Susan Thomas

The Empty Notebook Interrogates Itself

Poems from The Empty Notebook Interrogates Itself:

A Riddle

What is bound and gagged
and sits on the shelf
unless it has something to say?

The Empty Notebook and Code Alert

The empty notebook has nothing to say
about Iraq, or the murders in Rwanda,
the genocide in Darfur, the massacres
in Hebron and Haifa, the bombing
of Beirut. The empty notebook insists
its slate is clean. It changes its cover
to orange then red and back to yellow.
Terrified by rumors, it listens to bulletins
on the hour, receives intermittent briefings
from unreliable sources. How can it tell
where danger lies, in the street, in the air,
on the shelf? The empty notebook interrogates
a random sample of all who cross its path.
It avoids racial profiling, is responsible to no one.

The Empty Notebook Writes Pablo Neruda:

"Slacking Off"

It happens I am tired of being empty.
It happens I browse libraries and second-hand shops,
all blank and full of nothing, like a speck of dust
tumbling onto an ash heap in the rain.

The sound of running faucets makes me flinch.
I want something more than the sum of blank pages,
I want to feel no more empty spaces, no more eyeglasses
folded beside me, no more chewed and flung-away pencils.

It happens I am tired of my whiteness and my pale lines
and my suicidal margins and my screaming cover.
It happens I am tired of being empty.

Just the same it would be terrifying
to scribble notices with delicious adjectives
or blow away my blankness with just one poem.

It would be amazing
to flip through pages purple with ink,
singing until my story ended.

I do not want to go on being a hollow pocket
gaping, threadbare, dreaming of lint,
ripping my stitches with every palpitation,
absorbing perspiration and fingers, slacking off all day.

I do not want to be the container of emptiness.
I do not want to continue as chasm and trash,
as the fullness of nothingness, a bowl full of zeroes,
flaccid as ooze, sticky as stench.

For this reason the air around me heaves
tonight with electrical impulse, lightbulbs
flashing on and off with possible syllables,
and pencils shrieking in unison, eyeing my emptiness.

And it throws me into spasms, into bursts of echolalia,
into villanelles and metaphors that rattle my teeth
to form tropes and certain tercets
that hang from the ceiling.

There are letters of the alphabet and points of exclamation
hanging like cluster flies inside the window,
there are question marks like cockroaches,
there are empty parentheses
which should have held answers,
there are blank spaces everywhere, and commas and periods.

I slack off all day with nothing inside me, with empty lines
and empty spaces, empty margins.
I snuggle, I burrow into phonebooks and magazines made
of pubic hairs, fascia, tendons, epidermis shedding
boxes of sweat.

The Empty Notebook Writes William Carlos Williams:


Beyond the triple-glazed
windows steaming landfill

blocked by vinyl-backed curtains
orange, blue and fuchsia

flaming ball of setting sun
and on the laminated desktop

a Holiday Inn ballpoint,
never used, next to which

lie the terrified
pages of an empty notebook.

The Empty Notebook Writes Vasko Popa:


Only when the empty notebook felt
Its point scratching over a line
Did the curving trail of blue
Explain the process
And the notebook regretted
That it had left the safety
Of the shelf's shelter
And had jumped recklessly
Onto the desk that day
Opening its pages to the savage air.

The Empty Notebook's Lost Memories

Before the shelf: a paper bag -- the stick
and sheen of other notebooks? Or was it
Paris -- an African tango palace, ebony
women pressed against yellow-suited men,
the heat of lunging bodies? Or was there
a dim bedroom in Washington Heights,
a man singing a thousand-year-old lullaby,
with no words, no hope? Maybe there was
a forest -- waving shadows, drizzle, shriek
and murmur of wind, birdsong, scent
of moss, humus, pine sap. Yearly cycle:
bud/​flower/​leaf/​drop. The sun's arc
beyond branches, moon's sweep in
tree-tops. Hum of life before the fall.

A Joke

A rabbi, a priest and the empty notebook
are flying over the ocean. The pilot's voice comes
over the intercom, "We've lost our engines,"
the pilot says, "The plane is going down."
The rabbi says the Shma.
The priest recites the Twenty-third Psalm.
But the empty notebook folds itself
into a paper plane and flies itself to Paris.

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Selected Works

Short Story Collection
The characters in Among Angelic Orders are harassed by the distant and not-so-distant past, by the future, by this world and the next. They live their lives in a state of ambivalence, longing for something they have lost, while hanging on desperately to what they have. The tone of the collection is funny, sad, loving, sarcastic. These are stories of mischief, yearning, confusion, loss and the random nature of mercy that defines our human condition.
"Quick, open these pages and meet The Empty Notebook-the enduring nothingness out of which all is generated, the negative capability on which artists thrive, ecstatic world-wanderer, canny literary imitator, driven self-obsessive-as vivaciously, and audaciously, imagined by Susan Thomas. Pleasures await." .
-Jeanne Marie Beaumont
Incredibly original... by turns ironic, tragic, comic... paradoxical gusto of pathos
-Richard Jackson
Full of meaty poems and wry surprises... Thomas’ reach is broad and daring.
-Maxine Kumin
This delightful—and long overdue—collection shows Susan Thomas at her delicious best.
-Jane Shore
Poems in translation
“The major portion of this ambitious translation is devoted to Pascoli’s revisionist version of Homer’s epic; in it Odysseus does not return home, slay the suitors and embrace his wife. Instead, he falls into a deep sleep, sails past Ithaka and is forced to revisit his former route, complete with heart-stopping adventures and profound grief. The narration is deft, elegiac, and intensely lyrical, making this book a pleasure to read.” .
-Maxine Kumin