Vessel: poems by Parneshia Jones

Scheduled to facilitate a workshop in Detroit titled “People & Places: A Creative History of Family and Home,” a few weeks ago, I wanted to begin putting together a small “anthology” of examples to share with participants now and in the future. Parneshia Jones came on my radar when I learned that she often writes about family and is a member of the Affrilacian Poets, a collective of poets of color from Appalachia.

I admit to having a taste for hearth & home poems—maybe because they remind me that I have kindred spirits in the world, people who mix memories of hands that till the land, stitch homemade quilts, and serve hunks of buttermilk cornbread into our love affair with language, learning, and literature. I tend to lean into poetry that combines references to our multiple ways of being in the world, without necessarily privileging the intellectual over the emotional, the sensory, the physical, and the spiritual.

In Vessel —-Parneshia Jone’s debut collection published on Milkweed Editions—we get a varied sampling of verses that pay artful homage to origins in name, family, geography, people, concerns, and circumstances along the spectrum of our connective tissue: mothers, fathers, and men who step in to be fathers; lovers; food, drink, music, literary predecessors, childhood, first kisses, and friends; the missing, and the dead; Marvin Gaye, and more.

by Parneshia Jones

There have already been 1.7 million foreclosure proceedings in the U.S. in the first eight months of 2007, and up to 2 million families are expected to lose their homes over the next two years, according to estimates by the U.S. Congress’s Joint Economic Committee.
—from a 2007 BBC Report

Rows of unfinished dreams,
half-acre plots of empty dwellings,
turn neighborhoods into ghost towns.

Sights of yellow and red stickers,
the modern day scarlet mark,
on new thermal-pane windows,
tells passersby its all too familiar fate.

Brand-new walls with incomplete copper
piping meant to filter water
into porcelain tubs to bathe splashing,
giggling babies and their rubber ducks.

The finest pine, bamboo, and oak
cut with precise corners, glazed in several
coats of polyurethane, make the hallways
look like paved strips of sweet brittle.

These floorboards will never squeak, settle,
or tell stories.
They will never kiss the bottom of bare feet,
pacing back and forth to rock those same
babies to sleep or wait up for loved ones.

The ones who make themselves at home
are spiders, stitching their cobwebs
to exquisite crown molding.

There are other walls that have been lived in.
Lived in and memorized by old women
who paid for their homes with their hard-
earned lives and the hard-earned lives
of their dead husbands.

Their repossessed memories and foreclosed
hopes leave a stench no amount of ammonia
can suffocate.

Doorknobs corrode around the edges
with dried-up keyholes that forget they
are married to a key.

Dust tarnishes antique white walls,
fireplaces hum, stainless steel rusts,
closets become caves, yards become graveyards
of dead tea roses and lonely swing sets

and the porch light that has stayed on long
after everything has disappeared inside,
flickers a single family slide show, a fading
panoramic landscape of an American dream,

This collection is tender, muscular, humorous, and intelligent. I look forward to hearing/reading more of Parneshia Jones’ unique voice in the future.


  1. Hey Leslie, I’m enjoying learning about what you’re up to through your blog. Please send me an announcement of your upcoming reading in Detroit. Take care! –Stephanie

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