Transfigurations / Thomas E. Strunk



poetry by

Thomas E. Strunk

40 pages, $13 (+ shipping)

Release Date: May 30, 2023

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Thomas E. Strunk grew up in Minisink Hills, Pennsylvania on the Delaware River. His work explores nature and working class life and strives to express the longing for spiritual, emotional, and political liberation. His literary work has appeared or is forthcoming in Clerestory, Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel, Anthology of Appalachian Writers, Northern Appalachia Review and East Fork Journal among others. He is the author of History after Liberty and The Fall of the Roman Republic: Lessons for the American People. Thomas blogs at He lives in Northside, Cincinnati with his wife and twin daughters.

Clouds, storms, night, dawn: these images of mutability and change punctuate the journey of Transfigurations. From childhood loss and grief to brief adult realizations of joy and epiphanies of awakening, Thomas Strunk’s poems confront the uncertainties of life and death, love and loss, while imparting a quiet wisdom and acceptance. They are acutely aware of the trials through which we become our mature selves, acknowledging what we give up and what we learn to give.  ~Richard Hague, author of Studied Days: Poems Early & Late in Appalachia


Thomas Strunk’s Transfigurations calls us to step away, rethink the way life drives us, stop being driven. These visceral, place-centered, and elegiac poems are full of the busy-ness of life, the fullness of grief, but, as the title hints, these poems also remain at the edge of it all, aware that to be human is to intuit more. “How much we miss,” Strunk writes, “bent over our bitter pursuits.” ~Bonnie Proudfoot, author of Goshen Road


Transfigurations journeys along shifting waypoints of intergenerational struggle and self-preservation with unflinching narrative grit. Torn canvases, dusty pianos, fried eggs, trash carts, and empty pill bottles give way to nature’s more subtle artifacts—“gray curls of clouds/burning up on the eastern horizon” or “a strip of green dirt persisting” amid industrial ruin. Strunk’s poems resist platitude, keenly interpreting scenes of hunger, work, and community continuance with memorable “grace that prowls in the darkness.” ~Sherry Cook Stanforth, PhD, Managing Editor, Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel, Founder/Director, Originary Arts Initiative

From Rivers and Mountains


From cricks and rivers
where mountains rose
right out of their waters
I have come.

From white trailer trash we ate our scrapple fried
and heated our bath water on the stove.
In the spring, we would listen to the
tinny rain fall on our thin roofs.

Factory floors and picket lines
we walked with my father
in the late evenings. We paid our dues
to the union and carried our lunch pails.

In the hotel kitchen and the motel room,
my chambermaid mother cooked
the food, cleaned the toilets, and made
the beds for others to sleep in.

I have eaten the fruit in the kitchen.
I have been forged by the factory.
I have learned from the mountains.
I have studied the cricks,

and like their waters
I will find a way.



The Other Side of the Neighborhood


We left our lunch half eaten,
and walked out of the café
where we had met your neighbor, an artist,

where we’d ordered iced drinks and talked
about the latest art installations and
the events in Washington,
as we watched the cars drive up and down
Hamilton Avenue.

We walked out into the afternoon light
down Knowlton until we came
to residential streets and the warehouses
where we passed men rolling
empty barrel drums into a tractor trailer,

where trucks were leaving the loading bays.
Inside we could see the workers
standing by the fans in the summer heat.

Across the crumbling sidewalk
and beyond the empty street, we saw
corn and tomato plants
growing behind the factory fence.

What soot and sweat covered me
then, as we stood pondering how this
could be? The plants were grimeless
in a grimy place. Some rough hand had
tenderly buried the seeds in the dirt,
watered them with care, and kept the weeds
at bay on a strip of green dirt persisting
between the wire fence and the dusty parking lot.

My mind betrayed them,
displaced them from their proper place
to a backyard garden, farmer’s field,
or a suburban greenhouse.
But no, there on a Northside street they stood,
not in defiance, not in resistance
to a hostile industrial landscape, not a sign
of life in a place of death, but basking in the sun,
a sign of life in a place of life.
For why should life not burst forth here
on the Crawford-Dane block of Knowlton?

We walked to your house along the cemetery
walls, peeking at the graves on the hillside
and wondering in silence at the
thin line between the things we choose
to let die and the things we choose
to help live.



The Fields of Forgetfulness


A field unlike the other fields you know.
Here we sow rocks instead of crops and plants
though flowers stand with care beside each stone
sinking beneath its weight into the clay,
not like the stones once carved in ancient Rome,
which still record the names and offices across
the centuries. This is where we place the ones
we will forget. These epitaphs will fade,
the names effaced, the dates blurred.

They say in life we die not once but twice:
the day they bring us here and give a stone
to us, and then the day they place a stone
upon the one who spoke our name a final time.

Gail, Shirley, Benjamin, Sarah, Gerry,
I read their names in silence,
then pronounce them aloud once more.

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