|THE LAST JOKE BETWEEN US
Alone with my father, I see he’s dressed
in his one red tie imprinted
with pearl-handled Colt .45s.
He’s posing, old bluffer, eyes
sealed, a smile trying to break
through the lip pins that hold it back.
OK, old man, I’ll do it. I’ll keep
my promise: I slip into his rough
composed fingers two black aces,
two black eights and a deuce of spades.
And I’m sure he’s smiling
when the door behind us whooshes
open and the pallid men move
to snug the lid of darkness down.
Winner of the Kentucky Literary Award for Excellence in Poetry and Society of Midland Authors Award for Poetry
As in his first two books—The Only Time There Is, which won the Mid-List Press First Series Award for Poetry, and A Simple Human Motion, published by Larkspur Press—Worley's fearless, funny, and contemplative poems embody a memory that is attentive to detail, faithful to inflection, and always open to embellishment in the retelling.
"The heart of this beautifully crafted book is a series of elegiac poems written for [Worley's] father, Robert Warren Worley (1921-2000), a victim of Alzheimer's. Jeff Worley reconstructs his father's life, even as his father is losing it, in a series of poems that are part lament but in a greater part commemoration. They draw on fragments of memory and episodes during the illness. These poems chronicle the erosion of human sensibility, a forced estrangement from family and the world of the familiar, but they are a loving tribute to the person—ultimately to all of us—behind the veil of disorientation and decline. They are not an exercise in morbidity but a combing of the past to examine the ancient bond of father and son, not ducking the inevitable clash of values. … Worley's poems are models of clarity, efficient as the neural weavings of the human hand. … This collection places Worley at the forefront among Kentuky's most promising and accomplished poets."—Richard Taylor, Lexington Herald-Leader
"Jeff Worley is a poet of uncommon precision whose sense of detail reminds me of the 'perfect pitch' possessed by certain musicians—so that his poems seem to glow with an inner light, with the aura of a thing looked at with such love and attention it becomes a projection of the speaker's most inner self, and in that sense, a revelation, a profound spiritual discovery. These are meticulously crafted narrative poems that never settle for mere anecdote, however intrinsically interesting or moving the subject at hand. Although they deal with experiences that we might deem 'ordinary,' however dire that might be in some cases, these poems are always intensely interested in form, in language. This fine collection evokes the exhilaration provided by only the most accomplished and serious art.—Michael Van Walleghen
“Whether turning his attention to a not-so-smooth-talking ex-con at the Two Keys, killing flies at the Boeing Print Shop before the Vietnam War hits home, a couple’s amorous landing atop a VW van as Apollo XI touches down on the moon, or the deteriorating home movie of his father at 17, Jeff Worley reminds us that the act of remembering is not just one of poetry’s means, but one of its most profoundly human subject matters. By turns tough and tender, irreverent and prayerful, these poems show why getting even a few things emotionally right is this world is, finally, more important than adhering just to ‘facts.’ Those few things, truly rendered, have implications; they become sure wheels to steer by.
“Facts? Yes, he could tell the two women he’s eavesdropping on at the Cheapside Bar & Grill how Pink Floyd actually came up with their name, but ‘would this be worth/ giving myself away?’ In this new collection Worley generously gives away so much more with his intelligence, humor, and down-to-earth grace. These poems are transmissions from a heart that, no matter what it’s been through, never closes. I’m thinking lit-up Jersey diner, 3 AM. Hey: any hours when we can find ourselves as alive as Worley’s speakers are bound to be happy hours. Because the alternative will never be anything more than a paler, second choice.
“Consequently, this poet’s a natural at love—even when he may not always think so: ‘Love says, Try me on for size, and when I do, / it keeps changing shape’ (‘Another Attempt at a Love Poem’). His rich variety of loves takes the shape of friends, a mother and father, the ’55 Brooklyn Dodgers, lots of bare skin, a wife (read the hilarious ‘Playing Possum’ right now, okay?) and a typewriter (as a non-processing kind of guy, I still use mine—but, as always there’s a real reason Worley remembers his consigned-to-the-attic Underwood).
“The doomed dog-speaker in ‘UFO Lands in Beatrice, Nebraska: Dog Killed’ says: ‘And my course voice, the only voice I have, / has, after all these nights in the moon-gilded dark, / called something down.’ So, too, does Worley’s voice call something down, time and again. It also summons up—for anyone’s heart to see—what makes us unmistakably (if not always unabashedly) human. This writer’s passion is exemplary, but it’s his compassion that’s the abiding wonder here.”—David Clewell
"It is commonplace to speak of a poet finding his voice. After an apprenticeship, juvenilia and experimentation, he at last seizes upon the phrasing, focus and form that will define his work.
"Once he finds it, a poet’s voice is unmistakable. Hear it, and you can tell immediately whether it rings hollow of true. Listen closely, and you can judge how practiced and sure it has become—or needs to be.
"A supple voice, however, can hit many notes, and in his new book, Happy Hour at the Two Keys Tavern, Jeff Worley showcases an impressive range of expression, from nostalgia and mourning to whimsy and menace.
"Each poem in this, his third collection, is carefully crafted, built on a foundation of vigorous diction, acute perception and quiet epiphany.
"Throughout Happy Hour, Worley’s voice is measured and sure. When he hits the high notes—comic or sober—we can be assured that it is a voice worth hearing."—Arlice Davenport, The Wichita Eagle