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Poetry Moment: Jack Troy and 'The Wind in the Jug'

 Poet Jack Troy
John Shetron Photography
Poet Jack Troy

Poetry Moment on WPSU is a program featuring the work of contemporary Pennsylvania poets. Host Shara McCallum is this year’s Penn State Laureate.

Today’s poem is “Wind in the Jug” by Jack Troy.

Jack Troy is a writer, potter, and teacher. He has authored two books of poetry, Calling the Planet Home, from which today’s poem is drawn, and most recently Giving it up to the Wind. Before retiring in 2005, Troy taught English and ceramics at Juniata College for 39 years. Awards for his writing include two Craft Fellowships and a Fellowship in Literature from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. A native of Towanda, Troy lives in Huntingdon.

“The Wind in the Jug” is a textured narrative account of Chester County’s Quaker Abolitionist potters. Living just north of the Mason-Dixon line, several participated in the Underground Railroad. In Troy’s discovery of their stoneware, 150 years later, he recovers part of Pennsylvania’s past in this striking poem.


The Wind in the Jug
(For the Abolitionist Potters of Chester County, Pennsylvania)

Bluebird potters, they called you,
your kiln-smoke grafting winter on to spring.
You had the power to call birds north
with a gallon crock rung by your knuckle,
toning the fire-birthed heat to the breeze,
that clear note drifting south
below the Mason-Dixon Line.

Your county’s hills enclose me here
the way that sleepers’ knees push up green quilts.
In this fieldstone cellar, open to March’s sky,
I find your stoneware jug, tamped in a niche
one hundred fifty years ago.
Blue-gray clay hide restrains the bulbous dark inside.
I sniff the vinegared past, tip to my ear this conch,
this echo-holder, stamped by a whorl at the handle’s base.
I read you by your thumbprint, potter.
Mahlon Brosius, John Vickers, I hear you in there.
My breath across the jug-mouth rumbles.
Sound spills from this clay chrysalis
like that of distant tumbrels, or your wagons,
mounded high with straw-packed mugs and porringers.
Slaves, runaways, were the heart of your cargo.
Scheming their freedom, you trundled them north,
Quaker to Quaker, binding the law’s weak wrists
with your compassion.

Within these walls, I’m centered,
like a man who wakes up in a bowl.
This stony jug’s the gift of time, and flesh, and fire.
Its hand-fixed form now shapes the wind
these bluebirds ride and liven with their song.
Hold back, here, jug, the earth from closing down.

That was “Wind in the Jug” by Jack Troy.
Thank you for sharing this moment of poetry with me today.

Shara McCallum was the 2021-22 host of "Poetry Moment" on WPSU.
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