from the NOTEBOOK OF LAST THINGS
Spring breeze can ambush you with its
cold bite, but when blended with the scent of summer, it
gives you a brief, ironic kiss.
To the towering oak with its many-tiered
hierarchy of branches, generations old—to you
I’d give the meanness in my heart.
Did I not live/love/fail
all it known, unknown unhindered
by consequence, the earth singing its cyclic song.
Art deco walkway over the beltline
looks down on six lanes of whizzing traffic.
Chain-link fence to discourage jumpers.
Broken world will break you too. Sometime.
If lucky, you’ll feel love. Or
the love of the world for broken things.
So that city the world chooses to forget, city of those who ‘d
rather be ghosts than living, city that’s been destroyed, is
destroyed again. And the Temple that was buried is buried again.
Ghazal of loneliness. This poem’s a ghazal of loneliness.
Like the Sahara that stretches on, empty to the horizon.
No, this is a poem about the desert & why we can’t do without it.
If we must do these things—what? What
can be adequate to that, that nothing? To the
wind keening through emptied-out city blocks.
Was reading a poet in 1975 writing about sadness & wondered
if his sadness then was the same as mine now, or if it had a different heft, ache.
Like different poetic traditions: different, but recognizably poetry.
Irrational joy: to look up & see through the
black power lines overhead an illimited blue like nothing you could
ever deserve. With high, white, self-regarding clouds sailing by.
Birds in the densest greenness singing
a song of songs, call & response, pure song
of the world as home. You must accept it without fear.
Thrashing trees, high winds, air electric. Pause before the total theater
of total power: thunder, lightening, sheeting rain. Two
white lotus blossoms among the wet, shinygreen magnolia leaves.
Through the smoke & dust, the building’s bombed-out
wreckage, the Recording Angel sees all the casualties, even the
dusty bodies of the smallest of children. Never notes who does it, or why.
So many words, but no language for
the unseen catastrophe before us, around us.
New words for a new world. Nothing less.
Parking-lot Ferris wheel with lights spoking darkness
makes you see the world from a different angle. Darkness is
childlike, wild & hot. Juggler does unbelievable things, all anti-gravity.
The Edward Jones man keeps knocking
on my door. Today he offered me stock for my “lazy money.”
No lazy money, or any money, to play with.
Landline used to ring all the time. All manner
of business conducted on it. Now
the black bulky phone’s silent, uncommunicative.
Day turns dark. Trees communicate the imminent storm
by telepathy. It’s May & mothball-sized hail
is ecumenically punishing roofs, cars & windows.
Prehistoric aspidistras we planted
last fall in the shady patch in the backyard
have brown-edged leaves, burned by winter.
In a sunny patch, the lavender rods resemble
menorahs. Heliotropically following the sun across
sky, lovely contortionists, only rarely are they upright .
My story I know well, all too well. Review it, daily. But
the same drastic need for crossing out, rewriting.
Before “The Preacher” was hanged on Fayetteville Street, he
sold his body to science for $10.00 for food, iced water
& charity. Even the telephone poles had spectators on them.
Polished granite cobblestones still survive around historic
City Market, though the city has cheated
by wedging cement between them.
Small bronze sculpture of a stylized female figure
wrapped in cloth, her forearm flung in front of her
forehead. Called “Despair,” it could also be called “Ecstasy.”
At the sleek bank tower downtown, possibilities reach
to the sky. In the nearby square, they’re more down to earth,
constrained by an invisible hand.
Uniformed man at a downtown bus stop at the end of the
day shadow boxes with some shade; bobbing & weaving,
his upper cuts & counter punches come faster & faster.
The world’s awash in water tonight. Darkly, darkly.
Drumming, thrumming, thundering down like an intimation
of another life somewhere, not here.
Let us be clear. The cost of not doing anything
is nothing less than the sum
of what shall be & what we shall be.
What can I say of failure? It’s
a stranger I’ve come to know. Not
as strange as I’d like to pretend.
Morning Times’s logo: image in the style of
Soviet realism—a worker, shirt sleeves rolled up, holding
up, for heroic veneration, a steaming cup of joe. $2.25 per.
The Recording Angel notes & records but
never speaks. Doesn’t say whether
now’s the time for the sayable, that sad-faced one.
Is this what we mean when we say hope?
Prefiguration of what’s not there, abiding
like a love you never had.
Yes, it will end.
Gesang ist Dasein, Gesang
ist Dasein about nothing, to the end.
Death, it’s said, is not
a thing. It’s just you
happening in time.
Moonlight filtering through
silence. (Requiem for
It has a secret (distance). Thought
is a train whistle heard in the distance. Your fate:
to hear it slowly die out, overtaken by silence.
Ghost of a boy walking
on the street at night alone under street lights;
I’ve seen him many a year.
Rilke says “Every angel is terrifying.” But you’ve seen
his face. The Recording Angel is not terrifying. His
Remember us, we who spoke the same
words as you, lived the same untruths, wanted
the same things as you.
Copyright © Jon Thompson 2017
Jon Thompson teaches at North Carolina State University, where he edits Free Verse: A Journal of Contemporary Poetry & Poetics and the single-author poetry series, Free Verse Editions. His most recent books are After Paradise, Landscape with Light and Strange Country, all published by Shearsman Books. He has had work in Molly Bloom 2 and 9. More on him at jon-thompson.net