Edited and introduced by Gibson Fay-LeBlanc.

Jeffrey Thomson lives in Farmington with his wife and son and teaches at the University of Maine at Farmington. He is also a world traveler and a naturalist, spending time regularly in Costa Rica and many other places.

This poem arises out of his time as a Fulbright scholar in Belfast, Northern Ireland. It reminds us how in some places a violent history lurks below the surfaces of everyday life. And it reminds us how nature’s transformations can hold some element of violence within them.

You might also notice that Thomson’s poem is one long sentence that pushes us headlong down the page toward that “seedpod ready to explode.”

Watercolor Painting Class,

Northern Ireland


By Jeffrey Thomson

Once a week above the rooftops

of Queen’s Quarter – skylights

and chimneypots providing

the order the eye asks for – inside

an old girls school turned studio


where I was the youngest student

in a class retired long ago from

daily life in Belfast, checkpoints

and rifles, parades and old enemies

in mask and balaclava, pressure

of a city mounting toward the fires


of July, I worked my morning into

gardens of amaryllis and lily,

small pastoral welcome of geese

among outbuildings gray and streaked

as the rain crashed its shrapnel

on the exhaust vents for the kilns,


and, one day, as the sky crawled by

in its uniform of grim and somber,

I painted a close-up of the small star

of a sunflower with all the colors

of the light I’d missed that winter,

filling the canvas with warm petals


of citron and blonde, champagne

and canary, and, at the heart of it all,

the black of the seedpod ready to explode.

Gibson Fay-LeBlanc is Portland’s poet laureate. This column is produced in collaboration with the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance. Poem copyright © 2016 Jeffrey Thomson. It appears here by permission of the author.

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