busted us for teen idiocy
or held court at family gatherings
with Martini in one hand
and cigarette in the other
poised to punctuate
a spiel about some deal they got
and how taxes are killing them and
how the Packers might rule again
but now their rule is over
we are left ashes and empty glasses
and pictures of the whole men
and pictures of the shadow men
shadows that remain upon the children
as a reminder of their guardianship,
human frailty and our own mortality

© Jo Jensen 9/18/02

   •    •    •    •    •

You black.

I am white.
I am omnipresent.
I am watching you, I ignore you, I deplore you.
I am the last frontier of Western Civilization.
Colonialism keeps marching on in welfare programs and wars to Americanize the planet.
Clean out anti-Christian and anti-capitalist elements!
Tear off those tacky veils and put some Mary Kay pink on the faces
Of Islam so they might feel the tender mercy of our Lord.
Jesus Christ!
Whitewash the world!

You black, brown, red, yellow, and olive tones in between—
If only your families would have stayed further from the sun!
See, I can tan if I want to—to get that naughty, “native” look.
I have a choice, unlike you.
I can fake-bake to perfection or take a cruise to the white sands.
I can buy your bronze.
I can control my color and yours.

This race is fixed and
the victor gets the spoils.
By the way, Victor is a white guy.
It’s a white-hot heat to the finish.
Despite your brown-nosing, you’ll finish last. I know you have a black heart.
I’m always catching you red-handed. You’re yellow anyway.
It’d be mighty white of you to just stay in the shadows,
Gray and out of the way.

© 2003 Jo Jensen

   •    •    •    •    •

7:44 am, Monday through Friday

brother, bruvva
sister, sista
mother, mutha
baby, ba-bay
white, black
money, jack
derriere, back
in yo’ face
a frontal attack
war of the words
a linguistic sortie
laughing screaming
morning party
homey, friend
blood, kin
word, truth
gin and juice
‘ight, okay
Shantara, Sha-nay-nay
crib, house
cat, mouse
the wordplay
of the modern day
the mode of code
the mother lode
raps and rhyming
play, two-timing
know what I'm sayin’ ?
attention paying
if you don’t know
then you’re asleep
gots ta get in wit' da peeps
I love the patter
the natter
the chatter that matters
banter in the hall way
happening all day
verbal gymnastics
often fantastic
loud and rude
usually lewd
the whisper and cry
the teary eye
of teenage angst
pulling pranks
pushing rank
pubescent stank
the bell rings—thanks!
the hallways clear
the noise abates
working on literacy
a noble fate

© Jo Jensen 2002

   •    •    •    •    •

The Remains of the Dad

Dad came home in the mail.
A fitting end to a postman’s tale
He arrived in a box, in a gold painted can.
“HUMAN REMAINS” is what’s left of the man

Brother Jeff shook Dad’s can
To hear what survived of the grand old man
“There’s chunks in there!” said Jeff in surprise
This macabre humor would have gotten a rise
From the man whose bones rattled inside.

For a time Dad sat beside the fire place
Behind a basket as if in disgrace
A dent appeared on the top of the can
It seemed his spirit got out of hand
Or Mom just found a place to vent
And gave Dad’s can a wicked dent

The last time that I visited home
I searched the hearth for the dented dome
To pay respect to dear dead dad
But he wasn’t there, he must have been bad.
So I asked my Mom, “Where’s Dad these days?”
She said,” In the front closet, back a-ways…”

I opened the door and there he rested
Fading gold, bent-crested
I said, “Hi Dad .” and lower “What did you do…
for Mom to further ostracize you?”
but Dad never did complain
about Mom’s moods and deep disdain
for all his transgressions small and great
which held him back from the pearly gates
or so Mom says…

And so it was, from his corner in the closet
He made no beef, he didn’t posit
About his state of falling from grace
In his curious and sad resting place
He just sat there, in his receptacle
Never one to make a spectacle

I don’t like this musty grave site
I’m planning ash theft, yeah, I just might
Take his ashes to the lake
and leave behind a rattling fake
to molder further under coat and cape

But Mom’s held onto him these thirteen years
Perhaps his presence allays some fears
Or maybe it’s sister Judy’s religious piety
Preventing his internment with walleye society
“It’s a sin not to bury in consecrated ground!
You just can’t go throwing his ashes around!”
I know that Dad got crisped to save some cash
He thought casket and gravesite prices were rash.
Dad wanted to sleep with the fishes
It seems only right to abide by his wishes

But I’m not the widow, just one of eight kids
Who doesn’t want to keep Dad hid.
I’d like to set his ashes free
In return for all he’d done for me.
But for now I’ll keep peace in the family.

© Jo Jensen 8/02

   •    •    •    •    •


There was a time I had to keep up with her
her brisk gait
her demands for cleanliness
her stories of betrayal
her memories of South Dakota
her way
her opinion
superseding what might be more rational
and easy to digest

always right and righteous

Über Mother
I see her frailty
her bent back and rounded shoulder
from hard work and adversity real and imagined
her stories repeat themselves with more frequency
more changes
her memories are deeper
going back further in time to friendlier places
her cleanliness, once nestled with deities, has settled for sainthood

her vanity remains intact
but her fear of mortality has risen
cloaked in a campaign to repair her home
that started thirteen years ago
she can’t let go
so something always needs fixing

she keeps her distance
not wanting to be a burden on her children
her children, drive the distance
to help her bear the burden of living alone
three hours from the nearest relative

she was lonely when I was a child
she told me stories that distanced her from others
other’s weaknesses, dishonesty, corruption
she stood alone, even in the arms of her dancing partner

when he died
after fifty years of stepping,
swinging, waltzing around her righteousness
he left her the way he found her
looking for affection but isolated by her quest for perfection

© 9/5/02 Jo Jensen

   •    •    •    •    •


when it is good
you hold your head high
or just so
you know
you look
so good
when it’s bad
you wear hats
you use globs of product
you go subterranean
until you can get an appointment
the appointment
is met with anticipation
sitting and paging
flipping through the style sheets
a daunting task
trying to find your face among the young and nubile
feeling old and subtle
you choose a look
that requires a shower
just then
the apprentice
with the exacting eye makeup of many colors
beckons you to the mercy seat
and you recline
and enjoy
the lush rush of warm water over your aching head
the scent of soap and the flourish of fingers
across your scalp
the soothing massage across the occipital
and cranial regions
don’t stop
don’t stop
a rinse
a towel
a walk
to the tall chair and big mirror
to the person you trust
with your delicate ego
she waves her razor wand
divines with the Japanese scissor
listens and follows your cranky stories
and suddenly you are transformed
it is good
you hold your head high

© 4/6/01 Jo Jensen