Literary Arts | READ LOCAL First

Clifton H. Jolley: Four Poems

READ LOCAL First represents Utah’s most comprehensive collection of celebrated and promising writers of fiction, poetry, literary nonfiction, and memoir. This week we bring you four previously unpublished poems by Clifton H. Jolley. A widely published poet and essayist, Jolley joins Utah Poet Laureate Paisley Rekdal and former Utah Poet Laureate Katharine Coles, among many others, as part of our READ LOCAL First series. Enjoy. 






Explosion and the Decline of Periodic Style

From the Latin: explosio, 

which is not to detonate

but to frighten away

by clapping, from explodere

as in clapping away birds.

To drive away birds.


There are no birds in Aleppo,

trees blasted to ruined timber,

buildings returned to sand and shard

by clapping louder than dreams

of noise, beginning without knowing

more than 2,000 years since Cicero.


Chinese black powder, invented

by Taoists,  Immortalists. Less long

than Greek Fire but more immediate.

A disease not invented by disease.

More one clap than leprosy

but of similar result: the canker—


birdless suburbs, streets absent trees.


Mount Ogden

Runners from the trailhead to the path and shore

of a prehistoric salt sea, nod or do not nod hello

as they come and come to go and go.

This indecision as to what is so


surrenders to the confusion of not knowing

a better way to be confused.  We are rowing

in the air where once great fishes were soaring

over deserts yet to be, while I am pouring


words into my phone, hoping text from speech

will make sentences knowable enough to speak.

Athleticism today is dumb, but of sufficient speed.

I nod and move along the trail to an ill-conceived


and ruined hotel, charred timbers rotted to loam,

the chimney scattered—returned to field stone—

the iron boiler rusted through, useless, its own

testament, unable to remember come from go.


Nez Perce

When Coyote made the First People

from the blood of a monster

whose name is not known,

the only word Coyote said

when done was, “Enough.”


And it was.


Nothing more is remembered

by the songs The People remember

or by the people who came after,

white as a tooth with no blood in it

and more terrible than original blood.



I’ve seen the pictures, so I know:

No one goes without hesitation;

at the end, everybody wonders,

regardless resolution.


I’ve lost the gift for metaphor,

rummage among words as though

they were wrenches, the hard utility

of a job requiring the right tool,


and saw myself caught on video

by the newly installed security’s watching

an old man in old clothes, hunchingly.

(I’ve seen the pictures, so I know.)


No one comes without reservation

to this place so at the end of else.

Everyone wonders whether they have

packed the right clothes (does it snow?)


whether they were the right resolutions

and whether they were right to say so.

Everyone fears being caught on video,

the insecurity of not wanting to know:


There is no secure system.

At the end, everyone wonders

whether the rules were metaphor,

whether there were correct tools,


          whether anyone was right to say so.

          I’ve seen the pictures. I know.

Clifton H. Jolley has published poems and essays in the New York Times, Western Folklore Quarterly, Utah Historical Quarterly, Mountainwest, Dialogue, Sunstone, Deseret News, Ensign, Salt Lake Tribune, and Huffington Post. His documentaries have been nominated for regional Emmys. His essays have been awarded by the Associated Press and are collected in the book Children’s Voices.

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