May 10, 2010

John Thomas

John Thomas (USA)

Born and raised in Baltimore, John Thomas came to Los Angeles in 1959, arriving in Venice, or what was then called Venice West, one of the thriving “Beat” communites. Thomas also lived, for some years in the early 1960s, in San Francisco and Northern California, before returning to Los Angeles in 1965.

Among his several books are john thomas john thomas (1972), El vecchio Strawinsky prova con corchestra (1975), Epopoeia and the Decay of Satire (1976), and (with Robert Crosson and Paul Vangelisti), Abandoned Latitudes (1983).


john thomas john thomas (Los Angeles: Red Hill Press, 1972); Il vecchio Strawinsky prova con orchestra (Torino, Italy: Edizioni Geiger, 1975); Epopoeia and the Decay of Satire (Los Angeles: Red Hill Press, 1976); from Patagonia in Abandoned Latitudes (with Robert Crosson and Paul Vangelisti) (San Francisco: Invisible City, no. 3, 1983).

Underwater Interlude

fast in the grip
of the starfish
fifty fathoms down
I feel the pulse
deep inside her my lips
on the arch of her foot I
see the day flow away
like a slow fuse and up
up faraway up there
quiver the great blue screens!

(from Temblor, 1985)

They’re Wrong to Call It the Little Death and To Hell with the Here and Now

“I do not believe in the witchcraft
she practices on me….”

we take our pleasure, it is dark and regal
and strange, she could be Guinivere
risking Hell and her crown an damn their eyes
it’s worth it ten times over and I
I hope to die at the last thrust lost
in her smell of sweat and vanilla we pause
I want her again but we pause and
casually she tears off a toenail
drawing blood then slyly tucks it
under my mattress: scary but
so moving: Guinivere
to the life

then she shifts a lazy shoulder and
Tara Tintagel Lyonesee the
whole damned Bronze Age
rolls up against me
her fingers lace into mine
on the wet tuft of her sex I
want her again our two hands become
one great paw I’m into her again
don’t know where any longer but
into her Christ! is this Africa?
I smell blood and grass I search
her face as I come the lioness
glows in the antelope’s eye

(from Temblor, 1985)

As I Write These Words

Things keep happening, you know. As I write
these words, Hannibal is still crossing the Alps;
Billie Holliday still sings “For All We Know”
at the old Five Spot. The dam is broken,
and the great slow muddy flood swells behind me
in ponderous pursuit. The same flower
blooms and blooms again, forever. Endlessly,
I scrub the blood from my shaking hands.
Endlessly, the words pile up, smothering
the poem. Night falls, night falls, night falls,
and I cannot stop this dying.

(from “Los Inventions of the Night,” Temblor, 1988)


‘The layered dung of ten thousand
years is not to be understood as
different from any rainbow.”
from the Kali-Sutra

even in the dream
he walks the darkness silently
naked on wet grass
among many sleeping forms

the blackness of the stream
the pale averted face
of a sinking half moon

antique postures
dim and complicated rhythms

he walks in darkness
to the water’s edge
where a small boat lies in the reeds
it is marked with the trident sign of Vishnu
it has just arrived
or will soon drift off forever

in the morning
the children will not find him here
where the water flows both ways
and bubbles up through yellow sand
to soak him silver at the brim

(from “Lost Inventions of the Night,” Temblor, 1988)

The Secret Instructions

This colossal marble head, fragment
of an earlier time thrown down
on its side so long ago:
it rests beside the dark pool,
embedded to the cheek.

Weeds, all youth and wasteful vigor,
mask its prognathous face,
crafty lip, proud life of brown,
the one milky eye unaware
of its blindness. Clearly,

something happened in this place
where I squat, a circus ape in rags.
twigs and tinsel in my hair. Something terrible,
once, in this place. The air is thick with whispered
message, and even apes must breathe.

There are no symbols here (my wishes
count for nothing), simply earth,
real weeds, the pool—real,
one can lap its icy water—
and this blind and monstrous teste

which now I, obedient,
strong with the strength of sleep,
heave and tumble over the grassy verge.
The great stone head sinks slowly
into the green depths of the dream.

The last ripples smoothe away and silence,
the last unearned instruction, closes over.

(from “Lost Inventions of the Night,” Temblor, 1988)

Dead Letter

The journey was pleasant enough, but
I traveled too far, crossed
some invisible, unposted frontier
and here I am, here I have been—
for years? Sorry. I cannot read
their enigmatic calendars.

To be a foreigner here, always.
The language is quite opaque.
Pleasant-sounding at first, but soon
one notices the mocking interrogatories.

Sleep does not refresh me here.
To dream long, portentous conversations
in a language one does not understand—
unsettling. I always wake up sand and anxious.
What did he say? What
did I answer? Too late.

I sit in a café at an oddly-carpentered table,
drinking…something. What they always serve me.
I watch the people come and go, crossing
the square on urgent but mysterious errands.
If I knew how to ask, “Where
are you going, and why?” they would stop and
look at me with their harlequin eyes,
and what their looks would tell me
I do not care to know.

The games the children play
are “wrong” somehow, and menacing.
Are they really games, really

Forgive this poetical touch, but
even the trees sing
different songs here. I can
only guess what they might mean.
They worry me the most, I think,
these trees. I always felt
at least I understood trees.

Soon I shall fold these pages and seal them
in an envelope on which I shall inscribe
some old familiar address. I do this
every day. There is a mailbox across the square,
and it eats my envelopes. I do not know
where they go. Goodbye. The trees
are singing again.

from “Lost Inventions of the Night,” Temblor, 1988)

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