Matthew Thorburn

The Glacier
Issue One
Fall 2022


slouched in his doctor’s coat          not white anymore and frayed

at the cuffs always          with tea steeping a few loose 

cigarettes on his desk          late one night he came to see 

Mother finally it was          time for Little Brother to come

but he never arrived he          missed his train Father said 

squeezing my shoulder not          looking at me dear 

Doctor Saltzman your pocket watch          ticked like a bomb

your head a speckled egg          the soldiers laughed and cracked open.

Doctor Saltzman’s Black Bag

sat stiffly on our table 
mouth open wide 
a stethoscope I remember 
curled inside its silver
fish eye always cold 

against my chest 
I am very sorry 
he kept his pale hands 
busy tidying I didn’t
realize who he was

speaking to but  
there was only me  
I remember I felt far 
away felt like someone 
else I wished I was 

my brother lost 
before he’d arrived 
how early he said
the trees have turned   
he closed his case 

I closed my eyes 
listening hard as if 
I might hear each 
blood-red leaf 
break upon our roof.


Thin silvery fish carried home from the river          six or seven on a brown string  

dashes of bright yellow chalk          the tailor marked my sleeves my cuffs

Mother changed each day like the weather          sun thunder gathering clouds

papers burning in the fireplace          Father fed them into the fire

the doorframe splintered a soldier kicked down the door


gray helmets rising past our feet          muddy boots thumping up the stairs

drawers yanked emptied out          glass-glitter on the window sill

a book flapped down          torn pink nightgown snagged in a tree

there was nothing there          was nothing left alone

a scream someone screaming I realized it was me


Mother’s brown shoe          brimmed with rain

the back wall rubbled bricks         a soldier smoked and laughed

empty cigarette case cracked white vase          Grandmother’s portrait kicked in

the scratched black piano          hunched over its broken leg

but still Tuesday still morning but no birds sang


a handful of blackberries          in a pale blue bowl 

we could leave tonight or tomorrow          Father said right now or never

a gleaming spoon          last dollop of sweet cream

there was no time          there was nothing but time

light fell through the leaves like broken glass.

MATTHEW THORBURN’S new book of poems, String, will be published by Louisiana State University Press in 2023. He’s also the author of five previous books, including The Grace of Distance, a finalist for the Paterson Poetry Prize, and Dear Almost, which received the Lascaux Prize. He lives in New Jersey.

Artwork by Ko Smith.
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