Robert Thomas

Robert Thomas, Photo by John F. Martin

Robert Thomas’ first book, Door to Door, was selected by Yusef Komunyakaa for the Poets Out Loud Prize and published by Fordham University Press, and his second book, Dragging the Lake, was published by Carnegie Mellon University. He is completing a third book, The Garnet Hall, a book-length dramatic dialogue in 16th Century Rome between the painter Raphael and his model and beloved, Margherita.

He has received a poetry fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and a Pushcart Prize, and his poems have appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, The Paris Review, The Southern Review, and many other journals. He lives with his wife, Cheryl, in Oakland, California.

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Take your time. No one takes time
like you do: a week for each layer
of glaze to dry, and a dozen layers

for my zinc white skin. All to slow
the penetration of the light, a knife
piercing a holy book, leaf by leaf,

until it finds the gold binding. Mix
your medium with care, Raffaello,
your resin and rose and turpentine,

before you try my formal dishabille.
To love you is like loving God: yes,
that impossible. You have a small

talent: of course you can’t resist
the challenge: capture the light
of the cosmos in nothing but

a curtain knob’s reflection, our story
in the quiet convulsions of a sleeve.
Why would those with talent for love

have less desire to show our prowess?
I tack into the storm, the cathedral
of water, gargoyles who mock me:

You thought you could love God?
What was it about Him you liked?
His money? His omnivorous eyes?

The miracle He did just for you:
your child sold off like a wedge
of cheese, a chair, a pair of shoes?

Why the obsession, Raffaello?
The Madonna of the Goldfinch,
Madonna of the Ship, Madonna

of the Rose Hips, of the Scissors,
the Glacier, the Frame, the Claw.
So you missed your mama, is that

an explanation? So many reasons,
logic like a clock, drip … drip …
so many liquids all making such

a mess. Admit it: you were jealous.
That bambino’s enjoyment of me
was inhuman, a badger scraping clean

a honeycomb, the hissing bliss of lava
as it kisses the sea, just like any child
with its mother. Nothing as beautiful,

as complete, as a temple in ruins,
the inscription in my flesh deep,
illegible. It could mean anything.

(First published in The Southampton Review)


Snow dies, amore, when it falls on the gilded ribs
of the duomo. Bread dies, milk dies, geometry dies.
Do you know the properties of milk,
its temperature, its silences, its ecstasy?
Its iron and zinc—so like your paints.
The wet nurse’s child cries while her mother
sells her own milk to the monsignor’s mistress
for a baby in a black fur collar.
Do you know how money dies? Florins
stagger and fall from the plague
on the road to a shrine of peacocks.
I’ve seen it happen. Someone buried all the candles
in the river along with church bells,
the small kind that acolytes ring
to tally miracles. Water into wine:
the kind of hackwork Jesus hated. The real
miracle is pain into pleasure. Stand
in the kitchen with a bowl of eggs,
a posset of cock’s spur, salt, towel,
knife. Now, make a life. Now,
give it away. Cut it. Now. Cut it.
Where did my arrow fly? Naught by nix.
What do I do with my hands now?
Bury the boar’s hair, so much softer
than you imagine, in a quincunx of apples.
Row all the way to the Aegean, the night tray
of white persimmons, where the dark
darkens itself. You always blush
when I talk like that. Under the arbor,
the blue grid of shadows. Under the blue grid,
the vortex of saints. Inside the vortex,
the fish with teeth, small and heretical
as the fetish of diamonds on my breast.
I can feel his breath, hot as holy water
warmed all afternoon in my white font.

(First published in Gulf Coast)

Poetry in this post: © Robert Thomas
Photo by John F. Martin
Published with the permission of Robert Thomas