Issue 20: Jeffrey Thomson
When Thucydides was young, he was sickly and small and could not compete with some of the older boys and so disgraced his small town of olive trees and hot rocks and goats and that sunlight like rage, and in their anger and his shame at their share in it, the boys of the town held him down and pissed across his chest. Despite winning the boxing laurels and rising to the status of general years later, it seemed like nothing mattered except the feeling of heat on his chest like a hot sting. This is not true, or maybe it is true except his name was really Theo Clyde and the Greek village was a tarpaper town in the Mississippi Delta and he was black and the boys were white and the piss was yellow and he would recall that hot rain of shame burning small holes in his chest as he beat a man nearly to death in the boxing ring later in his life. Or maybe none of this is true and the real story here is the power of the writer to make you think of shame because that boy was him. Or because the other boys were him. Or both. And how he now asks you to carry them all with you—that boy with the small knives of urine nicking his chest open and the ones standing above him with their dicks out for all the world to see like small tyrants.
Short Story for the FBI
All eyes are upon you now
and everyone is listening—can’t
you hear that clicking on the line?
That’s the lonely detective
with his bag of chips. You know him
from a thousand film clips. He’s waiting
for you to say something interesting,
waiting for you to say bomb
and not mean the club you hit
the night before where the lights
spun and zipped like carbonation
and the music was a second heart
in your chest and the girl with glitter
and smoked eyes like a Russian spy
touched your lips with her wrist
and misted away into the crowd
But when you say it that way
you’ve dated yourself and the story’s
not so fresh anymore, and
the detective has finished his chips
and he feels the lack of bourbon
precisely, and he desperately wants you
to hang up or incriminate yourself.
So, tovarisch, say something for him,
bring him into the lonely acre of your life,
tell him a story, how once long ago you set
that garage on fire with an aerosol can
and a bic, how the sudden union of
the flame and the curtains made you weep
until the fire brigade arrived, too late,
and—as the effervescence of their lights
flung itself into the faces of the dark
summer maples—stood around speculating.
Jeffrey Thomson is a poet, memoirist, translator, and editor, and is the author of multiple books including the memoir fragile, The Belfast Notebooks, The Complete Poems of Catullus, andtheedited collection From the Fishouse. Half/Life: New and Selected Poems comes out from Alice James Books in 2019. He has been an NEA Fellow, the Fulbright Distinguished Scholar in Creative Writing at the Seamus Heaney Poetry Centre at Queen’s University Belfast, and the Hodson Trust-John Carter Brown Fellow at Brown University. He is currently professor of creative writing at the University of Maine Farmington.