The Thin Man


The Thin Man

The thin man
looks out of his window
and watches the leaves
as they twist and fall
like they did last autumn.

Golden carpets
spread across the grass
while under the lindens
the slender hands of children
crush flowers into perfume
and interlace bright
threads into tapestries
woven with light.

Will the thin man
give up his secret?

It cannot be clutched
by the camera’s artificial eye,
by the painter’s red squirrel brush,
nor by the tail of the dog fox
held over bandaged eyes.

Cows in the thin man’s
fields are scrawny.

They once walked
wary of the thin man
with his fistful of stones,
his pointed stick,
his sharp knife
and his slant-eyed dogs
that showed off
the basket weave of their ribs
with a rash of gravelly nipples
rippling against the skin
when they ran
snapping and slashing
with ivory fangs
at the frightened cattle.

Now the thin man is dying.
His cattle graze in peace.
His spirit wants to slide
through a gap in the cactus fence
and wander celestial pastures.

“I will light a fire,”
the witch doctor says.

He begins with the glow-
worm of a match.

That small flame smolders
as he breathes life into
shavings and dry bark.

Stars reach out
with tender hands.

A new spark walks
among the constellations.

The goats on the roof
grow grey with age.

Beside them,
a dappled donkey brays
as the thin man’s spirit
sets out on its journey to the stars.

A herd of seven goats, the Pleiades
rise above the sacrificial mound.

The witch doctor’s heart
shrinks to the size of an orange pip
when he cradles the thin man’s
body in his arms.

On the horizon,
gnaws at the moon’s
white skull.


exits his cave with evening
wrapped beneath his wings.

holds a stone
knife in his iron hand.

The thin man
dreams of Santo Domingo
where the golden tree
bends like a rainbow,

exposing its roots
as the end draws near.

20 thoughts on “The Thin Man

    • I meant it as the transcendence from earth to heaven, the transmutation into the celestial sphere. In some of the old myths, we ascend into the heavens, rather than descending to the darkness below the earth. For me, it signifies light and hope in the afterlife.


    • I used to read DQ once a year, but since I retired from academia, I have only read it 1.5 times. I did a guided reading of DQI: ‘Reading DQ in a Writerly Fashion’ for an online writing group. It was great fun and I have been meaning to write up the notes. Maybe I;’ll do the same for DQII some day. It is a wonderful book. I have considered a group read here on the Blog, but I want to finish some of my revisions and writings first.

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  1. This is wonderful, Roger. So the Seven Sisters are a flock of goats in Oaxacan astronomy? They were goatherds then, from ancient times? Were the cattle and the man thin because of the conqueror’s oppression? Sorry so many questions. I’m enjoying this series!

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    • Oh dear: this is such a mix-up. All my secrets will come out. The Pleiades are the Seven Sisters. When the Pleiades are over a specific point above the main pyramid in Mexico (Tenochtitlan, I think, but it may be Teotiahuacan) then the fires that are extinguished during the five dead days at the end of each cycle can be relit. The signal to relight comes from beacons that light up on the hilltops and link up across the country. The Pleiades, for the Aztecs, are the tianguitzli, so called because they are crowded together like a market-place, tianguis = market, hence tianguitzli. However, the goat image comes from Don Quixote, Part II, where Sancho and DQ climb on to the magic horse, Clavileño, and are carried to the heavens (it’s a trick, they don’t move from the ground). But they are blind-folded, so they don’t know where they are. Sancho claims he lifts the blindfold and sees the Pleiades as seven little goats, all different colors and the earth is as small as an orange pip in the distance. I’m quoting from memory, but I think that’s how it goes. Of course, this is me being clever: you don’t need any of this to enjoy the poem!

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