The High Window’s Featured American Poet, Spring 2020: Thomas Lynch

Thomas Lynch is the author of five books of essays, a book of short fictions and five books of poetry. The Depositions, his new and selected essays, was published by W.W. Norton late in 2019.  The Bone Rosary, his new and selected poems, is forthcoming from David R. Godine.  His current projects include a book of poems and stories for children, a long fiction and a book of essays.  His work is published in eight languages and has been broadcast by BBC Radio, NPR and RTE in Ireland.  He has read and lectured across the United States, the UK, Ireland and Australia.  He is the recipient of the American Book Award, The Heartland Prize for Nonfiction, The Denise Levertov Award, The Great Lakes Book Award, Michigan Authors Award and was a finalist for the National Book Award.

Thomas Lynch’s work has been the subject of two film documentaries. PBS Frontline’s The Undertaking, aired nationwide in 2007 and won the 2008 Emmy Award for Arts and Culture Documentary. Cathal Black’s film, Learning Gravity, produced for the BBC, was featured at the 2008 Telluride Film Festival and the 6th Traverse City Film Festival in 2009 where it was awarded the Michigan Prize by Michael Moore. He has taught with the Department of Mortuary Science at Wayne State University in Detroit, with the graduate program in writing at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and with the Candler School of Theology, Emory University, Atlanta, GA. He is a charter member of the faculty of the Bear River Writers’ Conference at Walloon Lake in Michigan.

His essays, poems and stories have appeared in The Atlantic and GrantaThe New York Times and Times of LondonThe New Yorker, Poetry, Harpers, The Paris Review and elsewhere. He keeps home on Mullett Lake and in Milford, Michigan, where he has been the funeral director since 1974, and in Moveen, Co. Clare, Ireland, where he keeps an ancestral home and has spent a portion of every year since 1970.


Thomas Lynch: Six Poems


Engraving by James Newton after Charles Reuben Ryley, 1795
with gratitude for Heaney’s ‘Miracle’ in HUMAN CHAIN
Mark 2:1-12 KJV

The graver’s title tells it in reverse.
So, which the greater miracle, we’re asked,
to cleanse the soul or cure paralysis?
The mercy hidden or made manifest?
The King James version has forgiveness first,
the sins’ remission quite invisible,
and then, to quiet the Scribes and Pharisees:
Arise! he says, Take up your bed and walk,
wherefore begrudgers and their begrudging talk
of blasphemy and sacrilege are hushed.
The palsied man stands up and saunters off,
bedroll and ropes gathered under his arm.
Behold, we never saw a thing like that!
The savior’s plain on this: it’s faith that saves.
The boyos on the roof, like pallbearers
delivered of their corpse and coffin straps,
their thankless jobs, all heft and heave and lift,
done for yet another day, so they begin,
taking up their shovels, sods and tiles,
to mend the mess they’ve made of it again.


Always I want to remember you, sunlit,
in Fishguard. We’re dining in the golden air;
your day long walk round the seafront, roseate
in your aspect. You have braided your hair.
The sun reposing over your shoulder,
gilding twin glistening flutes of Prosecco —
one emptied, one, still sparkling, to go.
And the toothy beauty of you smiling,
smiling as if there is no tomorrow,
nor ever an instant before here and now,
seems a consecration of the elements,
an undeserved grace, the real presence.
Always I want to hold on to this moment.
Behold, my dear, the moment’s hold on me.


No ideas but in things, I tell her
Dr. Williams tells us in a poem.
Say it: this is just to say those plums
in the fridge, a red wheelbarrow,
upon which so much does, indeed, depend—
the glaze of rainwater, the white chickens—
present, in their bland thingy-ness a key,
a cipher for the mystery of things.
And here’s something: she walks out to the sea,
returning with the wildflowers picked
on the anniversary of her mother’s death
now sixteen Junes ago, and how her father kept
a paper bag full of dusty tubers
saved for his daughter, small consolations—
her mother’s irises; now grown beyond her care.
It is a thing with her. She sows them everywhere.


This standing stillness among ruminants
inclines towards contemplations, perfectly
indifferent to a day’s contingencies—
news of the world, some word on the weather—
and as for speaking to one another,
only in so far as communicants
extend their tongues, agape for Eucharist,
we yawn along a day’s communion rail,
this presence, whether virtual or real,
we hunger after such companionships.
And so, my piebald asses, lolling, move
in their haphazard unison as if
the hedge and greensward were their common table;
the silence hums a sort of reverence
for being and creation and the life
insouciant, still, mindlessly alive.


He reckoned she’d likely go for the busker
in Shop Street off Eyre Square with the top knot and sax—
a wastrel with waifish, world-weary good looks
he’d curl into a grin singing harmony with
the darkly fetching lead singer. She liked him too.
He imagined her making for the road with them,
maybe doing percussions and back-up vocals,
city to city across the globe, the object
of their conjoined desires, Wendy to their lost boys,
a woman with lovers and cool allure,
such mysterious beauty to her being that
years after they’d still be whispering of it,
her lurid journals eventually published
in dozens of languages, all of them gold.



So, sixty-three percent of white men spent
their franchise on a fellow like themselves
who hadn’t a chance and only ran because
the system’s rigged against us; the likes of us
can’t get a break, what with the immigrants,
dishonest media and welfare cheats.
We want it back the way it was before
Fake news, the Feminazis and the queers,
Before the Kenyan anti-Christ. Eight years
Of hope and change? Enough’s enough.
Eight years of step and fetching to a tune
called by a Muslim’s quite enough, thank you;
what we need now’s some relief, we want it told
just like it is. Enough P.C. We want a wall.
We’re not about to chance it on some broad,
Some bitch who thinks she’s smarter than us all.
Don’t get us wrong, we’re all for ladies, just
not this one, not now, maybe next time, maybe
not. Let’s Make America Great Again.
Old white guys got us this far after all.


And Christian evangelicals turned out –
Some eighty one percent of them for Trump
because their lord and savior Jesus Christ
was crucified to save old billionaires
from political correctness and the poor
who should have made a seed faith offering
or said more prayers or spoke in tongues and who
ought not be given fish but taught to fish
what’s more they should be extremely vetted,
banned and banished if they’re here illegally.
Did you hear the one about the two Corinthians
who walk into a bar to have a beer?
The barkeep says, we don’t serve your kind here.
We only cater to real Americans
Y’know God fearing, good news gospel sorts
foot soldiers in the war on Christmas, true
believers, belongers, triumphalists,
no migrants, Mexicans or Syrians
unless they’re on the lam from Bethlehem.
God’s on our side. We’re wholly innocent.


Some fifty-three percent of white women
cast what votes they cast for that vile man
because Benghazi or deleted emails
or else because the lesser of evils,
what makes her think a woman ever can
be leader of the free world? Get a clue.
It’s better to leave well enough alone.
They all turned out to march on Washington
with sister marches all across the globe
and held their higher ground and boldly strove
to say that women’s rights were human rights
and equal pay for equal work. Some might
have wondered why we hadn’t marched before;
why forty some percent forgot to vote.
But still, I thought, we’re all in this together
so donned my marching boots, dressed for the weather,
hoist up a sign that said, Come, tread with me,
then walked the dog up Temple Road, alone.
Some women go for guys who march with them,
Still, more with those who grab them by the pussy.


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