The Troubles That Women Start Are Men

By Rodney Jones b. 1950 Rodney Jones
On the porch, unbreeched shotgun dangling   
Across one arm, just after the killing,   
The murderer, Billy Winkles, made polite   
Small talk with my father while we waited   
For the sheriff to come. The reek of cordite
Still loomed above the sheeted corpse, his uncle   
Ben, whose various dark and viscous organs   
Jeweled the lawn. “Want some coffee, Von?”   
I heard, and thought, A man is dead. And then:   
Why had my father brought me there to stand   
Alone, out of place, half-terrified, bored   
With the slow yammer of weather and crops?

I stepped carefully across the rotted planks   
Toward an oak where an engine block   
Depended from a blackened limb and watched   
A dull dazzle of horseflies, a few puddles   
Hounds had dug like chocolate ruffles   
Hemming the chicken yard. “I told the son   
Of a bitch, come back, I’ll shoot you dead,”   
And he sure had, for sniffing round his wife.   
He said, “It just ain’t right.” He rolled   
A smoke and dragged a steady flame alive   
While neighbors shyly stomped from pickups   
And lifted the sheet to poke and peek.

“That’s Ben,” one said. “That’s Ben to a T.”   
But was it? Was any of it real, the empty   
House, the creek? My father saying, “Now   
Your mother, she was a Partain, wasn’t she?”   
“Naw, she was a Winkles, too. My wife was   
A Partain, she’s over at Mai-Maw’s now.”   
It went like that, and this. The wind drove   
Up and set the shirts to popping on the line.   
A red tricycle leaned above a one-eyed doll.

The mountain’s blue escarpment unwound   
Green bolts of fields, the white shelters   
Where we lived, all of it somehow wrong,   
And magical not to have changed while   
Trucks backed up along the ditch and men   
With their grown boys clambered uphill
To gawk at Uncle Ben who lay like shortcakes   
Lined up on sawhorses on decoration days.

How strange, I thought, that no one prayed,   
And strange that I was there, actually there,   
With grown men, not sad or happy, but proud,   
Knowing even then, the years would mostly   
Amount to sleep, my father would come back   
As history, and still there would be
To say the strobe of the ambulance light;   
The sheriff, a tall, portly man, stooping   
To help the handcuffed killer into the car;   
And on the grass, bits of liver or spleen—   
Whatever I’d dream, the world is not a lie.

Rodney Jones, “The Troubles That Women Start Are Men” from Things That Happen Once. Copyright © 1997 by Rodney Jones. Reprinted with the permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

Source: Things That Happen Once (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1996)

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Poet Rodney Jones b. 1950

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

Subjects Family & Ancestors, Crime & Punishment, Living, Social Commentaries, Youth, Relationships, Men & Women

Poetic Terms Blank Verse

 Rodney  Jones


Rodney Jones was born in 1950 in rural Alabama. He has described his childhood and youth as “very much like being a part of another age. Our community still did not have electricity until I was 5 or 6 years old.” His poetry frequently celebrates the relationships and events of the small, agrarian community he was born into, as well as preserves the kinds of vernacular speech he grew up hearing. Jones has noted of his youth in . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Family & Ancestors, Crime & Punishment, Living, Social Commentaries, Youth, Relationships, Men & Women

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

Poetic Terms Blank Verse

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