—After Liu Tsung-YuanUsed to be, my fingers were newsprinted with toner.
How smiley I was, how happy to help. But they’ve taken
away my nametag. Pushed me past the happy glass
of KINKO’S and into this new world. Oodles of time now
to roam free by bus, size up the sidewalks. Happy
go lucky as any landlocked youth could be. Sunrise finds me
still asleep, copying and collating my colored paper
dreams, and each happy night I try not to consider myself
in the yellow light reflected on my side of the bus window.
Cleaning ladies nod like fat chickens, their feet happy
to be up on the seats behind me. No one out here making
or even begging for change can say I’m not happy
as a clam as I drift all day long under my gray
shell of a sky. I say this, happily, to no one but me.
Horn of Plenty
Like this paper horn of flowers tipped
across an arm. I’m jostled, poked
with it—it’s how happiness happens
here in the subway. Asters to zinnias
and violets, deep oranges, crennelated
yellow and cream, the faint brushwork
of babies breath, miscellaneous greens
and I’m off now, past the turnstile,
the stairs, and into Astoria. How’s this
cornucopia work? One thing plus
another, and repeat. Say, a boy in a red
suit with a birdcage on one side,
a cat on the other. Like the boy is
blond, the suit too short—and what’s
in the cage, where’d that cat go?
But that’s Goya. Try Gershwin. This is
Steinway Street. Let’s say everything
green. These ladies’ saris, mint green,
sunlit against the black-green, deckled
green hedge. High in the tea-green trees
each green nest awaits a green bird.
Or like the coffee klatch of sparrows
outside my window. Each morning
they file this reminder: you’re human,
you’re human. And everything else
I can’t shoehorn in here, piled up like
the fish, pale pink and dark pink,
stacked row upon row in this
fishmonger’s ice, beneath the swirly
frothy cherry blossoms. I’d let it go
almost, I would, almost all of it now
to have what’s next, right here, what just
makes it into my eye—that flicker, this
watery light, that bit of distant tinsel
the magpie drops everything for.
Like It’s Going Out of Style
He played hard to get. She played
harder. He stuffed ten pounds of shit
in a five-pound sack, but she wasn’t impressed.
She had her ducks in a row. He wore
a lot of different hats. She wanted to get down
to the nitty gritty, but he preferred brass tacks.
The trouble was no bee in her bonnet, no bug
up his ass. What might have been love
was a wolf content to wear wolf’s clothing.
The trouble with trying to think
outside the box, she said, is first getting in.
Old hat, Lord knows, but it fit like
a glove. They were two birds
trying to get hit with the same stone.
Matthew Thorburn’s first book is Subject to Change (New Issues, 2004). His poems have also appeared recently or are forthcoming in The Paris Review, Pool and Poetry Northwest. This year he’s reading 100 books of poems at