poems by Thomas Elson

The Day God Disappeared


“You can pretend you talk to Him

But He ain’t here

He’s gone.”

You’re here.

The day sunny and windless – rare during the winter.

Carrion birds stalk lower and lower, suddenly sail up, then

scroll their way down, finally shooting back up carrying

their cemetery.

You’re here.

But you’re not sure why. Through some fault of yours?

Who is so angry with you that they’d do this?

Is it something you failed to do?

Maybe, because of all the other things you did but were not


Nevertheless, you are here.

And your throat constricts, then reverses itself

from a stench that chokes as you awaken to glide

from sleep into reality inside what remains of your domicile

with walls the color of ash.

You settle inside a ghostly vision. Try to sort your thoughts,

but your memory screams within its cage

Hunched forward at a round table.

To your right a man who killed four women

after climbing through their second story windows

then stomping them with his climbing spikes.

To your left a man with two dull blue teardrops

below his right eye.

Tomorrow each will pass the other in silence.

Gaze through. Walk as if not there.

It’s a hard lesson learned – that invisible line you cannot cross.

Not a gate. Nor a fence. Nor a wall.

But a two-foot demarcation inside which you are required

to turn away – look down, hands rigid at your sides, palms exposed.

Your place is away and away from.

What you do not know, but will learn is

your decisions and choices have vanished.

From this point forward, you cannot make

an independent decision about where,

or for how long you can sleep,

where your drinking water comes from,

where, or for how long, you can sit.

Someone else decides for you.

Your decision-making ability peeled away –

food, amount, availability, quality,

When to eat, where to eat.

Someone else decides for you.

Nor can you decide on the temperature or

quality of the air you breathe. Nor your clothes,

their cleanliness, not even when and with whom

you shower. You can no longer decide whether

to open a door, to close a door,

to stand beside a door, to pass through a door.

Someone else decides for you.

You no longer decide how much reading light to have.

Nor when that light will be dimmed or turned off.

Not your toothpaste. Not your toothbrush.

Someone else’s decision.

Basic medical care. Not today.

A doctor, unable to speak English or Spanish,

might be here on Tuesday. Maybe, if he is not somewhere else.

Pray you do not have any illness requiring medicine not on the formulary. If so, you are shit out of luck.

Pray there’s someone to talk with

There isn’t.

Pretend you’re not here, but you are.

Someone else has made that decision for you.




A Place You Could Not Follow


I’ll soon be there

And our lives, still joined, will separate

Maybe ever so slightly – a crack in the foundation

Possible deeper and faster than anticipated

My speed will diminish

My understanding will lessen

My patience  –  such as it is – will dissolve


I barely survived yesterday –

Heart irregularities, dizziness, loss of balance

My fear – perhaps a recognition from decades

Working with physicians

negated a call to the doctor     Only to be

sent to the emergency room     Only to be

told to sit for ninety minutes     To be

without medication     Because

Doctors are in short supply     Because

beds are in short supply     Because

I’d rather die at home

even if alone


I remained silent as you left the house     To

Help your brother     To

Visit your grandson

I remained on our reclining divan     In case

I fainted     In case

the blood pressure cuff read lower

the pulse higher

than before you drove away

86/42 – 119 pulse

64/31 – 124 pulse

Repeated every fifteen minutes

Dizziness and disorientation as if from a blow to the head

Chest exhausted

Frozen inside stunned incomprehension     Decisions

too complicated     Movement

too difficult     Breaths

too short.




At Home With You


Tomorrow when you emit some earthy epithet at a passing driver

you will be repeating my words

Every time you drive on I-70

you will remember I’m nearby

Whenever you hold a book, I will be there

When you touch your sons, you will remember me

When your granddaughter, and, many years later

your great-grandsons reach for you, you will see me

And each evening, I will be at home with you.




Was It Then


So full of myself and my future.

I cannot remember your face on that night. Were you crying? Were your eyes moist? Were you eager for me to stay? To leave? Was it then you decided?


Perhaps it was then

On that third step to your house

at two-thirty on that morning

In that darkness where

thick trees excluded light

Merely shards of remaining

shadows Then a sudden coolness

as if heat dissipated leaving a

breeze deleting the detritus of three years.


On that third step in the familiarity

three years brings

From removing



Legs and breasts smoother that anything since

Lips softer and more accepting


That very early morning –  so late –

When I was traveling North

And you East

That morning, or maybe just a moment earlier,

We made our decisions.

Decisions not realized until much later.


In that moment before I had to separate

Perhaps at that very moment,

We loved

Were in love

Wanted to be in love

When love would never come again

That exquisite time when loss exerts its pull

A tug from a heart belted forever with

regret – never recovered but always

Pointing in the direction of you.



poems by Thomas Elson

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