The Jesus Cow and Honorée Fanonne Jeffers

For those of you wondering about the lines of poetry included in The Jesus Cow, below is a piece I wrote at the end of the hardcover tour (right now the book’s out in paperback):

Official book tour is officially over. Mostly now I will be home. Working against new writing deadlines in the little room above the garage, getting in the way of the family, and (speaking of deadlines) (in this case the pace of cellular replication) repairing the backup chicken coop in a race against the growth rate of a clutch of 22 chicks currently peep-peeping beneath a heat lamp in the granary.

I will also be writing a lot of tour-related thank you notes. One of those notes I want to compose right now, in public.

Over a decade ago I attended a reading by the poet Honorée Fanonne Jeffers. She read a poem called “On Listening to the Two-Headed Lady Blow Her Horn,” from her book, “The Gospel of Barbecue.” Two lines in particular from that poem (on prayer, and not praying — and best viewed in context) struck me so deeply in their plainspoken power that I carried them with me for over a decade, hoping I might have opportunity to weave them into an essay or story one day. Finally, in The Jesus Cow, I was provided that opportunity. And so it was that on nearly every night of the recent tour I closed by reading the concluding paragraphs of Chapter 29, in which those words by Honorée play a critical rhythmic, rhetorical and heartfelt role. The fictional character recalling the lines can’t remember where he first heard them, and thus Jeffers is credited in the front of the book, but I want to credit her again here now.

I’m a clunky roughneck. A flat-footed clodhopper in both the podiatric and behavioral carriage sense. You’ll wait around a mighty long time before the word cloud of my comportment precipitates panache or élan. Given time and multiple revisions I can polish up a patch of prose, but even in that I tend to stumble sideways into tangents and require reams of pages to get to the point. Perhaps this is why I so admire anyone who can speak powerfully in brevity. This is why I thank Honorée Fannone Jeffers for arranging eleven words in such a way that they echo in me still.

I am happy to say the poet Jeffers has a new book out now. “The Glory Gets,” it’s called. My first full day home after tour, a poem from this fresh collection was featured in the Poetry Daily section of The title of the poem — “Singing Counter” — appealed to me immediately because of my old hymnal days, but of course the poem was in response to something far darker than reminiscence.

Here is something that happens during a book tour: You become the only constant in a constantly changing landscape. You are always meeting people, then immediately moving on. You hear the news, but you listen with one eye on the clock, or the speedometer. You are detached through movement. And then, you find yourself back home as I did, standing in one place, reading “Singing Counter” in the quiet of my little room above the garage, and in the reverberant stillness comes the powerful reminder: sometimes when the news of the day is especially heartbreaking, or especially maddening, or especially the same old thing, the best thing a guy like me can do is back up, sit down, and let the poet speak.

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