Put on your hiking books and grab your compass, magnifying glass, and shovel: this poem is taking you on an exploratory adventure. What the poem is tracking down is the manifold concepts in the word “under.” Some of the poem’s “unders” are recognizable: like “under the splay-handed palms,“ “under the coral’s forest of horn,” “under God.” Others the poet has invented: “under the tender humidity,” “under the ticking aloe,” “under stillness.” There’s a playfulness to the many “unders” we meet as we move through the poem; but there’s also an eerie sadness. That opening “under the catastrophic dark”: why does the poet see it as “catastrophic”? And later on, there’s the personal sadness of his wife’s “miscarried child.” Under(!) the poem’s influence, I feel I’m on a cosmic journey through everything under the stars and down into the under-world as well.
Under the catastrophic dark,
the comet splintering the sky
with its ancient grief,
under the splay-handed palms,
under drinks glowering dark in
globes of glass, under the tender
humidity, the phosphorescent surf,
under the calls of nightjars
chuckling up from the ground,
under the ticking aloe under the moon’s
absence, under, under, under.
Under the blinking stripes jets
write across the sky, under
stillness, the cabin pressure holding
steady, under the coned light
blanking out pages of gloss, under
the plunge of my love’s hair, under
her sadness and her eyes
startling as stars, under our lives,
the miscarried child left in the bowl,
underground, underwater, understory,
under the bougainvillea’s whorish musk,
under the coral’s forest of horn, under
God, undertow, underdog, under
everything there is a season,
under the absence of twilight,
under the beach’s grittle and bone,
under the words, startle, startle,
under the luxury of the table
so whitely laid, under
the candle’s light shaped
like a hanging blade, we tear
apart the body of the fish and leave
glistening ladders of bone.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Written by: Jeffrey Thomson
Jeffrey Thomson is the author of four books of poems, including Birdwatching in Wartime, winner of both the 2010 Maine Book Award and the 2011 ASLE Award in Environmental Creative Writing, and Renovation. Birdwatching in Wartime is currently being translated into Spanish and Russian. His translations of the Roman poet, Catullus, are forthcoming from Cambridge University Press. He teaches Creative Writing at the University of Maine, Farmington.