I come from a long line of line-crossers——
poor mutts who left,
looked for anyplace
less harsh than the land
that abandoned them
to fend, starve, move out
hardtack passage over
two and a half meridians
to strange sod, quare sheep,
odd slate rubble and soft coal
glossy as new homespun iridescent sin
farmers, miners, soldiers Taffy, Geordie, Gog
once-in-a-while grocers store-lubber choirboys
husbands who waited widowers pending
for wives and plentyn dependents pending
till they could afford commoners’ marriage
a next escape west a Welsh skedaddle
mule wagons, piles of shit,
stolen horses, piles of shit,
freight trains, piles of soft coal,
departure, dust, destination
An outcasts’ town called Two Timbers,
or Two Sticks if after the Crash—
A family with seed potatoes
wrapped in wet burlap roped
inside bumpers of a Model A Ford
crosses seven state lines to plant beans,
shift budge along
replant just like Okies
remarry a dragged-out widower
I come from constellations of Old Country southern Midwest nomads—
a long line of migrant names unstoried even to me
who pointed at lines they thought they saw in the sky
and traced them into soil too often not theirs—
so now I miss who they might have been proud to be:
crossbred and here for a spell.
Shivering in early morning
next to the old stove,
you build a fire out of juniper
and yesterday’s news.
The aroma of sparks assures you
there is a future for you.
Your backbone slips into place.
So do your eyes, which just now
fix on some snowbirds
escaped from your soul’s sockets.
You stretch your handful of seeds to them,
and they come to feed. The stove starts
tapping its code of heat and hope,
its need for more fuel. You catch.
I cleave time to read some poetry not my own
as ripe lemons droop and thrash in the rain
from their spiky branches thin as green twine.
The pewter-and-white cat who wishes to live here
peers in through the sliding glass door, almost
trustful. Puckered recycling bins lean askew
in the street, awaiting the next serrated gust
to right them. Windchimes peal for some chance
to celebrate while other musics make themselves
from velocity and open tuning. Motley-colored
mini-lights hammer-strung to our house’s stucco
hold their own against today’s downpour. Black
cotton masks fester in each downstairs room,
plus three in each sedan——not enough. Today
courage looks like breathing through any layers
compassion and anticipation can’t crack. I wrote
this poem backwards and forwards like a prayer
to poetry not my own.
Gary Thomas grew up on a peach farm outside Empire, California. Prior to retirement, he taught eighth grade language arts for thirty-one years and junior college English for seven. His poems have been published or accepted for publication in MockingHeart Review, Atticus Review, Monterey Poetry Review, River Heron Review, Barzakh, Blue Heron Review, Split Rock Review, and Book of Matches, among others,. He is a founding member of the Modesto-Stanislaus Poetry Center and the writing group known as The Licensed Fools. A full-length collection, All the Connecting Lights, was released in August 2022 from Finishing Line Press.