Poems by Jon Thompson, NCSU English Faculty
market photo

Black Market

Tokyo 1946

In the burned-out open-air square

there are no stalls animals cars or banners

only thousands of men some still in uniform some in partial uniforms

some in topcoats and fedoras some in Chinese coats looking

for something that can’t be found

the disaster evident in the piles of valuables spread on blankets

the man-clusters drift slowly

into new clusters

everyone is looking down

the catastrophe has already

happened this is the post-apocalypse all the odd jumble

of the past the detritus of former lives is struggling

to be reborn in the buying and selling

from far off a man squats on his haunches

inspecting a book & elsewhere

a tall man in black is refusing a sale

further back a white-hot light is boiling overhead

everyone is becoming less and less

they are fading

not even becoming a negative of themselves

and under that light

the buildings are dissolving

the unnatural musical light is breaking

in waves

over a future which is unaware



Writing History


If everything becomes everything else

if every event touches every other event

creates it reverberates through and beyond it

then nothing is inconsequential and history

is both what we are and what we are becoming

a continuous making and unmaking a story of unspeakable

intimacy and unspeakable loss here is a photograph

of winter and dusk and train tracks

and a grimy factory woman who is trying to make her way home

someone who has passed out of one history

into another where the blanks are unfillable

we know so little but on that

we base everything

& the photographer who is about to take her photograph

he does not know her

does not know her reasons his own this man who became

the photograph I now hold in my hand how

the blanks & spaces fill the years

how much the body the tired body

the photographed body the figurative body

depends upon them

the spaces that loom larger longer wider

what was it you saw when you glanced up at him

that man who lived in a world which still thought

the world was all in the things you could see


Double Exposure


In the aftermath nothing is impossible

nothing unthinkable

when the imagination redefines the borders

the countries cannot be found on maps

and people live between what they were

and what they imagine themselves to be

or between what they are

and what they are imagined to be

the high-school student wearing a Japanese army cap

and a cast-off white technician’s coat

is busy rummaging through the Signal Corp’s trash-filled oil drums

when he turns to find himself remade

in a book in which he will always be a scavenger

here his eyes can never smolder and they don’t

as they flicker over the face of the foreigner

who half-immortalizes him

he knows he is just in time to witness the art

by which he becomes the eater of trash

the user of refuse one of the lucky ones

and his only response is the leaden impassivity of his face

this accident he knows

but he is unaware of the accident of double exposure

whereby suddenly he is standing in a radiant field

that stretches for days

to reach some steeply-wooded mountains

ceremonially-banded by huge swaths of flowing white sheets

rivers of them flowing up and down and across the mountain slopes

 a ritual by which the land is shrouded

fir that which cannot be atoned


Dr. Thompson edits the online poetry journal Free Verse.