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Today’s poem is "Thomas" by Douglas W. Milliken. He is the author of two novels, To Sleep as Animals and Our Shadows’ Voice (forthcoming 2019), the collection Blue of the World, and several chapbooks, including The Opposite of Prayer. He lives within the acoustic roar of the spring-furious Saco River. 

He writes: “My partner, Genevieve, has spent most of her working life engaged in the various aspects of early childhood education. Her stories of all the different ways children learn to recognize the workings of their world have always kept me enthralled. Her stories of how they get things wrong, though, are the ones whose specters take unlawful residence in my late-at-night, unsleeping mind.”

by Douglas Milliken

It was easy coordinating the lies that allowed us 
to be where we were not allowed to be. The long dead woods 
behind the girls’ school spread out over the acres like an army 
of skeletons arranged in tidy rows, configurements of dead 

limbs clacking in the wind. No moon. The games we played 
were half Blind Man’s Bluff, half Lord of the Flies. Lots 
of blind groping, followed by punishment. It’s exciting, 
all the difference pain can make. A few of us got separated 

then I got separated more, 
pushing and falling through a tangle 
of grasping brush to find 
myself alone in a wide 

clearing. It wasn’t 
where I’d meant 
to be. In the dark, I couldn’t 
see where the trees ended 

and where the clearing began. But I could feel it. I knew 
where the boundaries lay. 
For a long time I heard nothing 
else but the dry 

creaking of the dead forest. 
Then I thought maybe 
I could see the shapes 
of trees 

and then I knew 
I could see them 
and see something else 
as well, something orange 

and made of light. Far off, 
I could hear my friends shouting. I stood back 
watching in the clearing, and in time a piece 
of light

broke away from the glowing orange, bobbed through the dark, 
came toward me. When it reached the clearing, I saw 
the glow
was Thomas. 

He was holding a branch aloft like a lacrosse stick 
on fire. I watched Thomas dart around, using his branch 
to set more branches glowing. There was orange behind me 
now, too. I could hear my friends shouting closer. Thomas saw me 

and stared, then found another branch
and lit it and trotted
it over 
into my hand. 

I took his burning branch. 
Then he ran away. All around me now 
was crackling 
and sparks 

and the howl of my friends 
throughout the skeleton wood. We’d planned for one thing 
and done something else. There was no going back. 
I used the branch to light my way. 

Poem copyright © 2019 Douglas Milliken.