Village Prodigies

Village Prodigies

by Rodney Jones


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Village Prodigies by Rodney Jones

“A novel in language as dense and lush and beautiful as poetry . . . [or] a book of poetry with the vivid characters and the narrative force of a novel? Whatever you care to call it, it’s a remarkable achievement.” — Richard Russo, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Empire Falls
Village Prodigies imagines the town of Cold Springs, Alabama, from 1950 to 2015 and unfurls its narrative reach as six boys—prodigies and swains—grow up and leave the familiarity of home and the rural South.

Yet all prodigies, all memories, all stories inevitably loop back. Through a multiplicity of points of view and innovative forms, Rodney Jones plays with the contradictions in our experience of time, creating portals through which we travel between moments and characters, from the interior mind to the most exterior speech, from delusions to rational thought. We experience Alzheimer’s and its effect on family, listen to family lore and read family Facebook posts, relive war, and revive half-forgotten folktales and video games. In this deep examination of personal and communal memory, Jones blurs the lines between analog and digital, poetry and prose.


Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780544960107
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 03/21/2017
Pages: 192
Sales rank: 787,163
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

RODNEY JONES is the author of eleven books of poems. His many honors include the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Harper Lee Award, and the Kingsley Tufts Award, and he has been a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award, the Griffin International Poetry Prize, and the Pulitzer Prize. He teaches in the low-residency MFA creative writing program at Warren Wilson College and lives in New Orleans and Southern Illinois.

Read an Excerpt

The Portal of the Years 
Whole days try to crowd into the portal. It is a portal or it is a switch-board. A big party line, each must wait a turn. Inchoate twittering of porch chickens. Rain barrels full after the storm empties. A small place, everyone speaks and everyone listens. Though in the portal, it is not places but times that converse, while inside the switchboard, it is only the one time. Early summer, a barber in the front room shakes talcum onto the neck of a janitor. An operator named Eunice places the calls, and they race through the feet of crows. Eunice overhears everything: she can describe the new baby’s crib-cap, the voices of father and son raised in anger before the shooting in the motel room. But omniscience is discreet, nods knowingly, chews gum. God imagines nothing. A man kneels to the meat on the grill and knows the unsayable thing. She has been dead weeks and the Zippo she slipped into his pocket still makes a flame.
I (Cleon Portis)
Deaf raconteur will talk your ear off
(just a loose reckoning, the ratio
of saying to listening might
run anywhere from 80:20 to 97:03)  —  
the children wait, sort, analyze.
Then respond on a yellow legal pad.
He reads quickly and never replies.
They do not expect explanation.
These are anecdotes, after all, and in each
some especially vivid or sentimental
image: the theft of a slave’s only socks,
a hole in the woods with no bottom.
The lung sounds in his words click home.
A gravel road winds past a quarry.
The house sits on a limestone bluff
between a spring and a cemetery.
Today the daughter is very happy
and writes to tell the father why.
After much phoning, she has found
a capable girl to stay with mother.
The father has a way of making himself
handsome when he does not wish
to reply; it is the look of a good boy
who has been gifted a pony with one eye.
The eyebrows rise, the head tilts
like a bobber when a bream nibbles
but will not take the hook. This
is Morse a new anecdote is forming.
A cousin previously unknown to him
has written from Texas she wants to see
the old homeplace and will visit
once she gets out of the penitentiary.
Well, it is a hard kind of thing to answer.
Brooke looks to Cleon and Cleon to Brooke.
White in her wingchair the mother taps.
Seth debrides anecdotes that concern him.
From visit to visit, anecdotes cycle
like painted horses on a carousel.
In one, sailors fish for monster catfish
in the mouth of the Amazon. The bosun
fashions a hook from a steel piston.
The cook proffers a whole chicken for bait.
Another is of a widow and son,
cotton pickers  —  once the mother
questioned the way he sold it. What
was that word she used? Untoward.
And how can she forget now?
His voice drags a tarred sack. At intervals
the widow undoes her blouse,
and the son, who is so tall he stands
flatfooted to nurse, wears
a rooster feather in his hat.

Table of Contents

The Portal of the Years xi

Book 1

Requiem for Reba Portis 3

The Secret Order of the Eagle 23

Reversals of Fortune 47

Wayward Swains in a Time of War 55

The Righteous Trip 69

Book 2

Puberty in Cold Springs 93

Did You See Any of the Others While You Were There 111

Only the Animals Are Real 131

Buenas Noches 143

Notes 169

Acknowledgments 173

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