New Work: Poems by Jesse Graves

Photo by Lisa Graves

Our new work series features four new poems from Weatherford Award-winning poet Jesse Graves.

Garden District

The year moved
faster than
the St. Charles
felt like air
blowing through
its open windows
past Magnolia Cafe,
iron-grilled mansions,
General Beauregard's
statue rearing
for battle.
Hours spent
chasing my daughter
around in circles

at Lafreniere Park,
wandering past

the Caribbean
import stall
in the French Market,
flying kites along
the Riverfront
at sunset,
those days
move more slowly

through my mind
than the rippled
surface of
Bayou St. John.

Mossy Springs

Water surges out cold as stars
look at night, aching your hands
as you cup a clean drink to your lips,

standing under towering sycamores,
and shadow of the steep cliff that
gives the spring its source,

you wonder at the bloodlines
that drank here before you,
dating as far back as time records,

hunters from the original tribes,
trackers chasing game upstream,
farmers drawn over from the fields,

and now you, looking for the lost
kingdom of your ancestors,
their eternal thirst to be found. 

Rooms Feel So Quiet

so I step out under the stars
and report myself present

to the usual responses:
swifts chirping, cars humming

past on Watauga Avenue,
pulsing winks from a plane,

the kind I dreamed under
those years I lived a mile

from Cayuga airstrip.
Some dreams linger

for years, while others
fade into the ordinary

lightness of morning,
always the ones I wish

I could save for some
dull moment of the day

when I might re-enter them.
Some new dream seems to

call, and I drift back inside
so I can stretch myself out

in a warm bed, and look up
into the bright constellations

that keep me awake orbiting
across the backs of my eyelids.

Swan Calls

Aren’t they all recorded somewhere,
deep in some collective inner ear,
the countless notes played in empty rooms?
Lost hope peeling off the neck
of Robert Johnson’s guitar still reverberates
in the ozone above North Mississippi.
Who knows if anyone was there to hear
Sibelius compose, with quickening breath,
the swan calls of his Fifth Symphony.
It has taken one hundred years for tidal currents
and breezes to drag those notes across the ocean,
scatter them here, among mountain brambles.


Jesse Graves is the author of two collections of poetry, Tennessee Landscape with Blighted Pine (Texas Review Press, 2011) and Basin Ghosts (Texas Review Press, 2014). He has received the Weatherford Award in Poetry, the Book of the Year Award in Poetry from the Appalachian Writers’ Association, the Phillip H. Freund Award in Creative Writing from Cornell University and the Thomas and Lillie D. Chaffin Award from Morehead State University. He is co-editor of three volumes of The Southern Poetry Anthology and of the forthcoming Complete Poems of James Agee.

His poems have appeared in recent or forthcoming issues of Prairie Schooner, Blackbird, Carolina Quarterly, Southern Cultures and Missouri Review. His work has been featured on “The Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor. Jesse Graves is an associate professor of English at East Tennessee State University. 

"Tennessee Landscape with Blighted Pine is more than an extraordinary first book. These poems have the music, wisdom, and singular voice of a talent fully realized, and make abundantly clear that Jesse Graves is one of America’s finest young poets.” —Ron Rash