Poetry for Emergencies: Iain S. Thomas at Daybreak

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Sometimes I wake in the middle of the night and I’m scared. It’s not often and I usually can get back to sleep. I’m lucky that way because people do suffer from insomnia and my waking is not like that. An overactive mind maybe, too many things bouncing around in there.

If I can’t coax myself back to sleep in 30 minutes or so, then I shuffle into the Tree House, which is behind my bedroom, and tuck in with a book.

I suppose the troubling part this time was a tragedy which befell friends who lost a child. Death is always a surprise, but unnatural death rattles the foundation. What do folks do in case of such trauma, an event unlike anything before? I picked up the Bible, skimming through topics and passages, with little relief.

A go-to for me has been poetry. I read the words of Iain S. Thomas as the sun came up, the room shifting from the small circle of my book light into rose-tinted shadows. An hour of reading Thomas at daybreak is restorative for the soul.

Poetry by booklight before dawn

Words as Paint on the Page

A word painter and philosopher, Thomas writes of loss and love, of solitude and sadness. The shape of his words are themselves an image on the page, a repetition of lines forming into the shape of a human set to dive: In me is a song that no one can silence. In me is a song that no one can silence. In me is a song that no one can silence. (Every Word You Cannot Say, p. 161)  The sentence is repeated in small font, shaped like artist lines into a diver.

Thomas writes that words are sounds that are spoken, just air. And, on the page they are manipulated into visual art and language art.

Certain words are in a different color. Pages have splotches and fingerprints, line drawings of a woman’s hair, a seashell. He will stretch one word across the page.

e                      x                      i                       s                      t

In lowercase because there’s more than us who exist, meanwhile on the same page only the words hurt and love are in red. One hurt, five loves. (p. 160)

Here are sample poems he shared online.  And he too worries about stupid things in the middle of the night. Though my friends’ loss is anything but stupid. I do know that the child’s name was beautiful that first time his mother said it.

Two Iain S. Thomas Poems

Every Word You Cannot Say by Iain S. Thomas, p. 10*

Every Word You Cannot Say, by Iain S. Thomas p. 20*

Modern verse or free verse can feel gimmicky or easy. But an hour with Thomas lifted me out of sadness; his writing brought me into the light. I worry for my friends, for those who suffer horrific and unimaginable loss. I worry that it could happen to me.

*These are samples online.

A Bonus Iain S. Thomas poem

Here is something that makes me happy.

I believe that there is a restaurant somewhere in

the universe that serves nothing but first meals

and last meals.

The first time you ate with the person you loved.

The first time you discovered you enjoyed something,

You always thought you’d hated, and the last time you ate

With someone, without knowing it was the last time.

Somewhere, you can stretch every moment into a

Kind of forever.

*Every Word I Cannot Say, page 66.

Poetry Heals

I don’t suppose we know it’s a last meal when it is a last meal. For first meals we have a hint of something, a kernel or seed of love or discovery or transformation. That’s the thing about doing and living when it’s happening. We don’t always know it at the time. Or when we are awake in the middle of the night, or why.

It’s the reflection that makes it what it is to us, imbues it with meaning. Truth.

Jan 13, 2022

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About the Author

Mylinh Shattan is a writer who has lived on three continents, served in the Army, worked in corporate America, and taught in college. She loves adventures, in the world and in the mind. Literature is relevant and learning is a lifelong pursuit, so you might as well have a bit of fun along the way.

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