Two Poems by Jeffrey Thomson

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Certain things here are quietly American

Derek Walcott

the fence and wall, the town divided
the way a clock is divided by time
as the Lough cuts the one o’clock hour
from its face. All the missing trains.
Parking lots chock-a-block by eight
surrounding savage, seventies architecture
where foxglove breaks pavement with
a will unlike the old Irish backstory.
The Apple Store shining like the church
of all things modern. Mute factories
brittle with webs of broken windows
where workers once walked down
from East Belfast with overalls and pails
then stepped up late afternoon to the rail
for a few jars before slumping uphill
home in the long graying of dusk to wives
whose day was made of muscling water
into flax at the river’s edge. Dockyards
abandoned with the want of urban space.
Piers slapped by the seawater wake
tossed by the hulking ferry that glows white
as it churns up the lough. Dog-faced seals
that raise their untroubled heads to watch
the ship pass through the gunmetal gap
the sea plows through these Antrim hills,
fields divided stone by stone on either shore.




Up landfill hill where the groundwater seeps
at the base of the mound have long turned
to mud-red rainbows of iron and oil with the dog
early and below us the snow holds on in avenues
through the still bare trees, snow made ice
by the weight of passing feet and shadow
as the grass nearby sheer waits for Spring
with a kind of patience the dog doesn’t share.

She sprints across the field and toboggans
into cold puddles atop this pile of trash grassed
over and made marketable for the subdivision
nearby—galaxy of redwings and fairy houses
children build beneath boreal oaks, dwellings
of discards, sticks and moss, and roofs
of purple tiles made from mussel shells
dropped by gulls onto the rocks by the river
to break them open and reveal their bodies
of orange and glue.
                                         She sprints and sleds
on her shoulder across the hard ground into
gathering pools of old snow and rain that have
nowhere to go but down, down and through
into this warren of then-and-covered-over-
with-a-dog-some-day-in-early-Spring. Down
into the midden of our discards—tricycles,
refrigerators, oilcans, drums, newspapers,
glass and the false limb of a man abandoned,
alone with its leather straps. A horse’s
skeleton approaching the flatness of fossils.
That old Ford no one could start. Two guys
shoved it to the top of the road that
led to the cliffs above the empty quarry
this hill was once, released the brake,
and watched the slow caterwaul of metal
as it tore itself apart trying to find bottom.




Jeffrey Thomson is the author of four books of poems, including Birdwatching in Wartime, winner of the 2010 Maine Book Award and 2011 ASLE Award in Environmental Creative Writing. Birdwatching in Wartime is currently being translated into Spanish and Russian. He has three books forthcoming in the next three years: a memoir, Fragile; his translations of The Complete Poems of Catullus; and a new collection of poems, The Belfast Notebooks. In 2012 he was the Fulbright Distinguished Scholar in Creative Writing at the Seamus Heaney Poetry Centre at Queen’s University Belfast, and in 2015 he will be the Hodson Trust-John Carter Brown Fellow at Brown University and the C.V. Starr Center at Washington College. He is currently professor of creative writing at the University of Maine Farmington.

Read poetry by Jeffrey Thomson also appearing in Issue 26.

Photo of Belfast, Northern Ireland, looking across the mouth of the Lagan north toward the Lough by Jeffrey Thomson. is the world’s first online journal of place, publishing a rich mix of literature, art, commentary, and design since 1998.