lessons from a distance

lessons from a distance

A Muse In Nature: A Lesson With Ashley M. Jones

Recently, it has been hard for me to write. Very hard. I’m not an everyday kind of writer anyway, but I’ve not even felt the pull of poetry in a small way during this strange time. But, I’ve been spending a lot of time outside—particularly in the sanctuary that is my parents’ backyard. There’s something new to discover each day there—the grass sits differently toward the sun each day, the birds sing a different song each morning, and the bees buzz with varied urgency to and from the flowers they pollinate.

This is where I rediscovered poetry. Where I found the will to write. Try this simple exercise and see what comes of it:

  1. Go outside, where it’s safely possible. If you suffer from really horrible allergies, please just look out a window!!! If it isn’t safe to stand outside (if you live in a metropolitan area in which social distancing literally requires 24/7 isolation), please look out a window or step out on a balcony if you have one.
  2. Breathe again, this time a little deeper.
  3. Close your eyes, and yes, take another breath. Listen.
  4. What is the world saying to you? Maybe the wind whispers something quick and bright. Maybe the sun is laughing—what’s the joke?
  5. Once you hear it, see it, smell it, feel it, go write it down. Don’t put too much pressure on what it is at first. Just translate your experience. Soon, you will see its shape coming clearer, and, I hope, it’s a doorway back into poetry, back into something somewhat positive.



in the universe of my parents’ backyard
i stood in the grass and the wind gave greeting—
it blew on my back, the small and the large of it
like a ghost lover’s hand—have all my lovers been ghosts?
and the wind blew around my neck,
trailing kisses of sweet air—a kiss to name my skin
as something loved and soft, as if created just for this—
the wind said, stand still, and it ran fingers through my hair—
my afro tied up in an african scarf and spilling over its side,
glowing black in the sunlight (which is its mother, it holds shadows
like a treasure, a moonlit gift).
the wind ran its fingers through my hair and over my arms
and through my legs and between my parted lips
and i have never known that God could hold me this completely,
could tell me, in one astounding breath
that i am loved. that i am healed and will be healed,
that healing can mean taking me out of this world and into heaven
that it can mean locking all my doors and telling me stay home
can mean the summer bringing fruit through the earth’s open mouth
and time bringing forth more time and more time and more—
and i know there will be a time when the wind
does not know my name and when i’m straining to hear
the voices of my ancestors when even your voice saying hello,
but i know that will be healing, too,
that a chill always makes way for a grateful warmth.

Ashley M. Jones holds an MFA in Poetry from Florida International University, and she is the author of Magic City Gospel (Hub City Press 2017) dark / / thing (Pleiades Press 2019)and REPARATIONS NOW! (Hub City Press 2021). Her poetry has earned several awards, including the Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers Award, the Silver Medal in the Independent Publishers Book Awards, the Lena-Miles Wever Todd Prize for Poetry, a Literature Fellowship from the Alabama State Council on the Arts, the Lucille Clifton Poetry Prize, and the Lucille Clifton Legacy Award. She was a finalist for the Ruth Lily Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellowship in 2020. Her poems and essays appear in or are forthcoming at CNN, POETRY, The Oxford American, Origins Journal, The Quarry by Split This Rock, Obsidian, and many others. She teaches at the Alabama School of Fine Arts, she co-directs PEN Birmingham, and she is the founding director of the Magic City Poetry Festival.