Russell Thorburn

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Clark Gable as a Cowboy Running in His Leather
Chaps down the Tire Track

that rugged face like a star torn
from the dark and not ready to be put back

as he tries desperately to keep up
with the cowboys, his hands fisted,

each fist an engine fighting hard
for the horse he can’t catch as he rushes toward

the camera swaying lugubriously
from the truck as it follows the horse.

When he’s dragged by a rope he won’t die,
a shape of a man bounced along the track,

as if he meant nothing to the earth.
Marilyn, her blonde hair blown across her

concerned brow, sizes him up, her inquisitive
eye seeing a man in his leather chaps

bristle against the hard dust. When he ties downthat stallion of a wild horse after wrestling

with its weight, he stands up a wearied man,
a cowboy without his crown, for it blew away

with his hat. John Huston knew to shoot
his hulking size, and his future can only

grow darker despite the upbeat ending of him
and Marilyn in a truck boiling over the road

toward a scene soaked with stars. But Clark
like any good cowboy won’t waste a thing

and coils that length with a rope which burned
his hands frayed like a heart in its hemp.

John Huston Rises in His Endless Thirst

What a sad song one of them thought
as he looked out the plane window
at Los Angeles. The hills into which
the highway went winding were a deep,
intense shade of yellow. Wherever
they searched in Mexico they found
dilapidated billboards, an absence of hope
for the women missing. As they reached
into the desert, their headlights embarrassed
them with abandoned autos, a murderer
who walked slowly with a guitar on his back.
They laughed at some forgotten joke now,
forgot they’re sunburned, and emptied
out drinks into mouths that tasted like garbage.
They clutched books like Boris Pasternak’s epic
not exactly understood by anyone when
they saw Doctor Zhivago read in a hundred
degree heat. The pilot said in his holy voice,
We are about to land, and they thought he said,
John Huston rises in his endless thirst;
there are elephants in Nairobi or lions walk
around an apartment in Paris where Beckett
stirs a heart of darkness in his coffee with milk.
The pilot said, Lord, forgive us, who are
about to touch the earth. A good rope can solve
many problems, and one of them mentioned Yesenin
as a solution, but then Hollywood intruded.
Mary Astor in her breathless voice played Brigid
O’Shaughnessy to Bogart’s Sam Spade, if only to erase this nervousness as the wheels hit the runway.




Thorburn writes across as broad an imaginative spectrum as any poet working today. His subjects are exquisitely varied—real and fantastic literary biography, childhood rapture, rock and roll, adolescence, old movies, spies, soldiers, love, and the Russian cold of upper Michigan. And through all this, the mental life we inhabit has a consistent complexity, depth, and (above all)authenticity that makes his work the best of company.

-­­Jonathan Johnson


The poems in Russell Thorburn’s Misfit Hearts are confident, compelling, and sure—a musical score to the Sturm and Drang lives of the famous, the infamous and the obscure. These are poems to revel in and to admire. Such a pleasure to read them. Such a strong voice pulling the collection tightly together.

-­­Pamela Porter