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About this poet

Born in 1961, Judy Jordan grew up on a small farm near the border between the Carolinas. Her parents were sharecroppers, and Jordan was the first member of her family to attend college, receiving a bachelor's degree from the University of Virginia in 1990. In 1995, she went on to earn a master's degree in poetry at the same school.

She has taught at the University of Virginia and Piedmont Virginia Community College, and in 1996 she received a Virginia Commission for the Arts Fellowship in Poetry.

Her first poetry collection, Carolina Ghost Woods (Louisiana State University Press, 2000), was selected by James Tate to receive the 1999 Walt Whitman Award and won the National Book Critics Circle Award. She is also the author of 60 Cent Coffee And A Quarter To Dance: A Poem (2005). Jordan has completed two novels and is currently at work on a full-length play, and a memoir.

She recently earned a master's degree in fiction from the University of Utah. She now lives in a cabin, that she built herself, in the Shawnee National Forest, where she is working on a non-fiction book about her experiences there.

Prologue

Judy Jordan
In winter’s spider-eyed light strung through steam grates, the tunnels turn feral.
This is the other city, the dark one
of hidden passages, runaways and orphaned days

and like me it sleeps in broken buildings
and smells of a sad suicide from the fifteenth century, and like me
it has smoked three things on the mold-furred walls

which are the only altars 
of those who’ve dropped through holes in the sidewalk
to descend to these steam tunnels rung by slick rung.

This city shambles room to room.
Drawn to the easy sound of sleep,
it knows the pattern night pens on tender skin,

knows your darkest secrets and tells
no one except the sycamore
which rips from its skin with shame.

It wants absolution,
taps your sins on water pipes to shudder out of faucets,
ties them to the tail feathers of soot-mottled birds

who beat up from the concrete-lipped curb,
falter over cars, stutter
then catch an oily gust and wheel into the scalded sky.

It claims to be blind though it might have a thousand eyes,
screams obscenities from 13th and University and pisses in alleys.
Sometimes it drinks too much. Sometimes it begs for more.

It hides tents among trees in the park by the sluggish river
this red-eyed thing blinking from storm grates.
It is a window breaking.

Other people’s blood in its veins, skin on fire,
smack, crack, meth, strychnine and scouring powder sold as speed,
some drug or another telling it die, you must die. But it doesn’t die.

Step around it on your way to the theater.
It crawls through your bedroom window, a warm bed and in the morning
the smell of coffee and bacon spitting in grease. That’s all it wants.
Aching hands in underwear drawers,
snagged silks.
You are its worst nightmare.

Coiled cable, blood and razor-wire, shredded muscle and blue bone,
cold nights, the city under the city
is where you’ll find me. Though not now.

Now it is heat-hazed summer and sunset
and I whisper the four-syllable name of the stranger
I should have become and disappear through the back door 

of the Villa Inn where the cook paces the few feet
between the makeline and the ovens
muttering Chimbukee     Chimbukee     Chimbukee

It’s been nine years since he’s known the burned light
of his own country or a woman’s name churned in sea foam, nine years
since he’s clung to flesh which smells of rosemary and dried tomatoes.

He checks his billfold, thick with this week’s pay. Let’s go
he says to me, pointing toward his apartment across the alley.
Let’s go Super Ju. Party. Party, he says

then reaches his swollen hands deep into his pants
past the flour-grubbed belt line 
and with a hard twist adjusts his truss.

We call him Chris though that’s not his name
and I think to myself, Homer, Odysseus,
the blood-blue sea, the sun in its relentless veracity

be damned to hell and back. Sweating pizza drivers, me sleeping
in my truck or if it’s winter in empty buildings and the steam tunnels,
and every weekend the parking lot filling up with dope dealers

with their out-of-state plates
and hookers dropped off by their pimps
and the homeless who stumble

from the boarded buildings and doorways to this oiled kaleidoscope
under the warehouses’ dark windows—
the broken, fish-line-strung and eye-level hooked—

this grease-barrel and sour dumpster-stinking,
trash-can-blaze, busted bottles, pissed on pissed off
fuck you fuck you kill strong-armed ambulance scream, parking lot

and Chris saying Chimbukee     Chimbukee     Chimbukee
cussing us, Scata. Malaka American. Sto dyavolo malaka,
Pizza malaka. Deliver,Chris yells but slow night

no orders, no tips so we yell back, You malaka. 
Give us pizzas. To krima sto lemo sou,Chris says
Greek which to us means nothing.

and just outside the fish-net stockinged, stiletto-heeled
Star, Joy, Princess. Joy, I think, and am too tired to think anything else
when she tells me she swings, asks if I have something,

anything, coke, smack, speed, rock. At least some pot. Come on. Hook me up, she says.
Then the teams. Salt & Sugar. Salt & Pepper. Nilla & Chocolate
with their matching tattoos, Comedy & Tragedy. Happy one day, Dead the next.

          Angel, Love Boat, Crystal.
          I got first degree      I got MG
          Blue ludes, 8-Balls, rocks, the dealers yell.

          Quiver & Shiver     Come 
          get my stash        I got the stuff          
          Tongo & Cash

Lot of Candy Man & Sweet Stuff.
Slick the Stick, a pimp caught up in his own rhyme.
Lover Boy & Philly Boy. Wanna-be’s and gonna-be’s: 

Reprinted by permission of Louisiana State University Press from Sixty-Cent Coffee and a Quarter to Dance: A Poem by Judy Jordan. Copyright © 2005 by Judy Jordan.

Reprinted by permission of Louisiana State University Press from Sixty-Cent Coffee and a Quarter to Dance: A Poem by Judy Jordan. Copyright © 2005 by Judy Jordan.

Judy Jordan

Judy Jordan

After growing up as the child of sharecroppers, Judy Jordan draws on these experiences for her first collection of poetry which won the 1999 Walt Whitman Award

by this poet

poem
In the moon-fade and the sun’s puppy breath,
  in the crow’s plummeting cry,
in my broken foot and arthritic joints,
                                       memory calls me
to the earth’s opening, the graves dug, again, and again 
I, always I am left
                   to turn away
into a bat’s wing-brush of air