1     Exiles

Pines exiled in this drab lowland
Dream only in black and white.
Colors are too painful—
Reminding them of what they’ve lost.

2     Lunar Appalachia

Beyond lonely, my hardscrabble ancestors
Get by, planting ghostly
Crops that grow without soil and water
Only on the far side of the moon.

3     Snail

The snail advances a few inches an hour,
Leading the solitary parade of himself
With a silent bass drum on his back.
He must keep forgetting to beat it.

4     Before Dawn

A crow woke up too early
In a black mood, his caw
Hoarse as the cough of a chain smoker
Who refuses to quit.

5     Off The Grid

This road, so far gone, goes nowhere.
Another bad excuse to get lost
Comes to nothing under gaunt trees
With a few dead leaves that never fall.

6      Po Chü-yi

Connoisseur of empty wine cups
And lost friends, exiled
A thousand years upriver,
Alone above the white water of loneliness.


Don Thompson was born in Bakersfield, California, in 1942, and has lived in the southern San Joaquin Valley for most of his life. Retired from teaching in a nearby prison, he and his wife, Chris, live on her family’s cotton farm. His collection Back Roads won the Sunken Garden Poetry Prize for 2008. Allan M. Jalon’s profile of Thompson, “Planted in the San Joaquin,” appeared in the LA Times and remains available online. His most recent collection, From Here On: Four Sunday Drives, was published in 2017 by Future Cycle Press.