March 23, 2018

Jeff Worley


Well, we don’t need name badges.
A good turnout this year, I think,
though it’s awkward, like wearing
someone else’s shoes that almost fit.
Jeff Worley the heavy-metal guitarist
is easy to spot—pink hoop earrings,
face a porcupine of pins gleaming like mica
under the too-bright lights. I sidle over to him.
I play guitar too, I say. Peter, Paul & Mary?
That kind of thing? He suddenly has
somewhere else to be. Because Pastor Jeff
of the Jeff Worley Ministries in Lynchburg,
VA, has a “God-given burden” (his website)
to reach lost souls, he locks in on me.
Shakes my hand, smiles, and gives me
an Old Testament. Then Jeff Worley
the transvestite (if I don’t miss my guess)
cruises up in his slick, tight limousine
of leather pants and wants to know who
he has to fuck around here to get a drink.
Pastor Jeff and I point, in sync, to the bartender
tucked in the corner. Which is where
I go too, because truly I’m a little
weirded out by all these other JWs
and need a calm drink or two with myself—
the wives and girlfriends down the block
surely mocking us in Margarita Heaven—
before the Talent Show. Tonight:
Cleaver Juggling, Clogging in Ice Skates,
Crawling in Place, and the Sneezing Competition.
But first some music. The band—
heavy-metal Jeff is sitting in—plays
“We Are the Champions” (we are?).
Then, with the same awkwardness
I take with me wherever I go, like carrying
mismatched luggage, I join in the dance
under the many-faceted disco ball—
a swirling, staggering, phantasmagoric whirligig.

from Rattle #58, Winter 2017

[download audio]


Jeff Worley: “One reason I write poems is because, as the saying goes, ‘One life is not enough.’ Poets are allowed to—required to, really—invent other selves to tell stories that may or may not be autobiographical. Thanks in part to a late-night scotch or two, I take that thought a step further with the poem in this issue. The web introduced me to other Jeff Worleys whom I decided to meet imaginatively. I invited us all to a party. I hope the reader has as much fun there as we did.” (web)

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March 2, 2016

Jeff Worley


Sit by a clean window
in your most comfortable chair.

If it’s morning, a cup of coffee.
Later in the day, a glass of Chardonnay.

Perhaps a brush stroke of sunlight
will fall across the book as you open it.

If you’re wearing a necktie, take it off.
Some background music, to soften the air,

is OK. I’d suggest Bach’s cello suites
or Haydn’s string quartets. The fun is—

you’re moving through the third or fourth
poem by now—you don’t know who’s going

to show up. Here’s Li Po, for example,
taking a seat on a limestone outcropping

some 50 feet away, lifting a bronze chalice
to his lips. A mottled ragged dog clenching

a newspaper in his teeth trots by.
Dante, unmistakeable in his red tunic

and coif, checks out the insistent sun
in its circle of sky, and then Emily Dickinson,

naked except for what appears to be
a fruit pie she holds with both hands,

parades by the window.
Which is when you should go

to the front door, wave,
and invite them all in.

from Rattle #50, Winter 2015


Jeff Worley: “Since my retirement from the University of Kentucky, I’ve been teaching poetry classes at Lexington’s downtown Carnegie Center. A few months back, I brought in a few examples of the poem of instruction or the ‘how-to’ poem. One point I made was that no matter how bad a writing slump you’re in, you can always share some expertise with the reader and have some fun by writing this type of poem. A longtime fan of Billy Collins’s poetry, I went home that evening and did my own assignment. I’ve always admired his ability to write accessible, conversational poems that, through a rhetorical flash here and there, or clever turn of phrase, elevate the poems into the slightly rarified air of poetry. I tried to capture that ‘feel’ in this poem of tribute.” (web)

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March 31, 2013

Jeff Worley


at the newly opened Ambush Club, Wichita, 1971

There I was: lemon-tinted Lennon glasses,
paisley shirt like ironed vomit, corroded
toenails dangling from Kmart sandals …

And when Otis Redding was cut off mid-chorus
from the juke, the three dozen dressed-to-the-max
black couples gazed up at me, each mouth a rictus,

as I tuned my Yamaha in a circle of light.
Close enough for folk music, I declared
and began to strum my three-chord version

of “Dock of the Bay,” a clever segue and nod to Otis,
I thought. My fingers meated through the song.
I sat on that dock watching the waves come and go

through three choruses, then plunked the final major C
with all the majesty of a hammered thumbnail.
And I saw I had stunned the crowd to silence.

Did these fine people think I was a novelty act?
If I’d expected applause, I got a voice in the back saying,
Whoa, Momma—turn on the fire hose.

And poor Dennis, the new owner and dead-ringer
Ozzie Nelson who’d heard me strum “Stewball”
and “Puff ” at the Riverside Park Folk Jamboree,

who thought I was good and knew he needed music,
was frozen behind the bar, lava lamps auguring his future:
purple bubbles rising and breaking apart

like the opening-night crowd. The juke erupted
with Otis, back on his dock. The stage lights dimmed.
Drinks on the house! I heard a voice say, Dennis’s voice,

and he pressed a twenty into my right palm. Just go,
he said. OK? I slung the guitar over my shoulder.
He opened the back door to the parking lot,

and I took my rightful place among the stars.

from Rattle #37, Summer 2012


Jeff Worley: “Readers are sometimes curious about just how autobiographical a poem is. My folksinger poem is, unfortunately, a faithful rendition of what happened on this evening. The poem is set near the beginning of my three-year stint (grad school) as a folksinger in Wichita, something I did because I thought I knew how to play guitar (I didn’t), and I thought my playing music on stage would attract impressionable young women (it didn’t). But at least a few of these experiences have become fodder for poems.” (web)

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September 6, 2010

Jeff Worley


“I think poems are pieces of talk, savored and sustained.
I would call them ‘lucky talk.’”
—William Stafford,
“A Witness for Poetry”

Yesterday at Kroger, I heard a boy, maybe 7,
say to his father: We have two eyes and two arms
and two legs. Why don’t we have two penises?
I love language most when it slips up on us like this.

Which is why, of course, poets sneak up their ears
in cafes and bars. I’ve never done that
with anybody, and I’m certainly not going to
do it with you, I heard, unmoored from its context,

as I pretended to study Pazzo’s menu.
And later that same lucky day: Jonathan’s
not a bad person really; he’s just insufferable.
My wife, always the dutiful daughter, brought

her mother a bright Sunday bouquet.
These flowers are so beautiful, she said,
they look artificial. And my favorite,
from Luis Polonia on ESPN after being traded

from New York: The Yankees are interested
in only one thing, and I don’t know what that is.

from Rattle #32, Winter 2009


Jeff Worley: “My fellow Kansan Bill Stafford was one of my earliest influences as I began to try to make my way as a poet, and after I met him at the University of Cincinnati in 1984, we corresponded fairly regularly. I think Bill would like this little poem, and I’m happy to have him ‘introduce’ it in an epigraph.”

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