Swans by Sally Thomas


All that summer the sun refused to open
On the sky, and the river carried rain-spots
Down and over the weir, and by the footbridge
Swans’ eggs chilled in their nest. I saw them, rained on,
Blue and dead as the moon the clouds were hiding
Every night when I looked to find it. What could
Live, neglected like that? The wind, cold and green
With the smell of the hawthorn flowering, came
Brooding over the fens, but what could it bring me,
Who had chosen to view the world with sadness,
Or had taken that sadness into myself,
Gift and charism? One day, though, I saw them,
Triple vee-wakes on dark tree-printed currents:
One ahead of the others, big and whiter
Than the cloud-pale sky. Two cygnets, gray, living,
Broken free from the death I’d assumed for them.
Well: their ways are not my ways. The next summer,
Walking that same towpath, heavy with a child
Who had come to me after years of asking —
Who was taking his time just then, head downward,
Happy where he was — I saw them paddling
Under the bridge, where it laid out its shadow,
Current-rumpled. The same swans? Or three strangers
Hummed down onto a river pricked with sunlight,
Strange and new as the season? I can’t say now.
I remember the baby’s head engaging,
Heavy, ready, real, an impending pressure.
I remember the wakes widening, river
Flowing down in the sun, and by the footbridge,
Gray, empty, the mess of twigs, leaves, and feathers.

by Sally Thomas

Editor’s Note: Beautiful and concise imagery carries the reader into depression and then back out again as the speaker in this narrative poem makes her own surprising journey from despair to hope.

Remembrance by Sally Thomas


In November we walk hand in hand
Home from school in the gathering dark.
Wintry rain blows through the stand
Of stripped poplars next to the park.

Everywhere, red poppies pinned
To hurrying jackets repeat
Their seasonless bright cardstock kind
Along the wet wind-driven street.

Lest we forget, say three signs
That flap from the church’s black gate.
In the gutter rain rushingly shines
And clatters down through the storm grate.

What have we forgotten, you ask me.
We’ve remembered the tea, cheese, and bread.
We’ve kept up, for once, with the house key.
We’ve prayed for the long-fallen dead.

Our way takes us down by the river
That gleams though the gloom as it flows
In its loop round the town, tarnished silver
Where light strikes it, but black in the shadows.

Somewhere far away, guns are firing,
Though you and I, walking, can’t hear.
All we hear through the rain is the crying
Of water spilled over the weir.

The river runs through the flat fenland
On its wandering way to the sea.
I can feel your cold hand in my own hand,
Your hand holding on tight to me.

What can the river remember?
You ask me. Not even its name?
One poppy, a dropped paper ember,
Burns red as it circles downstream.

Somewhere far away, guns are firing,
Although we can’t hear them from here.
In the dusk the white seagulls are crying.
The river falls over the weir.

Home to our yellow-lit doorway
Down the dark passage our footsteps go.
What have we forgotten? —I can’t say.
No one in the world seems to know.

by Sally Thomas

Editor’s Note: We have forgotten the grief of war.

Photograph by Christine Klocek-Lim

Wedding Dress Ghazal by Sally Thomas

Wedding Dress Ghazal

A girl blooms from a shantung hill that whitens
As sunlight touches it. Come do my buttons?

Her little sister’s thirteen-year-old fingers
Are careful: tiny loops, forty buttons.

Each button slips in through the looping eye
Whose pupil it becomes. She buttons, buttons.

The girl in the dress exhales. It fit last Friday.
Her sister tucks her chin, studies the buttons.

Another bridesmaid holds the illusion veil.
The little sister buttons, buttons, buttons.

Past the hard part now. Now you can breathe.
Breathing’s a good idea. Seven buttons.

The buttons’ blank white eyes regard her coolly.
Today is not her day. These aren’t her buttons.

Outside, something startles the mourning doves
That feed in the church courtyard. Three more buttons.

The girls’ eyes, like windows, flash with wings.
All the future’s fastened with these buttons.

At last she’s buttoned into it: the bride.
The doves, resettling, wink bright eyes like buttons.

by Sally Thomas

Twitter: @SallyThomasNC

Facebook: Facebook

Editor’s Note
: This ghazal seems simple until the seventh stanza when the quiet, emotional framework of the little sister is revealed.

Empty Nest Ghazal by Sally Thomas

Empty Nest Ghazal

After lunch, she moves from room to room,
To sidestep the tail-twitching afternoon.

Someone’s left a sock behind the door,
First furtive ambush of the afternoon.

Crusted mascara wand beside the sink:
Dry bones, the dessicated afternoon.

All useless spoor of time she sweeps away.
Still time stalks her through the afternoon.

Always the silent house, and hours till dinner –
Too many simmering hours of afternoon.

She sits to write. Love, Mother. She can sign
An unsent letter every afternoon.

by Sally Thomas

Twitter: @SallyThomasNC

Editor’s Note
: This poem uses the repetition of the ghazal form to great effect, mirroring the endless hours of missing a loved one who has gone away with delicate (but also relentless) sorrow.