the wrenching of the HIp that Precedes the Blessing (poem)

(by Daniel R. Jones)

They all went black:
the fixed stars we use 
to navigate our broken lives. 

Now we’re cutting 
our way through the fog,
ambling away from Bethlehem.

Well-aware the cosmic ledger—
light and dark, joy and sorrow
is far from balanced, this side of Elysian fields.

Fearful of what it all means;
there’s a part of your soul that’s nocturnal;
rouses, comes awake when it’s dark.

On the same night
the physicists proved, mathematically
man has no soul,

the mystics proved, artistically
man does have a soul.
I inquired of God: which is true?

I was answered 
by a torrent of silence,
and the silence argued

if a thousand years is like a day,
and a day, a thousand years,
a generation of silence from God

is just a lull in the conversation. 
The silence pained me
like the wrenching of the hip 

that precedes the blessing.
and with each surpassing revelation, 
He became more mysterious.

Why I left the mixer with tyson the mailroom clerk [flash-fiction]

(by Daniel R. Jones)

[Note: this piece was first published in issue no. 3 of the print journal “Black Rabbit.”]

…because I’d already unpaired from Jayce as soon as we were through the double-doors. 

Jayce knew I don’t like swanky cocktail parties, but he made me come under the guise of networking read: self-aggrandizement and he was soon in semi-circle with his associates, wagging that silver tongue I fell for two or so years back.

And there was Jayce, neck deep in an anecdote about a sales-call down south, lurching forward in his easy chair like a hunter waiting to pounce. He tells it like he’s letting them in on a secret, and the half-dozen or so are just eating it up, just waiting for him to be out with it. 

But this is the eighth iteration I’ve heard of this story, and sure, it gets more polished every time, his gestures wider, his modulation punchier, but there I was, white-knuckled during the pregnant pause, holding my breath, just gritting my teeth as he lets out the punchline: Make your mind up and mind your make up! 

And the circle is erupting in guffaws and women from each of the circles on the room’s periphery are turning to see what the commotion is about and men out of earshot are smirking like they were in on the joke, but they’re really just embarrassed they’d chosen the wrong company to keep and they wish they’d heard the line-heard-round-the-mixer for themselves.

But because I’m a lady, I closed my eyes before I rolled them. 

So, here comes Tyson, who I found out later was the mailroom clerk. Turns out, he wasn’t on “the list,” but he managed to slip in unannounced by wearing the same garb as the caterers: black slacks paired with a white button down, a black bow-tie, and shiny black oxford shoes. This actually makes me like him more, but anyhow he must’ve somehow seen the eye roll. 

He asks why I don’t find Jayce funny and I say, “He’s my boyfriend, and I’ve heard that one before.” 

And he wonders aloud “How can Adam be at ease with his rib wandering ‘round the room without him?” 

“You’re clever, but I’m just playing from the script,” I say. “At a cocktail party, a man’s worth is judged by the number of people he can greet when he walks in. A woman’s is — by the number of people she can ignore.”

Tyson had a laugh at that, and it felt good to know I’d made an impression. 

“But really, why aren’t you with him?” Tyson asked.

And I guess it was the whiskey sours, but soon I was railing on about how Jayce put on such a good act, and I fell for the character he plays, but a time comes when a woman wants to meet the man behind the mask, and come to find out there’s a mask behind the mask and he’s masks all the way down.

“He sounds like a headache I had last year,” Tyson said, with the perfect balance of empathy and apathy. 

I wondered, for a minute, if Jayce would question me for talking to Tyson. But even if he did manage to find the time to cast a glance my way, he’d figure I was just chatting with “the help. Then as if he read my mind-

“I like your dress.”

This surprised me, because it was just a mustard-colored off the shoulder maxi dress I picked up off the rack at Macy’s. But I was feeling flirty so I decided to test him.

“It’s not too suggestive?” I asked.

“It is.”

And just when I was ready to write him off, he said:

“It has to be suggestive. If it’s art then it has to be suggestive.

“Please,” I said. “Elaborate.”

I think everything in the physical world has to have an artistic analogue. There is no preference or taste or desire that isn’t a metaphor. So, all fashion is suggestive—whether of sensuality or a particular aesthetic. And I’d venture to guess nothing is so repulsive as a man whose idea of ‘fashion’ is a navy-blue button down and pleated khakis.” 

He nodded toward Jayce.

“I guess Jayce prefers function over fashion,” I shrugged.

“No, it’s worse than that. Loving a pair of carpenter jeans is functional. Utilitarianism, at least, is an ideal. Some people believe in that ideal. But having no connotation—believing in nothing—that’s unforgivable.”

“How does a guy as smart as you not get invited to this party?” I asked.

“I may be smart, but we can’t all be hotshot salesmen. Some of us just have to be regular Joes.”

Tyson stops to think before saying, “Sprezzatura.”

Which of course, I’m unfamiliar with, so he explains:

“Sprezzatura is an old Italian word that means ‘a practiced, rehearsed nonchalance.’”

And that’s the moment I realized that’s Jayce to the “t,” and with Tyson having cut so clearly to the heart of the matter, he was in my good graces, which is why, when he suggested we leave the party, I wasn’t indisposed. But I wanted to be sure, so I asked what he meant. I was trying not to hear more than I heard. I’m a kept woman, after all.

And he said, “Self-imposed naivete is a poor stand in for innocence.”

And it just sounded so clever; he seemed like the kind of guy that Jayce should’ve been; and speaking of Jayce, I don’t even think he noticed when I left, but Tyson was so kind and his hair was so dark and his eyes were so light and I know it’s not the first time it’s happened and I should be sorry but there comes a time when it just no longer makes sense to say “This isn’t me.”

Don’t phone it in

Students of history may be familiar with the famous (or perhaps, infamous) perfectionism of Henry Kissinger, Secretary of State and National Security Advisor under the Nixon and Ford administrations. Politics aside, there is an illustrative story of his uncompromising standards during the late sixties:

Winston Lord, the Ambassador to China at the time, was tasked with writing a speech for Kissinger. Kissinger, a gifted speechwriter himself, had exacting standards for those who served under him.

The story is told that Winston Lord brought the first draft of the speech to Kissinger one evening for his feedback and approval. The next morning, Kissinger called him back and asked, “Is this the best you can do?”

Lord thought it over. He thought he’d done his best. He answered, “I’ll try again.”

A second time, he tinkered with his speech and brought it back to him after a few days had passed. And again, Kissinger asked him, “Is this the best you can do?”

Lord was shaken up, but stated he could do better.

The process continued for eight drafts. Each time, Kissinger resolutely asked, “Is this the best you can do?” After the ninth draft, Lord finally responded, indignantly, “I know it’s the best I can do! Not a word can be improved upon!”

Henry Kissinger looked on Winston Lord and replied, “In that case, now I’ll read it.”


Maybe this story made you smile. Or maybe it made you cringe at the unrelenting perfectionism showed by Kissinger. In any event, I believe there’s a takeaway for each of us, as artists, from this anecdote.

They say that artists are perfectionists by nature. I didn’t get that gene.

The first time I read this story, I felt a sort of conviction related to my writing. True, I’m not delivering important, policy-shaping speeches to heads of state…but how often do I just “phone it in” when I’m working on a new piece of writing? If I’m being honest with myself, it happens more often than I’d like.

Steven Pressfield makes a great case for rugged self-discipline when it comes to writing in his book The War of Art. If you’re struggling with writer’s block, I highly recommend it to start winning “your inner creative battles,” as he puts it.

That book (and this post) is not for everyone. Some writers edit and revise their pieces to ribbons. Some artists trash their seventeenth version of a painting before tearing their hair out. But if you’re like me and you sometimes struggle to “give it your all,” I hope this blogpost acts as the kick in the pants that you need.

Melancholic Magician (prose poem)

There once was a man with melancholy. A magician, in fact. A failed magician, in many respects, but a magician, nonetheless.

This sad magician sat, every day, with quill in hand at a writing desk, every day convinced that if he were to write down the perfect words, set in the exact order, it’d create a sort of magic rune which could cure him of the chronic anhedonia which plagued him.

At times, he got close. The incantation he set to paper was maybe a word off, when he read it aloud. So he’d tinker with the syntax and diction for a couple weeks, swapping the order of a couple words here; substituting a synonym there.

And those near misses sustained him, staving away his melancholy for a little while.

But because the respite was short-lived, he threw out the would-be healing spells and started fresh, hoping to one day cure his ailment.

On certain days, he’d leave his writing desk, exploring the world outside the four-walls of his study. 

For what if the incantation involved words I haven’t yet learned? he wondered. Signifiers for objects I may not yet know exist?

And the magician aged and his hidebound journals piled up, in the pursuit of the perfect words, set in perfect order.

And you’ve probably guessed, Dear Reader, that this magician is most every poet; that the magician is the writer scrawling on the other end of the page you’re now reading.

This poem, or whatever you call it, is, itself, an attempt at that magic rune.

Shakespeare Came to me in a Dream (short story)

(by Daniel R. Jones)

“I’ve heard thine concerns about English,” he said. “I’m here to show thee the extent of English-speakers’ depravity.”

Level 1- Limbo

He led me to the first layer of perdition. There, I saw the grammar-purists.

“These people aren’t so bad,” I said. “They actually care for the language. What are they here for?”

“Don’t end a sentence with a preposition!” one of the poor souls sneered.

“I see,” I said, as Shakespeare lowered his head solemnly.

Level 2- Heresy

On the second level of the Inferno, I encountered the inverse of Level 1: those with atrocious grammar.

“Well, well, well,” a lost-soul sneered. “I seen you brung us another soul, William.”

I shuddered in horror, and we excused ourselves to Level 3.

Level 3: Greed

In the third circle stood business professionals, spouting off corporate jargon.

“Just so we’re on the same page,” one entrepreneur told another, “this paradigm-shift gives us a win-win, moving forward. That way, we aren’t reinventing the wheel.”

Level 4: Fraud

“The souls in Level 4 use real words, but never correctly,” Shakespeare explained.

“I literally could care less that I’m in hell,” a man exclaimed.

Level 5: Treachery

“What’s so bad about the people in Level 5?” I asked. “They’re happy, at least.”

“They’re smiling because ignorance is bliss,” Shakespeare said. “They use words like ‘awesome sauce’ and pronunciations like ‘skissors.’

“Squeeze me,” a man said as he passed, the listless bovine-look of self-satisfaction in his eyes.

At this point, my ears began to bleed.

Level 6: Gluttony

They say “expresso.”

Enough said.

Level 7- Lust

At this level of hell, we found fad-talkers.

“I’m riding the struggle-bus,” a soul remarked.

“I know, right?” said another. “This level of hell is a hot-mess.”

“THIS,” a third soul said. “Hell used to be lit. Now it’s an epic-fail.”

“This layer is insidious.” the playwright said, turning toward me. “People start saying ‘totes’ and ‘whatevs’ to be funny, but after using these terms so long, they become a part of their lexicon. Before you know it, they’re using ‘cray-cray’ without irony.”

Level 8 -Wrath

Level 8 was filled with souls suffering from the Dunning-Kruger Effect. They have access to a thesaurus, but don’t know how to use it.

They’re also members of the Flat-Earth Society.

Level 9- Violence

“What could be worse than what we’ve seen?” I asked Shakespeare.

Just then, a lost-soul stumbled toward us.

“Supposably, we’re the worst souls in hell, for all intensive purposes,” he said. “But I want to know pacifically what we’ve done wrong. I always went to the libarry when I was alive. I never took books for granite.”

I dropped to my knees and wept. I could smell sulfur in the air as I ground my teeth in indignation.

“It isn’t fair!” I shouted. “Take me from this repulsive place. I swear that I’ll make it my life’s goal to eradicate such senselessness!”

I woke in a cold sweat, reborn in purpose; destined to be an English teacher.

View from the Window (poem)

(by Daniel R. Jones)

Just out the door is a stream that spills downward
into a brass bowl of a pond.
It serves as home to scores of bluegills,
fit for frying, if you can catch and clean as many.

And if you were to head due west 
two and three-quarter miles,
you’d find a farmer leaning against his split rail fence,
looking over some fifty head of cattle.

Nearby, his son is turning in from mucking the stalls.
He stands barefoot on the grass, 
clapping the heels of his work boots together,
deriving strange satisfaction with each dirt clod he loosens.

If you could climb in the cockpit of a crop duster,
southern Indiana would spread out beneath you like a quilt,
with patchwork fields every shade 
of gold and green and brown.

But if any of this is true, I am oblivious to it.
My day was made of spent toner cartridges,
the taste of no. 9 commercial envelopes,
and flickering, fluorescent light.