Thomas was born in Panama in 1944. Four years later the family immigrated to New York City, where Thomas grew up. Spanish was his first language, and he strove to master English to escape getting beaten up by other kids for “talking funny.”
“Never forgot it,” he once said. “Went way, way, way away out of my way to become extra fluent in English.”…
References to American popular culture — music especially — abound in Thomas’ work. He cited as influences such blues legends as Robert Johnson, Houston native Lightnin’ Hopkins and the Houston poet-singer Juke Boy Bonner, whom Thomas eulogized in the journal Callaloo. Thomas helped organize Juneteenth Blues Festivals in Houston and other Texas cities.
“I write poems because I can’t sing,” he once said.
When we were boys
We called each other “Man”
With a long n
Pronounced as if a promise
We wore felt hats
That took a month to buy
In small installments…