Lorenzo Thomas

Lorenzo Thomas

“[Poetry] says something that’s true. It points people to truth.”

Lorenzo Thomas
Photo: C.B. Claiborne, 1994

Born in Panama, raised in New York, and based in Texas, Lorenzo Thomas was a professor of English at the University of Houston–Downtown as well as an internationally acclaimed poet and critic. Thomas served in the Navy during the Vietnam War, attended Queens College, and during the Black Arts Movement, was a member of the legendary Umbra workshop in New York City. As such, Thomas’ own work has focused on issues of war, civil rights, and introspection. His collections of poetry include A Visible Island (1967), Dracula (1973), Chances Are Few (1979, re-released in 2003), The Bathers (1981), Sound Science (1992) and Dancing on Main Street (2004). Thomas was the recipient of two Poets Foundation awards, the Lucille Medwick Prize, a National Endowment for the Arts Grant, and a Houston Festival Foundation Award. He died in 2005.

Back in the Day

When we were boys
We called each other “Man”
With a long n
Pronounced as if a promise

We wore felt hats
That took a month to buy
In small installments
Shiny Florsheim or Stacey Adams shoes
Carried our dancing gait
And flashed out challenge

Breathing our aspirations into words
We harmonized our yearnings to the night
And when the old folks on porches dared complain
We cussed them out
		        under our breaths
And walked away
		  And once a block away
Held learned speculations
About the character of their relations
With their mothers

It’s true
That every now and then
We killed each other
Borrowed a stranger’s car
Burned down a house 
But most boys went to jail 
For knocking up a girl
He really	truly		deeply		loved
	    really		truly		deeply
But was too young
Too stupid, poor, or scared
To marry

Since then I’ve learned
Some things don’t never change:
The breakfast chatter of the newly met
Our disappointment
With the world as given

News and amusements
Filled with automatic fire
Misspelled alarms
Sullen posturings and bellowed anthems
Our scholars say
Young people doubt tomorrow

This afternoon I watched 
A group of young men
Or tall boys
Handsome and shining with the strength of futures
Africa’s stubborn present
To a declining white man’s land
As boys always did and do
Time be moving on
Some things don’t never change
And how
	   back in the day
	   things were somehow better

They laughed and jived
Slapped hands
And called each other “Dog”

Lorenzo Thomas, “Back in the Day,” in Furious Flower: African American Poetry form the Black Arts Movement to the Present, ed. Joanne Gabbin (University of Virginia Press, 2004), 149-150.


I know you don’t know what 
Love is it isn’t
Dagwood kisses on the way to work
It’s going to work

Love could be but it’s not
A 50/50 partnership
Matched sets of polished lies
A usury of affection

I understand that you don’t understand
Money don’t grow on trees
And if it did,
Those trees would grow 
So far away
It would be work to get it

Lorenzo Thomas, “L’Argent,” in Furious Flower: African American Poetry form the Black Arts Movement to the Present, ed. Joanne Gabbin (University of Virginia Press, 2004), 148-149.