May 2003

Thomas Bates


Thomas Bates is an independent researcher and writer residing in Northern Colorado. His poems have appeared recently in Nieve Roja and Pif Magazine. He works as poetry editor of Front Range Review, a print publication out of Colorado, and is a 2002 Pushcart Prize nominee.

Smoking In Punxsutawney    

You do the long suck,
just like when you were a teenager,
and the paper crinkles back
from the orange gem, no buzz this time,
though it helps the winter feel shorter.

Anyway, new meanings come to light:
rule of thumb and the quick flick,
ashes scattered like sandflies by the swat,
how the place got its name, and the damn thing
burning inside its hole, bathed in shadows.

They keep it in a library the rest of the time.
A library, for Christ's sake, climate-controlled.
Once, some lunatic from Pittsburgh
lifted the glass and let the critter run loose.
They found it later in the microfiche, scared shitless.

You're one of those people who turns
the first cigarette, filter to the bottom of the pack,
and saves it for last. Six years of good luck, they say.
You light someone's cigarette. Six years of sex.

Either would be a nice change
from the handler's cold grip, as he plucks you from the stump
and holds your body against the gleam for maybe two minutes,
before he screws his boot into your butt
to shoo you back into the lightless year.



Crossing Over    

So the words come to us,
over the wall embedded with broken glass,
like doves from a dumbwaiter,
inauspicious kin of the seared page
lifted by fires in the alley.

We cannot read them
fast enough, burnt gospel of the poor
and kindling can, discarded tourist pamphlets
keen on wings of gas, copies of the New Testament
born like the bodies of saints by the river,
ashing the acts of our hands.

But the words come anyway,
and the ghost, holy or not,
he comes too, on tongues of makeshift fire
like a boy scrambling over a wall, tearing his body
on the sharp vowels of the one side,
on the long vowels of the other.





Thomas Bates: Poetry
Copyright 2003 The Cortland Review Issue 23The Cortland Review