Jeanne Shannon | 3 poems

Mock Orange

For Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald

Montgomery, Alabama, summer of 1918: When Scott arrived with his 
yellow hair and lavender eyes, I tried to break through his pale 
aloofness, enter those cooler regions he inhabited alone.

Our house at Number 6 Pleasant Avenue—a porch swing gliding lazily 
to and fro, and rocking chairs.  Cool drinks made of crushed ice 
and fruit.

At the Country Club where they danced, Scott carved their initials 
on the doorpost. 

You were a young lieutenant and I was a radiant phantom. It was 
all going to be for the best.

Then in late spring. . .tea dancing. . .a trunk that exuded sachet 
and the marshmallow odor of the Biltmore. . .at West Point we 
quarreled over morals once, walking beside a colonial wall under 
the freshness of lilacs.

They lived in hotels the color of rambler roses, sunned themselves 
in the citron light of the beach at Juan-les-Pins. The heat 
of summer seethed in the resin of the white pine bath-houses.  
At evening, they walked toward a café that bloomed with Japanese 
lanterns. She remembered their white shoes, gleaming like radium 
in the dusk. The orchid whirr of elevators. Taxis slumberously afloat 
on deep summer nights. . . .

Where did they go, those years?  We could not face it, the passing 
of time.  We wrote letters.

Long Indian Summer. Years later, in this dusty time of year, 
the flowers and trees took on the aspect of trees and flowers drifted 
from other summers.

Memories clung like the scent of mock orange. There was no escape.

Scent of pine needles on the country roads. Roads that cradled 
the happier suns of a long time ago.

Dust and alfalfa in Alabama, pines and salt at Antibes. . .
the sick-sweet smells of old gardens at night, verbena or phlox 
or night-blooming stock. She wanted to go back to find those things 
again, to know they were still there. 

We could not face it, the passing of time.  

At a Writer’s Conference in Arizona

December chill in the hotel courtyard
and citrus light of a full moon.

Above the fan palms
the emery stars keep turning.

The poet’s words cluster like diamonds.
We open our notebooks
waiting for grace.

At dawn the moon
packs up her lemon light and goes.

Light mourns in the orange trees.
The words don’t come.

The poet’s numinous presence:
What will it save us from?
What will it heal?

A wren harps in the cactus grove.
What does she blame us for?
What does she know?

Under the Dog Star

(Inspired by paintings at the Tortuga Gallery, Albuquerque)

Liberté, fraternité, égalité.
Did those concepts exist 
in the Egypt of the pharaohs?

Did a sacred eel swim in the Nile
at the heliacal rising 
of the Dog Star
when the river filled with blossomy water?

When young women entered the temple of Isis
to learn Her Mysteries
and leave as initiates?

Did Akhenaten come from the stars? 
And Nefertiti?  Their long skulls. . . 

Where were the daughters of their daughters
when the moon rose like a pearl
over the ruins of Amarna,

when the moon rose like a pearl 
over the harbor,
over Pharos, the great lighthouse?

Where were they
when the scrolls were gathered
at Alexandria?

Where were they
after Cleopatra’s Roman holidays

after she murdered her brother, her sister

after the scrolls entered the fire

after the asp in a basket of plums?

[“Under the Dog Star” was previously published in Legends and Monsters 
chapbook, a Jules Poetry Playhouse Project.]


Jeanne Shannon’s work (poetry, memoir, short fiction) has been appearing regularly in small-press and university publications since the 1960’s.  She has published four full-length collections of her work and several chapbooks.  Her most recent book, Summoning, won the 2016 New Mexico/Arizona Book Award for poetry.  Under her imprint, The Wildflower Press, she published books of poetry and memoir by various local and not-so-local authors.

2 thoughts on “Jeanne Shannon | 3 poems

  1. Thank you for the poems. “Mock Orange” not only evoked the South but took me back to Fitzgerald’s work and the powerful, lovely and tragic Zelda. Also evocative, the South itself, Southern Hospitality and porches, the summer dust and flowers. Wow!


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