Today’s poem is “Bittersweet” by Jim Glenn Thatcher. He’s a high school drop-out with a BA in History, extensive graduate work in Modern Intellectual History, and an MFA in Creative Writing. He grew up in the only house on a dirt road in the Adirondacks, spending most of his time in what he later came to call “books, woods, and the mind.” Jim is the author of the chapbook The Ur-Word and the full-length collection Lesser Eternities. He currently teaches English at Southern Maine Community College Midcoast.
He writes, “‘Bittersweet’ is a poem that can be called a “true story”…. I still pick up little odd jobs out in the woods to support my adjunct pay. This one was about ten years ago, and all the details in it are true—the car, the weather, the woods, the job, and the little book of Li Po and Tu Fu poems in the car door pocket getting stained and warped by a leaky window. The car has long since been replaced, but Li Po and Tu Fu are now in their ‘new’ car door pocket—dry, but still stained and warped. I honor them for that…”
by Jim Glenn Thatcher
Fog and rain. October leaves
luminescent: red, orange and yellow
in the wet grey air. I’ve been on my job
in the woods, clearing Asian bittersweet,
week after week—hacking, snipping,
sawing, pulling it up by the roots,
and I’ve just given up for this day,
had enough, and come back to my car.
I’m wet, and so are Li Po and Tu Fu,
right here beside me as always,
uncomplaining, enduring it all
in Taoist silence. We have known
many rains together; me driving,
they resting here in the car door pocket,
their pages long since stained and warped—
as befits the millennium between us—
by window-leaking weather.
Poems luminous as these wet autumn leaves
written by two friends wandering
great distances apart—messages that
each knew the other might never see,
in a country fragmented by war,
drought, fire and famine—its factions
entangling; strangling each other
like these vines I’ve been battling,
which came here from there—all these
centuries later—to overwhelm oaks,
pull down these pines, give me this work,
this bittersweet metaphor—these two poets
drifting down the endless river of time
through ages no less tragic than their own
into these wet woods, this old car—
their words still seeking each other,
their lives flowing into mine.
Poem copyright © 2017 Jim Glenn Thatcher. Reprinted from Lesser Eternities, Deerbrook Editions, 2017, by permission of Jim Glenn Thatcher.