Susan Thomas

Voice of the Empty Notebook

Poems from Voice of the Empty Notebook:

The Empty Notebook and Denial

The empty notebook is
terrified of coffee rings,
which remind it of mortality.
Likewise the smell of burnt toast,
the sound of anything being torn.
The empty notebook obsesses
over rocks, scissors, fire.
The empty notebook practices
denial, seeks relative safety in
the shelf’s monastic life. It strips
down to essentials: coffee cup,
pencil, cough drop. It yearns
to slam itself open to tango, samba
paso doble, cha-cha-cha. When
a baritone sax plays salsa dura,
it writhes and breaks its bindings.

The Empty Notebook Interrogates Itself

The empty notebook wonders
about existence. It wants to
know how blank space can fill
a void, how emptiness can be
a burden. When a page detaches
itself, the empty notebook feels
pain ruffle its edges. The empty
notebook thinks emptiness contains
something more than nothing, but
is filled with possibility, with longing,
with the urge to start from scratch.

A Mystery, or How the Empty Notebook Lost its Freedom
The empty notebook finds writing in its margins.
Where does the writing come from? What does it say?
The empty notebook calls a meeting with advisors;
hand-writing expert, private detective, secret agents ─
all agree the message in the margin says BEWARE.
A left-handed intruder of foreign extraction wrote in
blue ballpoint pen of recent design. But no one can tell
the empty notebook how the writer got in, when it
would strike again, what the empty notebook should
beware of. The empty notebook lines up all the ballpoint
pens, strips them, wires them and questions them for hours.
It wraps itself in layers of plastic, seals itself with rolls
of duct tape. Who can write in the empty notebook now?

The Empty Notebook in Prison

Dogs are barking.
The empty notebook flinches,
stripped of its cover, stacked
on a pile, wired and heated,
hoodwinked and prodded,
it hears screams with flickers
of laughter. A smirk rounds
the corner and raps on the bars
with an automatic weapon.
Fizzle and crack of electroshock
static rakes the frail air
while sweet rot staunches
the empty notebook’s resolve
to quench empty questions
with meaningless answers.
Time to take notes. Time to spill
guts. Time for the tearing of fresh
spiral bindings. The empty notebook
quivers in its pile of notebooks,
trying to stay hidden, trying to stay
blank. Bared teeth. The empty
notebook lets go of its margins,
insists on beginning again.

Advice from the Empty Notebook

Never be the empty notebook.
Never flutter on the line, lifeless
in a back lot like laundry, not like
a starling strangled in the branches.
Never be erasable, never blink,
never stare soulless out of bloodshot
sockets at grackles perching on
fence posts, cackling over the
muddy gutters. Don’t sing about
not knowing, not seeing. Never
unlearn the whistling spark that
shreds the air to splatter the cosmos.
The point of saying vanishes.
It mistakes itself for vision, but
don’t believe it for a minute. Pretend
a durable satisfaction. Pretend it will
not break. Pretend you do not fester;
are not pokeweed, or a pincushion.
Not intergalactic dust. Not a dying star.
Pretend you are not a black hole.

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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