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
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
broke away from the glowing orange, bobbed through the dark,
came toward me. When it reached the clearing, I saw
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
into my hand.
I took his burning branch.
Then he ran away. All around me now
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.