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About this Poem 

“‘These Days’ is part of a book-length poem called The Trees The Way The Light that takes place over the course of a year, from one spring to the next, and is addressed to a child lost in a miscarriage. Trying to figure out how to grieve for someone I loved but never really knew, had never met or seen, I found myself thinking of other losses, other deaths, and the different ways we remember and forget. But I also thought about those who survive, who in the end have no choice but to go back and catch the next flight, and then I began to describe to my imagined daughter what life is like.” 

—Matthew Thorburn

These Days

The amazing thing is not
that geese can get sucked
into an Airbus engine
and cause it to conk out
or that a pilot can tell air
traffic control, “There’s only
one thing I can do,”
then take a deep breath
and do it—ditch
in the Hudson with a buck
and whine, then walk
the aisle as the plane fills
with water to make sure
everyone’s gotten out—
but that afterwards

many who weren’t hurt
in a lifelong way, only
shaken, scratched, no doubt
in shock, had nothing else
to do, finally, except take a bus
back to LaGuardia and
catch another plane home.
Amazing too how
before long people stop
talking about it, they move on
and eventually need
an extra beat to recognize

that camera-shy pilot
when he appears—retired
now, somehow smaller
now, no longer shy—
as an air travel expert
(“Sometimes carry-ons
just shouldn’t be
carried on”) on the nightly
news and connect
his name to what he did
that day, probably—
let’s face it—because
no one died.
Though most stories
don’t end

like that. In Shanxi
Province, the BBC told me
late last night when
I should’ve been asleep
instead of sitting in the dark,
twenty-four workers—
all men, they said, and some
much older than
I would’ve imagined—
were trapped
in a mile-deep mineshaft
deemed too dangerous now
for a rescue, though
apparently it was safe
enough to work in. Shovel
clang and gravel rumble
turned to echoing

silence. Eventually
the company execs
sent down a slender
silver robot with tank
treads, tiny pincer hands,
a camera for a face,
but all it found—how long
it looked, they didn’t
say—was a single miner’s
helmet, dented
and dusty, its frail light
still burning.


Copyright @ 2014 by Matthew Thorburn. Used with permission of the author.

Copyright @ 2014 by Matthew Thorburn. Used with permission of the author.

Matthew Thorburn

Matthew Thorburn

Matthew Thorburn is the author of Dear Almost (Louisiana State University Press, 2016). He lives in New York City.

by this poet

Old Schmidt clacks
two sticks to tell
his sheep it’s time for bed
he smells like a barn

Mother says blue overalls
always muddy always
something filthy
in his hands a hoe or rake

a snake a dead bird
a wiry dog trots alongside
dirty as he is
tin bell around its neck

so weird familiar music
comes drifting back

Dusk in August—
which means nearly
nine o’clock here, deep
in the heart of central
Jersey—and the deer
step out to graze
the backyards. They tear
each yellowy red
tulip cup, munch up
and azaleas. Fifty
years of new houses
have eaten into

Everything is made of shapes
made of loops and lines
Mother said and
my life began to unravel

the string of the world
running out of my pencil
she taught me to hold on
fingers’ pressure

against wood could blur
lead to shadow show
the slow darkening
a candle’s flicker making

strange angles of her face
she said