Colette Thomas


Stubborn cold is at most a dull blade.  What is small and quickening does what it must.  Each spring I say to the magnolia buds not yet.  After a frost I have seen them hanging all over town, blackish and leathery as sleeping bats.  You may imagine covert forces aligned against you.  Consider that the turret is empty—you'll have to find a better excuse.  The redwood arrives at its present stance of perfect rectitude one willing cell at a time, inhaling fog and light in equal proportions.  The cathedral rises arch by variegated arch, as if chiseled stone could root and flower.  As if this were the very place eternity pushes through.  From the vantage point of the lately frozen garden there is only one direction.  Ask any seedling.  Ask the brown-edged camellia.  Kneeling on the horizontal crust you might choose to pray—or simply watch—as tiny spears hazard their first thrusts into the brightening and unforgiving fray.


Night slips behind the monuments, past the glow of ghost-light
from the cherry blossoms.  You've studied the old dynasties—
when the mandate seeped away they moved the capital.

I listen to the news.  Somebody needs to steady the bottom rung.
Whatever you have done to one of these, the least of my brethren.
We all know an honest heart when we see one, don't we?  Who

will notify the chief in his bunker?  Things have taken a turn
for the worse, sir.  Half empty, half full—when you think

it won't hold any more, keep pouring.  When you think
you can't descend another step, keep sinking.  It's chilly.

Spring came early on a raw wind, old stumps spurting
saplings, earth-smell infiltrating the fog.  Here you are

at the edge of the tidal basin, staring across black water
with its flotsam of shredded light, wondering,
as you have before:  How much longer?  How much lower?


Light and darkness, yes.  Arrivals and departures.
The tongues of men and angels.  The splinter of sin.

But sadness is continually startled, like a bittern lifting
from marsh grass with a low cry.  A parrot's turquoise dart

against dark vines.  Mute beauty of calligraphy
in a language we cannot read.  The answers are everywhere.

Rumi dancing in a garden at the desert's edge.
John of the Cross kneeling in half-light, at dawn or dusk
(from here we can't tell which).  A man in the moment

before his guests arrive, lighting lanterns, opening the wine.
A man listening to Debussy while, outside his window,
trees come to life in a quivering gauze of yellow-green.

A prayer rising from the end of a jetty in a red bay.
The singing mouth, the outstretched arms.
How wide it all is.  How the tide floods in.


In the short term, the hurricane churns up the coast.
It is pure air, but it spews roof-halves and corpses

of trees and has a name.  In the short term, the darkness
on our side of the windshield pushes against the darkness

on the other side, the silence between us mounting
like a low pressure system out of the south.  Each night
the delegation we call "I" journeys to a chaos

we remember partially or not at all.  We dance
as mountains dance, with the undertow of time.
Two strands of air intertwining like the wakes

of butterflies.  In the long term, the copper beech
spreads its ancient shade across seasons, across stone walls,
over snow and dappled undergrowth and the small blue flowers

that spark like stars among its roots in spring.  We wake
each day and find by some miracle we are still here.

Colette Thomas has presented her poetry in Washington, DC, and elsewhere since the early 1980s, in settings including the Library of Congress, the Folger Shakespeare Library, and Harvard University.  She is the recipient of several poetry awards from Harvard, where she studied with Seamus Heaney.  Her poems have appeared in Grand Street, Poet Lore, WordWrights, and other magazines, and in anthologies of Washington-area poets.  She also teaches Daoist meditation and is a long-time student of the I Ching.



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