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Gary Thomas


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,

milk Holsteins,

fend hardscrabble

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.

A Firestarter

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.


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