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Thomas, Amber Flora

Thomas, Amber Flora


Amber Flora Thomas was born and raised in northern California. She is the author of Eye of Water: Poems (University of Alaska Press, 2012) which was selected by Harryette Mullen as the winner of the 2004 Cave Canem Poetry Prize. Her other books include, The Rabbits Could Sing: Poems (University of Alaska Press, 2012) and Red Channel in the Rupture: Poems (Red Hen Press, 2018). Her poetry has appeared in The New England ReviewTin HouseCallaloo, Orion MagazineAlaska Quarterly ReviewSaranac Review, and Third Coast, as well as Angles of Ascent: A Norton Anthology of Contemporary African American Poetry, and numerous other journals and anthologies. Thomas has taught at the Cave Canem annual retreat and the Bread Loaf Environmental Writers Conference. She has received fellowships from Yaddo, Atlantic Center for the Arts, Bread Loaf Writers Conference, and Sewanee Writers Conference. She earned an MFA at Washington University in St. Louis, MO. Currently, she is an Associate Professor of Creative Writing at East Carolina University in Greenville, NC.

Self-Portrait with Teeth

In a wood near Pungo Lake
I untangle juvenile canines
from hair and bone in old scat,
putting their orphaned circle
on my palm. My feral dead
returned by a red wolf, and
I won’t leave them again.


A fox maybe. His baby teeth
gnashed enamel fins. I’ll ask
a naturalist for the story when
I find the visitor’s center.
Right now, the fox is bits
and bob, remnants in my palm


and I don’t know which tale
I’ve wandered in. A poor trade
for magic beans? I have no ax.
All around me water lips
in the cottonwoods. Long-
stemmed mushrooms use


a downed cypress to get above
the marsh. Trumpeter swans
in the first weeks of a winter revival
quartet over my head. Yet here
is gnawing and hunger enough.
I’ll trade you your brown cow


for these teeth. Jung said, the gold is
in the shit. Here is why I am alone,
channeling a grave, no longer rank
or wretched, but arranged on my palm.
My shovel and burlap left at home,
but I know what’s going down.


Previously published in Third Coast Magazine, Issue #44 (2017)


Having eaten your head clean off, my cat
drops your plump carcass on the doormat.
Between blood and purple clots, a bit of neck bone
insists on the air. I lean toward the sharpness,
get right up to the vacant white nipple, like milk
that has contested its cream and been deemed “fat-free.”


Transparent like a baby’s fingernail, the broken column
spills dead nerves. My cat licks her paw and smack!
your pudgy mass jumps, blood escaping into jute threads.


White like the full moon that night I was twelve
and we snuck up the road. He opened his blue jeans
and thrust his blunt eye at me. It was this
or nothing, he said. I wish I’d chosen nothing.


Later, the moon split the road with redwoods
and I relented to my home. Exhausted,
I didn’t swing my arms at the bat stealing moths
above my head.


I didn’t wake again until you, little mouse
resting in the middle of “welcome,” until my cat
in whose wide green eyes I see myself
leaning from the doorway, and I remember.


Previously published in Callaloo, A Journal of African Diaspora Arts and Letters, Volume 34, Number 1 (2011)


A Wild Thing


If you thought there was sorrow in the bear,
its one-eyed gaze from inside her teeth,
shook against her jowls, and slobbered upon.


If you thought there was a better day
and more fun to be had, the bow
glued at its throat gone, the plaid
vest new with fringe.


Stolen from its shelf where dolls
and stuffed horses waited for parties
and a child’s snug sleep to bloom
from its faux fur these clouds.


If you thought to pick polyester fiberfill
out of sunflowers, gather synthetic streamers
across the lawn and caught in the fence spikes
could wear you down.


Your house pulled open by this joy
and the brown dog dancing her flaccid kill
over the gate. So you tug the teddy bear
from her mouth and scold a story
that has put the sky on the earth again.


Here, saying, open that ragged gut of fluff,
be gone in wild places, be grateful anyway
if this is the worst thing that happens
on your street today.


Previously published in Connotation Press: An Online Artifact (2016)


Red Channel in the Rupture: Poems (Red Hen Press, 2018)
The Rabbits Could Sing (University of Alaska Press, 2012)
Eye of Water
 (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2005)

2017 Semi-Finalist, Third Coast Magazine Poetry Prize
2015 Nominated, Pushcart Prize, Best of the Small Presses for an individual poem
2012 Nominated, Pushcart Prize, Best of the Small Presses for an individual poem
2013 Nominated, Pushcart Prize, Best of the Small Presses for an individual poem
2011 Finalist, Lexi Rudnitsky/Editor’s Choice Award for The Rabbits Could Sing: Poems
2011 1st Place, Dylan Thomas American Poet Prize
2010 Career Opportunity Grant, Alaska State Council on the Arts
2010 Semi-Finalist, Dorset Poetry Prize for The Rabbits Could Sing: Poems
2010 The Martha Walsh Pulver Residency Scholarship at Yaddo, Saratoga Springs, NY
2009 Finalist, Muriel Craft Bailey Memorial Award
2009 Finalist, May Swenson Poetry Award for The Rabbits Could Sing: Poems
2006 Finalist, PEN USA Literary Awards for Eye of Water: Poems
2006 Finalist, Lambda Literary Awards for Eye of Water: Poems
2004 1st Place, Richard Peterson Poetry Prize
2004 1st Place, Cave Canem Poetry Prize for Eye of Water: Poems
2003 Individual Artist Grant, Marin Arts Council
2002 Alan Collins Scholarship in Poetry at Bread Loaf Writers Conference
2001 1st Place, Ann Stanford Poetry Prize
2001 1st Place, San Francisco Poetry Center’s Rella Lossy Award
2000 Tennessee Williams Scholarship in Poetry, Sewanee Writers’ Conference
1998 Post-graduate Teaching Fellowship, Washington University in St. Louis
1998 1st Place, Academy of American Poets Prize—College & University