~ John of Damascus, 8th C ~
Yet another uncanny literary coincidence played itself out last month when I was looking through my old notebooks to see what inspiration I might find there. I came across a letter I had saved from my undergrad (1975 - 1979) professor Jim Barnes (who is now Poet Laureate of Oklahoma). In this note from 2003, he mentions the retirement of Jim Thomas, another professor and poet from those years at Northeast Missouri State (now called Truman State) University. I had not remained in contact with Jim T. as I had with Jim B. However, seeing this reference to him prompted me to google his name for current information, something I could have done--but had not--anytime during the past decade. I entered "Jim Thomas American Poet Missouri," and surprisingly / coincidentally, the first entry to appear was "Native American Authors: Jim Barnes" -- the other Jim!
So I omitted "American" and tried again with "Jim Thomas Poet Missouri." This search yielded a recent article (January 2009) by Missouri Poet Laureate Walter Bargen, commenting on the work of writers from around the state and featuring a poem by Jim Thomas entitled "Three - Dollar Bill." It was a delight to read, but even as I was savoring the exuberance of Jim's poetry and the rush of re-connection with my days in his classroom, my eye caught the lone reader comment, informing of Jim's death in late February, just a month after the article had been written, just 6 days previous to my taking the time to look him up on the internet.
First, I felt dismay at the irony of rediscovering his work only to find him gone from this world. Then I realized, No, it's because he died that I thought of him; that's how this Universe works sometimes.
"Three - Dollar Bill" is vintage Jim Thomas, a portrait of the artist as a second - grader, in which he recalls one of those early moments when it was revealed to him that his way of being in the world might not be quite the same as his classmates. My favorite, however, has always been the "The Quilt": " . . . new with recent patches / and old with originals . . . it doesn't look like much till you / Stand off to one side and squint."
by Jim Thomas
I spread it out again, noticing
the dominant pattern of killing
black, the warm juicy reds,
and all those other shades that tend
to trail off into gray:
hawks view of fields.
The ladies stitch the blocks together,
quilting away, their murmuring
filling the back porch
or church basement, biting thread
and tying off tufts.
My quilt is new with recent patches
and old with originals; it keeps
me warm, except where the holes are;
it doesn't look like much till you
stand off to one side and squint."
by Jim Barnes
touching four winds.
down on quickened stones,
and from the east
a distant roll of thunder.
Little Crosby Church, Merseyside, England