archives spring 2008



Higher Math

Take any number divided
by the inverse square of pi
to arrive at the GPA
you could have had in college

if you hadn’t spent every Thursday
buttoned to a keg of Leinenkugel

and trying to talk the pants off
Allison Umminger, or
visualize a parabola such that
each point on it corresponds

to the number of umbrellas
on Old Orchard as the 4th of July
approaches, the twittering
waves, sand kicked into your face
by that fat bully, the wind. 
(The algorithm for the sand’s

coarse, jittery glory stands
elegantly outside this problem.) 

However, if x is any imaginary
number and y is the sound
of the orchestra tuning up then
x + y finds Mozart stunned

in the birches listening to the blunt
sadness of birdsong outside of Salzburg,

but given that possibility is the square
of experience, if y is your dog,
then x2 – y is the number of days
it will take hunger to overcome

his devotion after you have torn apart
your heart and lie dead on the floor.


In the Town Called Cliché

The baker makes thirteen of everything
and the candlestick maker can’t

keep his double-wicked candles in stock
but the butcher is reduced to selling

the horse he rode in on.  The kids
fall from the apple trees and roll

over the hill.  The laundress
hangs three sheets from the roof

of the local pub as the village idiot
pushes daisies down the street

in his cart.  His horse, of course,
follows.  When the Pope came

to town and had to shit, he went
into the woods and was promptly

eaten by a bear, but, today, dogs
and cats lie together in puddles of sun

after all the hard rains of spring,
and many hands work lightly

pitting bowls of cherries, devilishly
diligent people, industrious as owls.

The only road out of town is paved
with good intensions and the mayor

throws stones from the balcony of his house
made of glass but dresses in the basement.


Night Herons

They come in the night, they do, to peck
out the eyes of bad children.  So be good,
my child, or you’ll wake up blind.

They come in the night while children are sleeping,
they come in the night, they do, with a feathering
of wings and their short, sharp beaks.
The orange trees the vineyard the house.

In the small of the dark they come, they do,
to step out of the truck with a blossom of guns
into orange orchards and the faint hush, Oh,
the Tigris running away to the south.  A father

and his son, they come in the night, they do,
they step out of the truck, the headlights left
on.  The small cinder block house, orange trees
whirled full of moths in the headlights left on.

They come in the night, they do, nosing for fish
at the deep river’s edge, stabbing the water they see
themselves in.  In the small of the dark he was told
what to do.  In the small of the dark he listened. 

The orange trees the vineyard the house.  They come
in the night, they do, to shoot the informers.  In the small
of the night, in the headlights left on, a father steps from
the truck, stands before his son and puts a bullet in his eye. 

They come in the night, they do, to peck
out the eyes of bad children.  So be good,
my child, or you’ll wake up blind.


This is a test of the emergency broadcast system:

Had this been a true emergency
there would have been the sound of elephants

in the falling rubble and bowing girders.
There would have been blare and clash,

ruckus and mortuary work.
There would have been symphonic want and

multi-syllabic heartbreak, banner headlines
and bandwagons.  There would have been smoke

and the lingering fires of all the speeches
that reference this day.  Men weeping and women

who abandon their children.  Soldiers sent
and garrisons, oil and tents, rifles black as

old grout.  There would have been roughing up. 
And electrodes.  And hoods. 

There would have been a man
thrown from a helicopter, I am sure of it.

There would have been genuflecting and orchestras,
counter-movements, petitions and roundups,

yes, and hoodlums rumbling through
the streets in vast, gassed-up militias

of the night.  There would have been
the illusion of control.  Fear of suitcases.

A ban on ball bearings.   A new architecture
based on Kevlar and concrete and

the absence of windows that will not
be missed.  There would have been a boy

born this day who became the leader
of the resistance and he would have been

taken into a filling station bathroom and
shot in the head. There would have been

sniggering and something about a zoo.
Razor wire and tent camps.  Comparisons

that get shouted down.  Sealed roads
that lead into tumbleweeds, the small clutch

at the roots as the wind takes them.
There would have been loneliness and wicked

nostalgia.  In the mountains where
no one will be allowed there would have been

an accumulation of snow like an unending
series of predictions. There would have been caskets

and no witnesses.  A run on flags.   Marketing
campaigns and PR.  There would have been

slogans and product placements, but there would
have been no warning.  Have a nice day. 


Jeffrey Thomson is the author of four books of poems, including the forthcoming Birdwatching in Wartime (CMU Press, 2009).  Also forthcoming is a collection of poems of Juan Carlos Flores translated from the Spanish, Many Way to Dig a Tunnel (Green Integer, 2009) and an anthology of emerging poets: From the Fishouse: An Anthology of Poems that Sing, Rhyme, Resound, Syncopate, Alliterate, and Just Plain Sound Great, co-edited with Camille Dungy and Matt O’Donnell (Persea Books, 2009).  He is an associate professor of creative writing at the University of Maine Farmington.