On Pickiness

By Rodney Jones b. 1950 Rodney Jones
When the first mechanical picker had stripped the field,
It left such a copious white dross of disorderly wispiness
That my mother could not console herself to the waste
And insisted on having it picked over with human hands,

Though anyone could see there was not enough for ten sheets
And the hands had long since gone into the factories.
No matter how often my father pointed this out,
She worried it the way I’ve worried the extra words

In poems that I conceived with the approximate
Notion that each stanza should have the same number
Of lines and each line the same number of syllables—
And disregarded it, telling myself a ripple

Or botch on the surface, like the stutter of a speaker,
Is all I have to affirm the deep fluency below.
The Hebrews distrusted Greek poetry (which embodied
Harmony and symmetry, and, therefore, revision)

Not for aesthetic reasons, but because they believed
That to change the first words, which rose unsmelted
From the trance, amounted to sacrilege against God.
In countries where, because of the gross abundance

Of labor, it’s unlawful to import harvesting machines,
I see the women in the fields and think of how,
When my mother used to pick, you could tell
Her row by the bare stalks and the scant poundage

That tumbled from her sack so pristinely white
And devoid of burrs, it seemed to have already
Passed through the spiked mandibles of the gin.
Dr. Williams said of Eliot that his poems were so

Cautiously wrought that they seemed to come
To us already digested in all four stomachs of the cow.
What my father loved about my mother was not
Just the beauty of her body and face, but the practice

Of her ideas and the intelligence of her hands
As they made the house that abides in us still
As worry and bother, but also the perfect freedom beyond—
As cleanliness is next to godliness but is not God.

Rodney Jones, “On Pickiness” 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, Relationships, Arts & Sciences, Jobs & Working, Activities, Poetry & Poets

 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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SUBJECT Family & Ancestors, Relationships, Arts & Sciences, Jobs & Working, Activities, Poetry & Poets

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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