Poetry » John Thornburg »

No New York

Lydia’s got this doom in her
the same as me. Too late is a taxi cab
at 4 in the morning too much
is the lipstick on my fingers

so Lydia asks me if I want to stand in a dark,
moist room where a band is playing
and none of them know how to play instruments
and the singer shouts gibberish but hey
at least it’s not the blues.

but you can never escape from the blues.

even when you demolish its structures
you still sleep in the ruins and worship its symbols.
All my friends are an angry mob shouting “kill your idols!”
and we rush into the palace only to discover
our idols are already dead.

Ancient Fire in a Kingdom of Haunted Vales

Six (or more) ash statues
in the back of the closet
behind ill-fitting shirts and trousers,
a busted shoebox of train letters and faded ink
blurry photographs of teenagers
and dogs in summers since deceased,
since become cynics and adults and tyrants.

The first one I touch burns my fingertips,
still smoldering after all these years.

I write you a note from what could only be a swimming pool full of gin.
I tell you that God could not possibly expect to control us
just because he created us.

Anyway, I lay in a bitter and viper-mouth blackness
watching the tiny light on the smoke detector pitch in and out.
To me it looks distant and remote
like God’s hammer strikes on some ancient
and holy blade upon the mighty anvil of outer space,
outer spaces riddled with worry, flaking off
and settling around me like dandruff like snow.

Colloquialisms of a Small Town

Bob will answer your prayers,
Isabell reassures her little brother
in the dentist’s waiting room.

I’ll be sagged if I have another sag cavity.
Some bald guy says that.

There’s an aquarium in the dentist’s office.
Actually, all of the walls and partitions are aquariums.
Enough space for a whole ecosystem.
There are little fish and clown fish
and great white sharks and enough asian carp
to wreck a couple great lakes.

Sagit! Someone shouts.
Isabell covers her little brother’s ears.

Every tooth is your best tooth, the dentist lectures.
He looks like a somehow more terrifying Darth Vader.
Too homely to somehow be someone’s father.

The bald guy tries to say something
but the dentist’s fingers are in his mouth.
The dentist laughs and laughs.

Everyone knows their home videos are the funniest home videos.
An electric eel startles a giant squid and the whole office is pitched
into a murky discoey darkness.



Darling hours,
2007 and fresh snow covers
the driveways and pastures
along 95th street, a place for gliding
beneath skies of former blizzards, the entrails
of winter giants still steam on the horizon,
I have not forgotten them.

Maria and I, we lions
our manes fly and I
run and I run and I run

Maria, my Delilah
she cuts my hair for the prom
as we dance on former paws
until my bones are rain worn
and my house sits on my shoulders
like a child.

Maria, my Toru
she sees the wreath of tree hinges
and well-stones I hang in my room
she keeps the widow’s walk
as I wander fractals of bear fur, bong hits,
alternate moons, and Midwest downtowns
in brittle and wicked knots.


Maria and I leave the car windows open
when it rains. We kiss in aisles of corn that curve off
like mountain roads.


I never see Maria anymore, my shadow cruelly wired
to my feet by a half-dreamt surgery.

Maria holds a tin can to her ear
and I hold another to my mouth
they are connected 5500 miles by a lion’s whisker
and I don’t know where I got these dreams
of magpies and thieves.


Now Maria sits in every spoonful of coffee
every blanket fold and bed spring. I hate the comfortable
solitude of my apartment, the radiant darkness
of Midwest dawns that pour me like whiskey
into dying summer days. I bought a ring
a long time ago, hid it in a fever dream
where I changed my name to wanderer.

I say I do
to an empty sky
so the moon is my wife
and everywhere I look
Maria unfolds as golden blue
Christmas flowers.