Excerpts from A Green River in Spring

by Matthew Thorburn
(winner of the 2014 Coal Hill Review Chapbook Prize)

First Light

The sun breaks like an egg over everything
east of here. Stop stop, enough enough,
the sparrows say—or that’s what Lao Wen says

they say in Chinese. Take your tarnished
horn, your wooden flute and break
this silence—alone beside the dark water, desperate

for the birds to get to work—delicate
as the last skin of ice on a winter river’s wrist.


Birds Before Winter

Dabbing lather across my chin, I picture you: bent low
over the tap, drinking from your cupped hands.

You probably aren’t even up yet. Hair a tangle
on the covers, eyelids made pale by the sun.

Sweeping the back step I find a cricket,
wings laced with frost. The leaves keep falling.

I look for you in all the things that are not you.
The plate of milk, left by the cat, sours.

You must be filling the red tea pot
with water now, measuring green tea.

The birds wing their way south. They take
the sky with them, each black scrap.


A Blessing

Whether it was your sister or your girlfriend
doesn’t matter. We got her.

I am writing this to say peanut butter
makes great bait. Dear mouse

behind my bookshelf, a cockroach can live
for nine days without its head

before it starves to death.
May you be so lucky.


An Anhui Well

Once a boy slipped
down a well in far
Anhui. He surfaced deep
in Mongolia, whispering
through his fever
of the vast, star-clotted sky

he swam beneath.
Once I called down
into that dark glitter—
then cursed, then bargained,
then begged—until
someone else called back.


Water Rises Once More

Sipping dew to stretch out your life?
Emperor Wu tried that trick
and you know where to find him.
Meanwhile the Huai River still floods
each spring. Nothing wrong

with growing old—it sounds
like Chrysanthemum in Chinese
or used to, long ago. The water rises
once more. Watch the yellow petals
float up in your chipped cup
as you wait for your tea to cool.


Excerpts from Matthew Thorburn’s chapbook A Green In Spring. To purchase the chapbook please visit the Autumn House Press catalog.