Matthew Thorburn

There's this string         


I follow I don't know

what else I can

do sometimes

yanking it hand

over hand some-

times just inching

along looping it

up lassoing

it around my left

elbow I ease it

out a centi-

meter or millimeter

at a time I tease it

loose something's

raveling or




as the days

tick by and

the nights roll

on and my beard

fills in and my

hair thins out as

this string puddles

up piles around

my feet its rivery


trail running behind

me like a single

endless skinny

footprint like

a sign like a

clue a story a

song oh where

does it come from

oh where are we

going this

string and I

I think I

could do

this forever

[first appeared in Cave Wall]



Driving Out to Innisfree 

                —for Hilda

Naturally we zipped right by.
Had to backtrack along that 
low wall of mismatched rock. 
Drizzly fog. Ben Bulben only in
my imagination. Our rented hatchback 
skittery on the one paved lane. 
Now where was it he dreamt 
of laying down his head to dream? 
Pretty sure our last turn 
was a wrong one and there 
it was: a muddy hump in a shallow 
lake. Where would he stick 
the one-room shack? Keep 
the bees? The bean rows would be 
short and crooked and then 
the words shook free and I saw it 
for what it was: a thickety clump 
of trees out there. Less place 
than idea, a stepping stone from idea 
to ideal. That desire to be away 
from everything. No sign, 
even now. God knows, no crowd. 
I stood a bit, hood up. Hitched up 
my shorts. But who'd go Thoreau
and set up shop there? It still works best 
at a distance. Sometimes what we want 
is to keep wanting. So—
shaggy trees? Soggy grass? This dot 
of green in sight but out of reach 
across brown water puckered 
with rain? Check, check, check
And silvery morning and cricket-song 
keep you in the clear. Get me back 
behind the wheel. Hang out in
the in-between till peace snaps into place 
like a period at the end of the line.

[first appeared in Barn Owl Review]

The Chair


That broad-shouldered, tufted wingback,

its plush, red velvet heft

bulked out over hand-carved feet,

those feet I came eye to toe with

shimmying up the ladder

from the church floor to the tiny loft—

the whole house maybe thirty

feet squared, a country

chapel far out in the country—


and wondered, just squeezing in

myself, how the hell it got there.

It looked untouched

and untouchable, a bull in a pen

too small to turn around in. Was it

built there? Hammer and


lathe, pale curlicues of wood shavings drifting

to the corners as sawdust glitters down

onto the altar. The upholsterer licks

a thick thread, then needles it up.

A boy presses hard to hold the springs

and batting down as the old man loops in

with the first stitch. Or else


imagine pulleys, block and tackle, wheeze

and grunt, a good rope and—

who knows?—a horse

to tie it around, then lead him out

the back door. Heave and

hoist. The chair rises

with each breath—


just look at it, floating there—


till it can be snugged into place

up here where it must wait

and wait, this big seat looking out

over everything, as if

for you know who.

Snow in Early Spring


      dusts the green shoots

poking up

      from the dirt


      the yellow crocus


      white on one side


pale buds against a pale sky

snow in early spring—


      the last flakes

fill the cups

      of the first daffodils


flurries in early spring—


      tiny piles blown

against the north side

      of each low thing


      front stoop

back stoop

      cemetery stones


not a memory

but the trace of a memory



before I could write this



but once you say once

a door swings open


a story begins


      even as it fell

the snow

      turned back to rain


and yet—


      what we felt was snow

so soft so slow

      drifting down all around us


once in early spring




       in Iceland was the wrong color

or misplaced or mis-sized, bumped up

      against one another, so each hour

on the road we rolled through one world

      and turned a corner into the next—

the one-lane bridge that spanned

      a stream bed long run dry, barely

there anymore, and the black

      sand beach, the grainy gravel desert

where the wind gusted cold, gray;

      a waterfall chloriney green, not far

from another that fell through a crease

      in the cliff—one white fold

of water. Even the lava fields, now

      so much tired old rock, crumbled

and reefy, were stippled green.

      We pulled over to check

the map, stepped off the road and saw

      what we'd been seeing was moss

run rampant in the damp. That green

      was like getting to give

what I'd give to go back and see

      what I once missed—

in that shady corner behind the shrine

      nearly lost, nearly not a shrine

in the gray outskirts of Tokyo, one stop past

      where most people stop looking:

that plush green velvet, the yellow-

      green, the gray-green, that fuzz

and fringe, that other idea of beautiful,

      the frangibility of blue-green velour

on that small arrangement of rocks—

      it would be like disappearing

into a tiny mountain range, that careful

      arrangement of small rocks, that weird

secret, the old monk’s moss garden

      hidden behind the back wall at Kakusu.


A Prayer


The wind in the trees

reminds me. Stars, the clouds


blown out by wind to uncover

the stars, remind me. Third yank


on the starter cord, the snow

blower not turning


over, my neighbor's groan

then sigh, the breath pluming


out of his mouth white

in the cold, white like the snow


that now he must shovel,

remind me. Old brown leaves


pressed flat, frozen gray in sheets

of ice, remind me. The river


running fast and dark reminds me.

River that remembers


and forgets. River that rises

as mist and falls back as rain,


snow that falls and piles up and

melts away. Trees like slashes


of charcoal, pencil strokes so dark

against that white, now fading


into gray, into the darkening sky.

Night that falls, falls


over everything. Remind me,

remind me, remind me.

Matthew Thorburn is the author of three books of poems, including This Time Tomorrow (Waywiser Press, 2013) and Every Possible Blue (CW Books, 2012). He lives and works in New York City. For more information, visit



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