Two Aunts

By Thomas James 1946–1974 Thomas James
When I feel the old hunger coming on,
I think of my two great-aunts,
A farmer’s daughters,
Speaking into the dusk in North Dakota.
I imagine the dark baron
Riding out of their mouths,
Thick-skinned and girded
Against disaster, swathed
In cuirass and chainmail and a curse.
My hunger was theirs
Too long ago. It swims in my blood,
Groping for a foothold.
It is the dark I thrust my tongue against,
The wine and the delicate symphony
That makes my head tick so exquisitely
Tonight. My ladies,
My dusky girls, I see you
With your bustles puffed up like life preservers,
Your needlepoint rose garden,
Your George Eliot coiffures,
Your flounces gathered like an 1890s valentine.
You both took heroin.
Your father never noticed.
You sprinkled it in your oatmeal,
Embroidered doilies with it,
Ate it like a last supper
At midnight. I know what you meant.
There was always the hunger,
The death of small things
Somewhere in your body,
The children that would never
Take place in either of you.
You were a garden of lost letters.
A lust inhabited your veins.
My addicts,
The village spoke of you.
Under your parasols, two rose windows,
The world swam with color.
Riding the monotonous hills at daybreak,
You escaped the indecisions
Your blood has handed down
To me. You rode your father’s spotted horses
As if they might have ferried you
Over an edge, a dark mouth in the distance.
I see you ride the black hills of my mind,
Sidesaddle, gowned in lemon silk,
Galloping
In your laced-up flesh, completely unaware
Of something I inherited,
The doubt,
The fear,
The needle point of speech,
The hunger you passed down that I
Possess.

Thomas James, "Two Aunts" from Letters to a Stranger, published by Graywolf Press. Copyright © 2008 by Thomas James.  Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Source: Letters to a Stranger (Graywolf Press, 2008)

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Poet Thomas James 1946–1974

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

Subjects Family & Ancestors, Relationships, Class, Social Commentaries

 Thomas  James

Biography

Thomas James was born Thomas Edward Bojeski in Joliet, Illinois, where he would live most of his life. His poems, which demonstrate technical skill and the influence of Sylvia Plath, appeared in magazines and anthologies, including, North American Review, Poetry, and Poetry Northwest, which awarded him the Theodore Roethke Prize in 1969. He died in 1974 at the age of twenty-seven, shortly after the first publication of his only . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Family & Ancestors, Relationships, Class, Social Commentaries

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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