Tom Sheehan has three novels, two in print, "Vigilantes East" (2002) and
"Death for the Phantom Receiver," (2003) from Publish America, and one
serialized on 3am Magazine, "An Accountable Death." His fourth poetry
book was issued June 2003, "This Rare Earth and Other Flights," from Lit
Pot Press. A fifth book, a chapbook, "The Westering," was issued summer
2004 by Wind River Press. "A Collection of Friends," memoirs, was issued
in September, 2004 by Pocol Press. He has five Pushcart nominations,
and a Silver Rose Award from ART for short story excellence. He has had
work on or coming on Tryst, 42 Opus, Dead Mule, Elimae, Snow Monkey,
Eclectica, Retort Magazine, Rose & Thorn, New Works Review, Sidewalk's End,
Subtle Tea, Aught, Tin Lustre Mobile, Three Candles, Eleven Bulls, A Man
Overboard, Cold Glass, The God Particle, Life Sherpa, The Square Table, Just
Good Company, North Dakota Quarterly, Small Spiral Notebook, Fiction
Warehouse, Nuvein, The Paumanok Review, etc.
Journey in the Third Century
for Johnny Igoe
You're sixty years underground,
Voice hanging yet in treble
And pitch, so much of Yeats
On record talking of Innisfree
Or old marble heads.
The poems you read, summerway,
Porched with the moon, liquid,
Turf-cut, spaded, black-buttered
With promise, besieged, sent out
On Ireland's black ships,
Are just alive as you, freed
From the holds of dread crossings,
fed to the fish or buried in the new
land, the escape complete from
turnips, potatoes, drought.
The hunger there is hungered here,
The throat dry and impulsive
Down past recognition, the ache
As sure as echoes when seals
Call across harbors heralding.
I've lost you so many times, let you
Slip into the bare consciousness
Of February or September days, my skin
More at reading than eyes, forgetting
The phenomenon of your voyage -
Ten, alone, family-sanctioned
To be the first of its Irish sailors,
Cast out by rude vegetables, economy;
You must have pained at the coming,
A scout ahead of the horde.
Here you sank a pick in hardpan,
Poured your brow into great red
Neckerchiefs, laid a railroad, a canal,
Built someone's empire in Manhattan,
Thrust nine children into Massachusetts.
A thousand times I've walked the ground
You walked on, trod your rounds,
Your aspirations, found your dreams
Brick-hard at intersections, side roads,
Left you marginally, my own feet tinkered.
Still, the constant pressure's known,
Names falling out of night, children
Of the children of the droughty land,
Here where things seem realized,
At these eyes, by this heart, by hands
That play on infernal machines. I am
In the beginning of your third century,
Have throbbed in your old cottage,
Felt the knots root underground, trebled
My voice where morning calls answers.
Peat, piled behind the house, ingots
Of new tenant's digging, kept the kettle
At a soft steam on a green stove. In the
Corner where you slept before journey,
a small star bore through, called your name.
It is brittle now, the remembering, how we drove you east
with your backpack like a totem in the rear seat, so that
you could walk westerly across the continent's spine,
across the sum of all the provinces, through places
you had been before, and we had been, and the Cree
and the Owlcreek bear and wolves envisioned
when night screams upwind the way stars loose
their valid phantoms.
Now it seems the ready truth
that juxtaposition is just a matter of indifference,
because we have all been where we are going,
into selves, shadows, odd shining, all those places
the mind occupies, or the heart, or a lung at exercise.
You had already passed places you would come into
when we knew your hailing us down, thumb a pennant,
face a roadside flag
halting our pell-mell island rush.
To go westerly, to walk across the world's arching top,
you said you had to go east, to know Atlantic salt, kelp
girding rocks at anchor, clams sucking the earth down,
to be at ritual with Europe's ocean itself, that mindless
sea of barks and brigantines and lonely buoy bells
arguing their whereabouts in the miseries of fog, sing-
ular as canyon coyote.
We promised you holy water
at Cape Tormentine, reaching place of The Maritimes,
a fist thrust ready for Two-Boat Irish Islanders, tenting,
the soft sands at Cavendish, a holy trough of journey,
a wetting place, publican's house of the first order,
drinks hale and dark and well met and Atlantic ripe
as if everything the bog's
known the drink has.
It's more apparent now, after you moved outbound,
or inward on the continent, trailing yourself, dreams,
through wild Nations once ringing one another,
your journey was endless. Nine years now at it,
horizons loose on eternity, trails blind-ending
in a destiny of canyons too deep to be heard,
and your mail comes
like scattered echoes, horse-
shoes clanging against stakes in twilight campgrounds,
not often enough or soon enough or long enough,
only soft where your hand touches hide, hair, heart
caught out on the trail, wire-snipped, hungry, heavy
on the skewers you rack out of young spruce.
Out of jail, divinity
school, bayonet battalion,
icehouse but only in winters, asking Atlantic
blessing for your march into darkness, light,
we freed you into flight. You have passed yourself
as we have, heading out to go back, up to go down,
away from home just to get home. Are you this way
even now, windward,
wayward, free as the falcon
on the mystery of a thermal, passing through yourself?
You go where the elk has been, noble Blackfoot
of the Canadas, beaver endless in its palatial gnawing,
all that has gone before your great assault, coincident,
harmonic, knowing that matter does not lose out,
cannot be destroyed,
but lingers for your touching
in one form or another, at cave mouth, closet canyon,
perhaps now only falling as sound beneath stars
you count as friends and confidants. Why is your mail
ferocious years apart in arrival? You manage hotels,
prepare salads, set great roasts for their timing,
publish a book on mushrooms
just to fill your pack anew
and walk on again, alone, over Canada's high backbone,
to the islands' ocean, the blue font you might never
be blessed in. Nine years at it! Like Troy counting
downward to itself: immense, imponderable, but there.
A year now since your last card, Plains-high, August,
a new book started,
but no topic said, one hand
cast in spruce you cut with the other hand, your dog
swallowed by a mountain, one night of loving
as a missionary under the Pole Star and canvas
by a forgotten road coming from nowhere.
We wonder, my friend, if you are still walking,
if you breathe,
if you touch the Pacific will
Atlantic ritual be remembered as we remember it: high-
salted air, rich as sin, wind-driven like the final broom,
gulls at havoc, at sea a ship threatening disappearance,
above it all a buoy bell begging to be heard,
and our eyes
on the back of your head.
Through the long slanting of the gray day
I, mute and immobile, watched my son through
The window, saw him use hands as tools, arms
Working hard as crowbars, an energy split of
The sun, my atom building a fort housed of dreams.
Oh, years close such ugly jaws between father
And son, between the old and the dreaming,
Between the looking back and the looking forward,
So I cheat sometimes and think the looking back
Has more magic, the greater reserves of splendor.
It happens when I stop at task to breathe against
The hot sun or feel the night with a caress
Faint but daring as a girl once known near darkness.
Looking back is more than perfume time; it's past
Perfume, past touch, past the wonder of guessing.
It's back in the prehistory of dreams and daring
When I was him and building a fort to house dreams
And perhaps my father loved me from a window.
It's touching on the magic of Roland and Arthur,
On Charlemagne, Richard who roared, and red-crossed
Phalanxes moving as a wedge at a word or cry.
It's where Beowulf has gone, to a land and time
Not to be known by me again, to a place called
Childhood, the true democracy of imagination.
Looking, I was delirious for him, felt the happy
Stones banging the barrel of my chest for him;
He was knowing what I had known and lost along
The way like a red-lit caboose cutting a curve
In the dimness that was my little years.
I ached, knowing that I had come of age, of importance,
That my little dreams are cries for peace
And sweat is sold for food to fill his mouth.
The world had fallen in my path and I had scaled
A mountain away from him. I wanted to leap
Chuteless from its peak into his time, to know
Once more the sense of glory and romance
In all things the mind has fingers for.
In the evening, pink threatening red on the horizon,
He finally came to me, the seven years of him
And a day of his days enfolding more mystery than fog.
"Come with me," he said, eyes of miners' lamps,
A face blacker than coal is black, where dirt
Had so much freedom you would think he had never
Been clean, had never been discomforted by soap.
"My fort, it's over here. It's secret and mine.
I'll show it to you. Only once, though. Big people
Aren't supposed to be here."
Quiet, motionless as a beached ship, the fort
Was built against a split-trunk maple tree;
Limbs bare and black hung over a pit nearer
Darkness than all the caves I had known.
Canopied arms rigid over a small darkness
Huddling like a rabbit down the barrel of a rifle.
I turned back on myself, into dreams, onto pages
Long since read. Ah, how high and strong its walls,
Built of stones I dared not move, set magically
With a mortar I could not mix. Passageways
And tunnels with dumb mouths stared back,
Mysteries leaped, dangers crept, silent
As Sicilian Vespers. Hamlet's father would walk
Such walls. Quasimoto lurked quietly overhead.
Lafitte, Long John Silver, Grendel, shared the dark.
On my spine ice began to flow. I was knowing again
The lost land, the lost time, the lost dreaming.
He crept along the wall, motioned for me to follow,
Whispered a sound I'm helpless to repeat and can't forget
As if a ghost of me were calling on a cold gray moor.
Back, still back, I went, spinning in a machine
Tumbling off my hard edges, knowing the deliciousness
Of fright, savoring one grand moment in a life
So old to magic. And he huddled, my son, my coming man,
For a moment, for a split second of forever, against
The high walls of his childhood. I dared not move
For fear I'd break them down.
Back to Front.