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In the Sadness Museum (Fomite Press, 2017)

"Thomas' 'Museum' is not a place where sadness can be safely contemplated from an aesthetic distance. Her museum's doors are wide open. In poem after risky poem, with humor, flare, and compassion, she pits the power of redemptive art against the ills and evils of the world."


-Phillip Fried, Editor of Manhattan Review

In the Sadness Museum


We found the Saltines laughable,

the broken car door handle merely

inconvenient, the single earring

nostalgic. The curators tell us boxes

are intrinsically sad, but I always

find them exciting, containing a whiff

of something you always wished for.

I promised to send some artifacts

of my own sadness—my grandmother's

teeth, a wedding ring from a failed

marriage, the farewell note of a runaway

child, but then I thought perhaps they'd

prefer something exotic, like maybe

my friend's prosthetic arm that sticks

to the steering wheel whenever the weather

turns cold. I thought maybe they'd like

the 1949 Fleck Broiler that shorted out

my aunt's pacemaker. I wish I could send

them the flower bed, full of condoms

and cigarette butts, planted twenty years

ago by the owner of a now-defunct café

on 71st Street, which still sends up crocus

and daffodils every spring, but maybe I

should save that for the Museum of Hope

or the Survival Museum. Should I send

my rejection slips or the baby teeth I

collected before my children found my

stash, losing faith in both the tooth fairy

and me at the very same moment? Maybe

I could send them my favorite doll, headless

now, but how could I throw her away? Do

they want my son's favorite stretchsuit,

striped terrycloth, the knees worn out,

a vestigial elephant appliquéd on one side?

He's grown now with a child of his own,

but still I pine for the baby that filled

the suit. And of course, at last, there's

the artifact, me, so differently put together

than the original, so sadly asthmatic, itchy,

gray and puffy-eyed, so lumpy, weak-kneed,

often exhausted. And yet, still trying so hard

to be something I once imagined, so not really

hitting the mark, an odd little bundle of nerves

and enthusiasm, still idiotically hopeful, never

sad, never sad, but sometimes on the brink.



Now and Then


A paper lamp shaped like the moon

swings in a draft from the ceiling

and throws shadows across

the living room wall. Once

a small piano played forgotten

jazz when my father came home

late at night. Stars fall from the sky,

their bodies on fire, their tails

forgetting who they belonged to.

I laughed today but forgot

what I laughed at, like a dark

star whose life has imploded,

like a ruined piano whose keys

still remember chords played by

a hand that is no longer heard,

or a shadow still dancing in

a house that has fallen, house

and shadow remember that dance.



End of Summer, 72nd Street 

Sweat pours down the gutters, 
    the sidewalks spark and prickle -- 
        on the corner 
at a fruit stand, 
    plums burst from their skins, 
        and uptown, someone we 
love is dying.  The crosstown bus sobs  

    under our window, passengers  

        gasping in outside air, wringing  

it out like a filthy handkerchief, cross  

    streets as though  

        they're wading in grief. 


We cross the street too, skirting 

     shadows cast by tall buildings. 

        Inside the bank's dead air,  

I hug your arm to keep warm. Outside, 

    melons are exploding at the corner  

        fruit stand. Grapes let go of stems,  


drop at shoppers' feet, staring like eyeballs.  

    We buy rolls and fruit and pastry, stop  

        uptown at Barney Greengrass,  

for smoked fish our friend would eat if he  

    weren't dying. At his bedside we ask  

        him a question. He tries to answer,  


he says he knows the answer, he'd tell us  

    if he could, but he can't remember  

        the words.  


Back downtown, we stop to get  

    some dinner—the neighborhood  

        is exhausted in the sinking sun.  

Two guys with horns set up in front  

    of the deli and they're blowing 

        Harlem Nocturne all down the block. 


Sweet jazz slides under the doorways like  

    a westbound breeze from the river, heaves under  

        the asphalt, wrenches joy from the sidewalk. 

Passers-by throw coins in a hat, then dollars, then fivers. 

    Cement shudders with delight, with dancers, 

        with be-bop. The deli counterman comes out 

with seltzers and knishes, throws a dollar in the hat, 

    goes back inside, whistling. We put down our packages, 

        grab each other, jitterbug, shake the pavement up, 


streaming with laughter, trickling with sweat.