Morning Coffee

Leather pyrography portrait by Jas Mardis

     There is a place in my throat
for when the coffee has turned cold
    for when the beans are reclaiming their shape
     and, like freed men,   begin to search out their broken kin
   like fools think it will be in Heaven
    and that somehow there will be a mist of Grandma
      holding a pan of warm bread or a bowl of second slain beast stew

   And my swallowing  is stopped at the tongue
       and I make a bowl to cradle the lacking brew
    and I can see my Grandfather’s thin lips blowing over his saucer
          of poured out   percolated   early morning   liquor
   that still wafts and wakes  the most loved place of my entire known life
   until it calms into a mellow potion  for my brother and I to fight over

       I beg my tongue to river that swallow into my throat
    like I begged my Grandfather  not to leave
            and go over the hill  where he broke open the earth
       where other men died  and were swallowed by the dirt
where one man watched a Birmingham Steel girder slice his head apart
       where White men claimed  splendor they did not put hands to

      Begged him to stay at that morning table
          where we fell asleep scrapping at his leftover grits   dry toast and runny eggs
    begged him to pick me to wear his scuffed and scraped hard hat
             that swallowed our tiny, boy heads
       and gave us echoes of his foot falls across wood floors
           and reverberations of the swooshing air thru the opening door
      and washed our blindedness with a screech of the screens hinges
            before being taken off and tossed into the station wagon

       And I tilt back my head
   like I did as a boy    and wait for the whiskered kiss
      of my Grandfather’s cooled breath
   to push the last of this morning’s brew into my remembered
                unaged soul

Jas Mardis is a 2014 inductee to The Texas Literary Hall of Fame and a leather and fabric artist

Woman in Red

Poem for an Unseen Woman

    I thought of you

   wearing red and looking at your face

        in the lake water that covered 

     your bare feet

       that lapped at your ankles

     that reached for your calves

 and wished for the waving hem of your

           yellow flowered sun dress

        I was standing behind you

   where the sand agreed with the pavement 

       where the flowers were real

     where the water does not reach

    until the wind wants chaos and 

        time for sun dresses   has passed 

except for in photographs.

      You left your sandals 

     just ahead of where I am settled in

   my back was turned 

         my interest was caught up in 

     things that I can’t recall just now

     I heard the tumbling of them fall

    I caught a shadow leaving you walking 

          it stretched and circled over asphalt 

      then grass   then sand  and rejoined you

  at the water’s edge

          then it was swallowed in a rippling wave of white bubbles and dark water 

      that ran against the caramel skin 

    of your legs


    now I’m waiting for you to turn

     not fully around

    just   waiting for a shift of your head

       out of the afternoon sun

     just a tilt    a taste of skin toward dry land

       I’m holding my breath 

     I’m counting the flowers of your dress

    I’m turning that same shade of red

         in your windbreaker 

     I’m telling myself 

           to pick up your sandals 

       I’m hoping to exchange them 

     for a smile

once I finally see your face

Jas Mardis

A Book About Forever


          It has been four days of hearing you

Your laughter filling me up from where my toes end to where thoughts begin
Your early days stories
Taking me into long forgotten tales of my own
Memories and wonders and hopes and delights
Slipping between us like forever is still an infant
Like these old bones are not creaking
Like all my teeth are still where they used to be

           I am not in a hurry to be the old man that I was before 
    Before you smiled  when hearing my laughter  just a few feet away
 Standing in the same aisle   Standing in the same dusty pathway of knowledge

You: forgetting about the Orishas and JuJu women book
Forgetting about the heat of the day and the market booths
Forgetting about the drum circle men and women keeping their thunder
Between their knees and wrap-skirts and welcoming rhythms

         They are all around us
         But we are alone
     Just you and your smiling to yourself about the ways I am making you want thunder

In your breasts thru your belly between your thighs

          Later   after our third night 
     You will tell me of how you surrendered  all of your old fears  to my laughter
How you spent a journey of steps  backward toward the savoring sound of it
          How you pressed your palm to your belly  exposed by your tied off shirt  
    How your fingers played along  and said that my tongue would trace your navel
   And spill cups of whispers  into you  with the same   heavy  baritone  and bouncing joy
       How you turned your face toward  me   and parted your lips  intending to say your name
  But  instead    you swallowed up the view of my walking  and  taking   you   in

Me: this is what the dreams of aloneness have taught me
And I have watched you saunter beyond and back to me twice already
You are in desire mode you came wanting knowledge of mysterious things and women
Somewhere you have reasoned that another book is waiting for you
I can see it in the way you come to the end of the shelves and take the corner toward home
In watching you I want to know that manner of thirst that way of having the tongue surrendered
That opening up and taking in of things anew

        Later    after our third night
   I will let free every thought and want of you 
               From this first moment of you  amongst these books of our people
     You are already   forever   known to me for the way you want words  around you
  The way you steady yourself and touch each spine 
                 in the same way that you will read the curve of me thru a wet towel on day seven
          already    everything  that I knew before seeing you searching   has been lost

and there is only come whatever will come whatever may

            so… I ask for the title of the book that would send you on such a journey
 and I listen when you turn your face up to me and say

              that you are looking for book about forever
          and it seems to be written  on the sound of my laughter

.Jas Mardis 2022


For James Ward Lee

play audio –Sting


    the smell of lemon

        on my hands

reminds me of my father

     and of being home

  for the last time

the swollen acrid smell

     of lemons

   and the remembered yellow skin

 with its pimples gone awry

           dotting the landscape and

       chasing the perfect oval


 covering all that is possible

    to cover

        in that seasonal lifetime

   of a lemon

 dotting the rise and sloping fall

     of a hull:

   Yellow to yellow-dotted black  aromatic pore

         seeping out the blinding


    quick, sharp breaths

of this lemon life

      a season of smelling

and tarting the tastes of things:

    water into thirst quinching ‘ades

              fish from bland sea palate

          into  a chasing, feverish rush

  of once fighting muscle

       pulling tightly against the line

       making this plate

    of bones and baked flesh


 worth the swollen chest

       of its being here


 the squeaky run of its juice

     of my hands


   chasing tightly into the

smallest cut

          into the hell of broken flesh

     into the naked wounds

of being


     for the last time

Home Home Home


  the worst of the four lettered



for the last time

     with my father’s breath

   packed and ready to go

leaving his heaving

      hairy chest

    beneath his sweat soaked

         death shirt


like his last words

     “lemonade” & “son”


   running over me



with these lemons

bursting under my grip



    crying the hot juice

  of giving in

     like my father


wanted lemonade

      as his last

    throat quinching drink

    So he asked me

           to make it

   and now

      the smell of lemon

                  on my hands

    will mean


    that his throat is dry

  in a room

that’s just a sting

    and a step away




.Copyright Jas Mardis 1999 Awarded the Voertman Poetry Award and published in Our Texas anthology , Center For Texas Studies @ University of North Texas Press, Denton, TX.

Stealing Sweet Apple Pears

Audio–Stealing Sweet Apple-Pears

We could not walk away from the wet mouthed joy
of the palm-sized apple-pears
stolen at a speed of one hundred steps an hour
from the tree in Mr. Willie’s backyard

       each bite to come

  worth the bare-foot procession over spurned alley trash
and fallen branches petrified against the barren, rootless earth

each of our shirt-baskets
full to the wide-eyed brim with yellow-green and crimson delight

our mouths already full of last summer’s remembrance:
zest and tang and pith and running

we could not

not even when he stood watching
his ratty bathrobe tied into a knot
the same patterned knot that tied his Viet-damned soul
tied it so tightly that this battle for pears
was his only connection to the world still outside of him

tied and ragged
ragged and red and yellowed and bruised
as much like his wounds on the battleground
torn into strips and shreds and being pulled away from him

like the skin of his plump, backyard fruit
between our teeth

gathered between the supple lips of our youth

pulled and suckled away from the meat and the seed

each bite
each crimson and yellow-green oddest oval globe
taking our teeth like first and last

each fruit
licking back against our tongues
lapping back into the canyon of our bite
claiming that moment of fulfillment
cajoling our senses toward the next summer’s delight
creating the answers to the questions of pleasure

each of those fruits
come so graciously year after year to that tree
come so tauntingly aromatic on the first day winds
come so wickedly olive-to-sanguine
and finally to wasted, fallen,  saffron fodder for the night creature’s to taste

We could not walk away from the wet mouthed joy
of the palm-sized apple-pears
dangling so much like desire
swaying in the lilting southern summer siroccos
like radio music from air-condition less cars
and the sweet, sweet flask of bay rum spilled onto the barber’s smock
and the yelping night hounds trapped, swollen in mid-hump out back of the fence
the from heaven falling
out of Mr. Willie’s apple-pear tree
having never landed and bounced against the earth

circling and spinning and pendulant from a branch
my face turned crimson
my pants ripped into a knotted gash
and Mr. Willie
coming finally through the screen door
in hand





Copyright 1996 Jas. C. Mardis  All Rights Reserved

Your Face

Touch here: your-face-1.m4a

For Natalie

I saw your face today

    the one you rarely show 
the one with all the sunlight in the shadows 
    the one that says 
        we should have met a year ago
          and run thru a park with old kites
           made from comics & on short strings
        and flown them just above our heads
      so that when people pointed at us
   we could fall on the grass and pretend to be reading the funnies over and over again

Tell It All


TELL_ it all


      It seems silly    in this moment 
   but let me just say:
William TELL! Do TELL! TELL Me A Story!
 or, maybe just …TELL Me Something Good!
   how could I not take the advantage 
       the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity 
   to play with your name
       to chance your smile
     to risk a another slap on my wrist
       Truth be told 
Entering the room where you stood eating  
     confident … owning your ground
  I expected you to say:
        Angel.  Vixen.  Joy.  or just for once
 the Sistah to say “You can call me Often”
    you are called by the most unexpected 
    of monikers: Tell
  Tell me you love me 
floods my mind from songs on the radio
    “Tell Me…Tell Me…Tell Me….
   Won’t you tell, tell, tell …tell me”
       I’m certain that the crooner is crying
     his tears are starting their journey 
his shirt front stiffens for their weight…
     Wait, I have it wrong
   the song is, “Say You Love Me”
but what a wonderful mistake!
     Forever and more the thought of you
  the first thought of you 
       and every time I say your name 
 and consider your face  
        every time I 
           enjoy you chewing 
        recall you standing in a room
            every time I 
           drink the aroma of your memory
    it’ll come with the joy of song
Jas. Mardis

Poem: winds of change

Winds of Change


      I found myself 
            standing in the wind today
     standing and pushing my body against the idea of falling
     against the thought of twisting 
    against the desire to move on 
       I was standing 
          and steadfast 
       in the spot where I’m sure 
      I’ll kiss you for the first time 
          You were on my phone
      a text   an emoji    a silly, moving image
    telling me that you were certain
        its hands/your hands
       tiny/small   but thick and lined with years of muscles  delicate caresses waiting to be rested against a fold in my cheek 
        waiting to trace the rivulet-curls 
       of my new beard 
   into the curve of my jaw
         onto the bulb of my ear’s lobe
      where you’ll pinch it gently 
      and guide the awe of my opening mouth 
      onto the wanting blush of your grinning 
      and so
        I stood      still 
       and took the biting wind 
       took the pressing hand of that force 
    took the whipping chill  
 took the harsh whistling  growling  bark
   took the pushing and twisting at my legs
 took the tugging away at my hat brim
     took that moment 
             before I had known you existed
   before there were snatches of thoughts
        and remembrances of your faces 
    and reasons to hide away the echo
          and fullness and temptation 
      of you laughing 
         I took that past me
      absent the coming moment of you
    absent the pulsing  racing  hoping 
          days without you or an emoji you 
        and watched them eclipsed 
 like useless    wasted sunny days of youth
    covered over
        by the chance of a day
     with you tugging 
       tugging    tugging 
   into the winds of change 
Jas Mardis

Copyright JasMardis 2019

Final Natl-Poetry-Month Poem: How Sweet It Is… (audio and text)

Audio: How Sweet It Is

How Sweet It Is…

I want to sing
not just that hand moving vocalizing from American Idol tryouts
but sing in a way that makes men    wait to go pee

when the alarm has gone off   and it’s me on the radio
and the morning is still cold on the other side of his woman
and she is barely making a sound
but her mouth is a smile
and her hips are exposed from beneath and around her gown

and I’m chiming something from The Originals

and I don’t even care that it’s four-part harmony
’cause damn    he’s looking over across her curves and sweetness
and remembering a few nights ago   that should have been last night, too

and she’s curling her shoulders into the full light of day  breaking across into the room

and her leg straightens   and the gown   just gives up

and there is something rising in the air on the sun’s rays and in the mist of dust
and there are all kinds of “yes” in the way that she opens her eyes to him

and the covers and pillows    fall into line

and there is nothing to be said with words
not even that line about “gonna be late for work”
because I’m on the radio

and what they HEAR when I sing: “DO YOU HEAR WHAT I HEAR”
is “I’ve been missing you since yesterday night”

and what they FEEL when I sing: “WHEN YOUR LIPS ARE KISSING MINE”
is, “Yeah”

and what they KNOW when I sing: “DO YOU HEAR THE BELLS, DARLING”
is, “All I need is five minutes to show you”

is ask, “Can we turn that up a little bit, then?”


How sweet it must be    to sing

Jas. Mardis (04/2015)
National Poetry Month 2015

**Click here to see The Originals sing their hit song properly

Jas. Mardis is a 2014 Inductee to The Texas Literary Hall of Fame, Multiple National Association of Black Journalist GRIOT Awards for Radio Commentary and  a Pushcart Prize Winner for Poetry. He is Editor of KenteCloth: Southwest Voices of the African Diaspora (UNT Press). For booking information of poetry or The Family Story Project workshops– or just send a reply from this page.

Summer Honeysuckle, Like Manna

Creator(s): Lange, Dorothea, photographer
Fruit jars being sterilized on old lady Graham’s back fence in berry season. Near Conway, Arkansas. Lange, Dorothea, photographer

Audio: Summer Honeysuckle Like Manna

Summer Honeysuckle, Like Manna
for Terri Boyd

Go ahead
let the air  move in and out of your body   again        just breathe
let your surprised  breast rise and fall and rise
as we talk about  what is    familiar     between us

breathe      like
the last time you crossed the just cut grass of your Grandmother’s yard
where the air was sweet and new and Summer morning fresh

and remnants of those chopped blades clung to your greased legs
and dusted the patent-leather reflection of your shoes
and you kept on running     because there was blooming honeysuckle
to pluck and strip and lay gently on your tongue
then   pull back thru your pursed lips   and enjoy   in joy

it took all our breaths away to know that a wisp of honey hid there
like manna
opened  anew    each morning    always, just right there
laid out across
simple post and wire fences  that partitioned off the journey
for those blocks and corners that created   neighbors and later  hoods

every time I say it   I crave
another sip   of that backyard heaven weed
grown from vines that seemed to fall from an endless sky
yet   reached up from miraculous patches of ground cover

even now    we cannot run our minds into believable paths to their roots
where old bees    too fat for flight       must be relegated to stuffing
and slathering new vines with left-out and spilled-over nectar

what else could  explain it

surely not just childhood
moments of wonder and growing  and seeing mysteries so clearly
so wonderfully happy with just   sunlight   and cool winds on our face
sun soaked, nappy heads and pool water burned eyes and nostrils

surely no dog chased existence
or tree-climbing      bare-foot-racing mind could make up
this terrible goodness    grown wild and fetching and free

were there always wasps and yellow-jackets to chase you    screaming

do you remember the sting of that surprised you
as you watered the garden in burping  ripples from that tangled  hose

did your Grandmother come running to hush your scream

do you remember
if you left the water running when you dropped the hose

did that sweet, Summer-warmed stream run all night
did it run
until it found a way         into honeysuckle’s roots





Jas. Mardis  (7/2015)
* Happy Birthday, Terri. Thx for your support

Jas. Mardis is a 2014 Inductee to The Texas Literary Hall of Fame