Poetry: “Litany” by Jessica Pierce


The bus driver monologues
as we wait for the barge to pass
under the raised bridge, dulled
by low clouds. There’s the late
shift in the summer, vignettes
of stumbling, swearing,
sweating out alcohol.
There’s the 911 calls he’s made
for heart attacks and strokes.
There’s the daily checks
to make sure everyone’s okay
because I’ve seen enough,
hopefully. Hopefully.

The woman in front of me
changes seats to one on the back,
shaking her head as she goes.
The driver continues his recitation
of oddities and sadness.

Two men sitting next to me
take up their own litany
of motorcycles and strange
entanglements, which is how
one of the men describes loving
a woman who isn’t his wife,
and voodoo doughnuts.
I’m a Christian, the strangely
entangled man says, so I stay away
from all things voodoo.
The other man replies, Well,
the maple bar with bacon is worth
dying for. They both go silent,
and I imagine they’re each
contemplating salted sugar,
sweet dough, what’s
worth becoming entangled

Even though it’s January,
unexpectedly warm weather
has sent crocuses into bursts
of bloom, the dirt now petal-
stippled and purpled like
sky filled with the onrush
of dusk. The bridge,
a thick spine along
the overcast sky,
looks like it may
never come down.

Jessica Pierce has worked a a farm hand, file clerk, bicycle mechanic and teaching poet. After taking up space everywhere from the San Joaquin Valley to Arkansas to Boston to Guatemala to India to Oakland, she now lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband, a sitar player, and their two year old daughter. As the lead teacher and language arts teacher at an alternative school outside of Portland, she works with high school students at risk of dropping out. Her work has been published in JMWW, Painted Bride Quarterly, the Christian Science Monitor weekly magazine, outwardlink.net, The Times of India (Kolkata), and the Northwest Review, which nominated her for Meridian magazine’s 2007 Best New Poets anthology. She’s had the privilege of studying with Rosanna Warren, Dorianne Laux, Pimone Triplett, Sam Witt and Jorie Graham.