Against Prognostication

Sep 25, 2020

Today's poem is "Against Prognostication" by Jeffrey Thomson. He is a poet, memoirist, translator, and editor, and the author of multiple books including: Half/Life: New and Selected Poems from Alice James Books (October 2019). He is currently professor of creative writing at the University of Maine Farmington.

He writes, “‘Against Prognostication’ is from The Country of Lost Sons and that book is about my son and the first few years of his life.  It was also about war (Kosovo and Gulf War, Part 1) and history--the Iliad and the Oresteia feature strongly in the book. So I was thinking about raising a child in a time of violence but then I also had to think about my own history and the things I had done and experienced growing up. And coming to realize that pain is fundamental to growth and that I could not protect my son from the world. And maybe I shouldn't even want to.  That's a weird feeling...”

Against Prognostication 
By Jeffrey Thomson

I have not written about my son’s future,
not yet.  How he will read and reread 

the Audubon Field Guide and memorize each bird, 
how he will wander off under dappled light 

and return home in a squad car.  Not because 
I can’t imagine the way he will carefully 

hold his hand above his heart after he has unfurled 
the skin from his meaty thumb, or how he will rip apart 

a frog hind legs to jaw and how he will feel after.   
I have not talked about the day he will wrap

his friend’s car around a tree and somehow 
walk away, leaving the scene limping 

home to sleep in bloody sheets.   
Not out of fear, though this genealogy hints at it.   

This reticence is caution not reprimand – 
what can he learn, anyway, from such a history?   

That day will still come when he opens his palm 
above a flame and smells himself burning.   

Perhaps, by then his father will be brave enough 
to let him have his own life, but I will not say, 

be comforted, for comfort comes at a price.   
And I will not talk about what comes next: 

a girl, a kiss, a field of grass.  His thin heart 
tearing as she leaves.  That part of the story 

is all anyone wants, denouement 
and then the singing, operatic camerawork 

pulling back to reveal his loneliness in the grass, 
blue herons stalking through a salt marsh at sunset, 

ten glaucous gulls and a black back on the gables 
of the paintworks riding out the storm.

Poem copyright ©2019 by Jeffrey Thomson. Reprinted from Half Life (Alice James Books, 2019).