Sitting with Others

by Rodney Jones

copyright ©2006 by Rodney Jones

The front seats filled last. Laggards, buffoons,
and kiss-ups falling in beside local politicos,
the about to be honored, and the hard of hearing.

No help from the middle, blenders and criminals.
And the back rows: restless, intelligent, unable to commit.
My place was always left-center, a little to the rear.

The shy sat with me, fearful of discovery.
Behind me the dead man’s illegitimate children
and the bride’s and groom’s former lovers.

There, when lights were lowered, hands
plunged under skirts or deftly unzipped flies,
and, lights up again, rose and pattered in applause.

Ahead, the bored practiced impeccable signatures.
But was it a movie or a singing? I remember
the whole crowd uplifted, but not the event

or the word that brought us together as one—
One, I say now, when I had felt myself many,
speaking and listening: that was the contradiction.

Notes on the Poem

Rodney Jones' poem "Sitting with Others" seems to encapsulate everything the 2007 Griffin Poetry Prize judges enjoyed about the entire collection from which it came, Salvation Blues: One Hundred Poems, 1985-2005. As the judges observed so beautifully in their citation:
"His poems are angry, bawdy, funny, wise and deeply moving. They sing to remind us of our humanity and to heal the language of its long service as a mere tool.”
Be it a wedding, funeral, speech or ceremony, concert or even a movie, Jones finds opportunities and examples bearing out all the judges' descriptors in this poem capturing the often many-faceted, regularly fraught experience of gathering with others, for good or for bad. Angry? Characterizing fellow human beings as "Laggards, buffoons, and kiss-ups falling in beside local politicos" suggests some considerable displeasure, don't you think? Bawdy? Well, the fourth stanza certainly has that covered ... or uncovered. Ahem. Funny? Such juxtapositions as "the about to be honored, and the hard of hearing" and "blenders and criminals" had us chuckling ruefully - how about you? Wise? There is something sly and knowing about "And the back rows: restless, intelligent, unable to commit. My place was always left-center, a little to the rear." And oh, deeply moving ... "I remember the whole crowd uplifted, but not the event or the word that brought us together as one" Does it matter the occasion? Does it matter that as soon as he remarks on it, Jones remarks on its contradiction? Even then, it keeps us thinking about the importance of gathering with others. That is moving, indeed.

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