Issue 21: Don Thompson

One Evening at the Madison Square Garden

(Evelyn Nesbit)

Harry shot Stanford in the head

and ruined a table cloth,

driven mad with jealousy by Evelyn—

already a hackneyed human outcome in 1906,

though it sold tabloids then and would now.

Architect White got busy deconstructing,

slow work but inexorable;

Thaw checked into an asylum,

his straw boater screwed on too tight.

And Miss Nesbit descended

the ladder of notoriety rung by rung,

dying unknown in an old folk’s home.

Beauty that made  time stand still

couldn’t stop the clock…

But how much does that matter

if even a thick woman in a trailer park,

sallow and missing a few teeth,

could drive two shirtless drunks on Cops

into such frenzy

that they sliced each other up with kitchen knives?

And both already had scars.

When We Were Still In Kansas

(Née Minnie Braun)

My stern, zaftig German-American grandmother

had a wild side.  A wayward bent.

She wore low-heeled black shoes

laced tighter than clenched teeth

and a flour sack house dress with a homemade

lace doily for a collar.

Her hair tried to hide on her head.

In her parlor, unused and dark,

cross-stitched Bible verse samplers

dignified the walls.

But life itself was lived in the kitchen

with a party line crank phone

and grease sizzling in the skillet:

the sound of terror in the chicken coop.

She wrung necks with a crushing grip

and a bit too much pleasure;

drove her ’48 Chevy into Harveyville

on the wrong side of the gravel road,

convinced it was safer, somehow,

and so fast you’d think that teetotaler

had moonshine in her trunk.

The Man Next Door

(Louis Simpson)

Oedipus is your next door neighbor,

that bent old-timer with a red-tipped white stick

who feels his way to the corner and back

every morning, chewing without teeth

on more suffering than you can imagine.

You stand at the living room window and watch,

compassionate within reason, careful

not to think

about how hard your own mother died,

whom you were never close to,

or what happened to your daughter

who ran off with someone she met online.

Late at night, alone, you stay up

to sip one more glass of dry red wine,

turning the pages of a book of poems

in which nothing much happens

as if they were written about your street.

Don Thompson has been writing about the San Joaquin Valley for over fifty years, including a dozen or so books and chapbooks. For more info and links to publishers, visit his website

Copyright © 2018 by Don Thompson, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of Copyright law. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the notification of the journal and consent of the author.