Daniel Bourne

The Old Thoughts
March 14, 2019 Bourne Daniel

The Old Thoughts

All the new thinking is about loss.
In this it resembles all the old thinking.
—Robert Hass, “Meditations at Lagunitas”

I: Wynoose

Immersed, called forth—

In the mind’s dark room, the solutions of black and white

are always as toxic as lead. The slop and wash

of forced memory. The binaries of life and death.

“In everybody’s house,” I once said.

But it was the particular that came to live in our home, peephole

through which I could see the overworked ghosts of my mother and father
clean up the one vacant room. Each dream

so mundane
it was a nightmare to describe it.

II: Vermillion County

The drive north past the Vermillion Grove Coal Mine, its roof cutting through

the most ancient swamp on earth, isobars
of ferns, or their first precursors, Jurassic scrimshaw

beautiful as lilies.
Danny, you sketched this all down, subtle

language of charcoal, its vowels
like feathers. A few miles ahead,
your mother was dying, deep inside her

the collapse of tunnels, household gods
still tangled in vines.

III: The Chowders

It was 1938. Aunt Winnie swung by her brothers

as the airplane came down in the field, Ira and John
performing black face on the wagon. Our piano

hauled into Carson’s Woods. The soup itself
stirred by old men who, even in 1938, knew they were old.

Their gestures smeared and erased

before they vanished into the hickory and oak.

IV: After Lascaux

The first cave paintings
were of grief. Because the ox with wild horns was not pierced

many children were abandoned, though the last glimpse of them
always saw them walking. With such carnivores around
few lasted

long enough to starve. In the same way we daub children
with the magic of school colors
to keep them safe from strangers.

V: Route One Towards Ridge Farm, from Danville or Paris

“Water tower to the east
near the house of your mother, and to the west
the grain elevator
like a cathedral

of corrugated tin. The sheer mass

of crop, transubstantiation
of salvage.

O Tiny Burg


lifting up like a battlement, the Illinois corn
laying siege.”

This was the poem you wrote, provision for your journey,

a mere immigrant, so naïve. Think of the first men

entering the valleys
beyond their first tribe. The dead words
even then

they carried on their backs.
“Why don’t you move on?” my old professor said. “Who cares

about the old thoughts in Illinois?”

Daniel Bourne’s books of poetry include The Household Gods (Cleveland State University Press, 1995), Where No One Spoke the Language (CustomWords, 2006) and a collection of translations of the Polish political poet Tomasz Jastrun, On the Crossroads of Asia and Europe (Salmon Run, 1999). He teaches in the English Department and Environmental Studies at the College of Wooster, where he edits Artful Dodge. His many trips to Poland include a graduate fellowship between Indiana University and Warsaw University in 1982-83 and a Fulbright fellowship in 1985-87 for the translation of younger Polish poets. His poems have appeared in such journals as Plume, Ploughshares, FIELD, Guernica, American Poetry Review, Prairie Schooner, Shenandoah, Salmagundi, Tar River Poetry and Cimarron Review. His translations of other Polish poets such as Bronisław Maj and Zbigniew Machej appear in FIELD, Boulevard, Mid-American Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, and elsewhere. In July 2013, Plume printed as its Special Feature his translations of another Polish poet, “The Angel’s Share: Six Poems by Krzysztof Kuczkowski.” Finally, “Agitprop” and “To the Feral Cats of Vilnius,” two of Bourne’s poems from his collection Where No One Spoke the Language and originally appearing in Salmagundi, will be re-printed in a special issue celebrating that journal’s 50th anniversary in the coming year.