Poetry by Thom Adams: “eternal questions for a birthday bash”

I first encountered the writer Thom Adams when I critiqued his philosophical poem “Entropy Road” for the Winning Writers newsletter in 2008. He recently shared some other poems with me, one of which moved me so much that I asked to reprint it here. (Trigger warning for suicide.) Visit Thom’s website for more verse, both serious and light, and articles on contemporary issues.

eternal questions for a birthday bash

who walked those final steps with you,
or danced your darkest hour?
who steadied you or tied your knot;
did you grimly smile, or weep
when the rope went taut?

what moment tipped the balance
of your dire choice?
yesterday, when you looked
happy as you bathed our only child,
or later when your words and eyes assured me
that you trusted… but you lied?

when did the painful reality occur
that no longer is no more and forever,
and latent regrets are not nearly enough?
wasn’t the love you felt for your suckling baby
enough testimony to us mortals
that god lives, but only for the living?

where did your magic meet its pleasant rest?
on a windy breeze that never stops,
or in a flash of light that seared memory clean,
or in a tiny box of lead?
or, does it spread and blend your lovely scent
in a contented whiff of… universal swirl?

why not just live life’s ups and ills
as if choices weren’t limited but that you
   had been cheated?
while others said their jealous prayers
with hopes of only being as lucky.
did your fearless conspirators fan their
   scary flames?
did demons laugh, or cross their fingers toward
   your twisted end?

how is it for you today… considering our son
   turns three?
but pees and wakes me in tortured sweat,
buries watered eyes and sobs till hurt subsists.
how nice to think of mama’s touch, yet feel only
   daddy’s calloused grip.
while he waits to watch the window’s evening
knowing the “what might have been” will never
   be…. for him.

MUST I ask again… or has your tidy damage also
   done you in?
is there something better nothing worse than live?
is something gained or lost again?
was it a silent whimper, or a screaming grin?
can you tell me why or what’s at stake?

… as I light three little candles on love’s birthday cake.

Talkback to Sinatra: My Poem “I Wish I Were in Love Again”

My poems “I Wish I Were in Love Again” and “third day” have just been published as contest semifinalists in Issue #7 of OSA Enizagam, the magazine (get it?) of Oakland School for the Arts. “I Wish…” is a critical gloss on Frank Sinatra’s ballad of the same name, which romanticized a violent conflict between lovers. This poem originally appeared in Atlanta Review. (That’s right, OSA E will take previously published work. How cool are they?)

“third day” is a collage poem using phrases from a news story about the desecration of a gay man’s corpse in Senegal. The formatting can’t be reproduced in this blog template, so you’ll just have to go buy this great magazine, which features work by Donna Steiner, Anneliese Schultz, Linda Leedy Schneider, and many other accomplished poets and storytellers.

I Wish I Were in Love Again

When Sinatra sings,
I wish I were in love again,
I imagine Love is the name
of a violent town in Texas
where the one stoplight
took a bullet long ago,
dusting the dry street with ruby glass.

Where the sheriff,
big-bellied as Cupid,
didn’t see the evidence
of the split rope, the double-smudged lipstick,
the blacksnake-cold gun under the belt.

Sinatra’s voice pours the golden
whiskey of nostalgia to shimmer
over the icy rocks, like the foothills
outside Love where nothing
lives but tumbleweeds and chicken thieves.
He misses the spat of cat and cur,
the flying fur, the sparks
that burned down Love’s one church
when the preacher’s daughter
fell asleep smoking.

Lucky in Love
is the man who didn’t miss the train
in or out of town.

Love is a Many-Splendored Thing,
the mayor says,
hoping to attract
a branch of the Houston bank,
a brassworks factory or even a circus
to settle in Love,
create jobs for the men
and scarcer women who lie
in saloon alleys all night clutching
souvenirs of Love to their hearts:
a postcard, a clump of red dirt.
Who wouldn’t want such a loyal workforce?

Love is just around the corner,
if you’ve got a first-class horse.

City-trippers in the mood
for the blackened eyes
Sinatra sighs for
take the spur line to Love
en route to Laredo or Dallas.
Fanning themselves with transfer tickets,
the ladies breathe,
I’ve never been in Love before,
mistaking the crash of plates
for an emphatic whorehouse piano.

The general store hawks banjos
with one string, plasters for the knees
of old folks who fall in Love too easily,
and of course, bullets.
If you break a hip in Love
you know what happens.

Despite the weather,
Love’s no place to retire.
The all-you-can-eat buffet closes at five.
When the moon climbs the sky again
like a drunk husband going upstairs,
the city ladies take their seats
in the second-class carriage,
each with a purple bloom
aching under her blouse, or against her cheek.
It won’t fade for days.
It’s almost like being in Love.

Two Poems from Marsha Truman Cooper’s “A Knot of Worms”

I discovered the work of Marsha Truman Cooper when her poem “You Had to Be There” won third prize in our 2004 Winning Writers War Poetry Contest. Since the judging was anonymous, I was quite surprised to learn that this searing account of a young man’s tour of duty in Vietnam was not autobiographical, so convincing was her first-person storytelling.

Cooper’s poetry chapbook A Knot of Worms was published this summer by Finishing Line Press in their New Women’s Voices series. These quiet poems are charged with a sacred attention to healing the wounds sustained by our bodies and ecosystem. In the aftermath of war or illness, the human spirit finds wholeness by recovering our common bond with whales, dragonflies, and yes, even worms. She kindly shares two sample poems below. “Ashes” was first published in Poetry Northwest.


She will not do
what you expect, not even
if you make love to her.
She can never tell
what she has learned,
no matter how safely
she rests under your arm.
But one day, she may open a jar
she brought from that place.
She will say
it holds the burnt bones
of hands, just the hands,
of people she has known.
Though it cannot possibly
be true, you’ll believe her.
You’ll pour out
her pieces of calcium
as if they were uncut jewels.
You’ll sort through them,
wondering which bone
was the finger of a thief,
which held a violin,
and how the tiny ones
could have belonged to anybody
but a child.
Then you will see
why she can be so positive
that we are all joined.
There will never be a way
to separate these friends.


After the Man Who Counted Dragonflies

died, he opened his eyes and discovered
he was still in Oregon, his research tent
still pitched in a forest of pines
near the edge of a snow-fed, mile-high lake.
He took off his clothes and walked
across the beach pebbles hot as coals,
splashed into icy water— a contrast which,
if he did say so just to himself, felt heavenly.
Apparently, it was still July. A blue darner
dragonfly touched down on his index finger.
He saw the indelible ink dots he’d used
to mark the animal, a pattern recorded
by date for an insect whose life cycle
ended long ago. He wanted to ask him,
a male he’d decorated, the question
that had deviled him in life. He raised
his arm skyward, but before he could speak
more of his subjects joined them. By tens,
then hundreds and finally by thousands
his friends flew to greet him. Nymphs
he had saved from extinction cracked
their shells, split open, crawled up a reed
and darted into summer. They all whirled
around the man, a blue darner wind. Then,
they landed in a mosaic of iridescence—
their wing tips touching randomly in what
looked like sunshine— while his spirit
skittered over acres of their humming surface.
As the sun lowered, he realized that there
might be darkness. At last, he thought,
they would show him what nobody on earth
could find— where they go at night.