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  • Gravitational Field, and: Letter to a Son
  • Russell Thorburn (bio)

Gravitational Field

All the spring peepers back in the swamp singing, the moon this whole chord of bone, as if it knows what seventy years

sounds like—and another seven million— because I don’t, as I imagine John Lennon seventy: hair gray, slouching over his guitar.

Something about the moon tonight tells me he can wear a floppy Spaniard’s hat and walk down the grocery aisle

and be anyone he wants, an ex-Beatle who never died, May Pang beautiful as ever but fifty, watching him squeeze tomatoes.

His companion all these years who returned with him to New York, and in the dark of the Upper Midwest, these dreams

reassure me somehow about the good in the world, me, in my fifties, wanting that locomotive sound

of his chords, the guitars chopping sentences into this chill riding up my spine, and those peepers

like fists clenched won’t remain silent, in their chorus. Rain is coming but not yet, and if aliens descending

upon New York City were seen by John and May up on a 52nd Avenue roof, then that sentimental train [End Page 112]

that rocks your life can leave you staring up at the sky, without a job, and your pockets full of Lennon

give you an edge in your isolation, singing loud as you can with the peepers in their sexual frustration.

There is something grim about a large moon unburdening itself, though, for the hard truth is simple

to understand: a bullet from an assassin killed John Lennon, despite the soft shot Phil Spector emptied into the recording

studio roof—and those vodka-fueled vocals didn’t kill his career, for later, headphoned and deep into “#9 Dream,”

one of the most beautiful love songs ever made, May Pang whispering into the microphone “John,” he might have felt the gravitational field

altering, the earth below his feet shake a little, for he believed in woman—and would sing that song, as if believing in aliens, anything

to keep him alive until seventy, for his heart to cover the moon, and he would have returned for good to May. [End Page 113]

Letter to a Son

Your letter told how Mesopotamian crows collected on those bodies in the road whose names you knew, of whom you spoke as brothers. How they died in a Humvee. Now your dog tags, even buttons off your coat, lie here in this cemetery of things. Her farm dress buttons, too. Blue buttons gathered from my mother’s dress. The smell of the fabric returns, other parts of our life erased, but her pockets torn at the corners bulge again with a gardener’s shears, tomatoes, snapped off beans, and a spoon. As a child I saw her sad eyes full of them, his uniform taken out to the barn, where he parked his roadster during the war, and I crawled into the front seat, in and under the heavy tarpaulin. Crows flew brainy and tough throughout the barn, and I squawked back at them in their own indecent language. In my notebook, a pencil wielded like a gun, I fought for my father but he always remained this erasure, rubber shavings blown from the heavy page. A shadow of him left like his roadster Ford up on blocks, and after my father died never driven again. Its engine a black sorrow like the crows who flew through the barn, an engine of stillness except in my dreams, shifting through all those gears to grind uphill, imagining my father on the road, walking slowly behind me in the dust. Your Honda, son, sits in my Oakland driveway, the dice hanging from the mirror. When I drive it to the grocery downhill in rain, I stare into the rear view, hoping to catch a glimpse of you. Your last letter from Iraq hangs on my wall with other pages of your face, helmet on, eyes frightened in a way only someone like Diego Rivera could consider in his murals. An ordinary day drifts by and I sit in my chair, a part of all the machinery of death. These...


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pp. 112-115
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