Literary Orphans

Derryside Confessional and Two Other Poems
by Tom Sheehan

sarah-hardy-41

Derryside Confessional

I walked high bridge at Derryside

and eyed the soldiers eyeing me.

Meant for breasts comfortably

slight in sweaters, their eyes

 

winged past my neutral self

and tunneled down to last night’s

bivouac, tall grass matted down

under the miraculous pairing,

 

the hard swallow walking to camp

afterward, tough woolens tighter

on them than sheep had worn.

Ordnance doesn’t count lifted skirts,

 

doesn’t know where a hem begins

or where it ends, how dry a throat,

how wet an eye, what law becomes

inserted between soft children.

 

Soldiers, in field work, at love,

too soon from mother’s kitchen wares

and half admonishment from sires

who once felt the stitching

 

become elastic in country skirts,

look down their sights at sweater’s

mounds, proud legs, square teeth

lost in smiles bright as zero degrees,

 

bright as green stoves in cottages

whose hair is worn in braids.

Derryside is never quiet or dark;

it has fire and young appetites

 

and hands, the field ache of loins,

front seat disasters, doorways

locked away from simple streetlights,

the pros and cons of young energies

 

wondering if the touch is real,

is legal, if a mortal sin

becomes a sure-fire hell-fire trip.

Peace has disparities, hate and love

 

mix all the axioms and adages,

call to waste the wasted hearts,

a field pressed for a moment of never-

ending love, an erect boy in uniform,

a girl planning her confessional,

just as the moon empties across fields,

stone walls disappear at boundaries,

a myth thinks up another gunshot.

 

O Typekey Divider

 

GRAMP

As far back as I go he is there

With great white beard and cane of holly

That swung in circles at slim ankles,

And the reaching hands of sisters and brothers.

Perhaps he wrote The Roscommon Emigrant

That he read to us in the quiet kitchen at night

In winter. I am not sure,

But he wound the isle about us, and he teased

With his fairies and the names like Ross, Culleen

And Clooniquin.

 

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Though adopted by Columbia

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . I am Erin’s faithful child.

 

He had bent his back in Pennsylvania’s mines

And Illinois’ and swung a hammer north

Of Boston, poled his star-lit way

From Erie by canal, and died in bed.

 

His years are still with me in the wind he breathed

And storms he stood against and earth he pounded

. . . . . . . . . . with his fist

To fill the mouths of his children and my mother.

 

When he was lonely he was hurt and sometimes feared

. . . . . . . . . . the pain he could not feel

Because he knew it and knew how it came;

And said man had to think to be wise and nothing was

. . . . . . . . . . useless to man:

 

Not a sliver of wood because it makes a toothpick;

Not a piece of glass broken from a wine-red bottle

Because it catches sun and makes wonder;

Not a stray stone or wall part because it is a wedge

. . . . . . . . . . or wall-part or corner

Like one, the first or the last, put to the foundation

Of the old gray house that clings to the light

And had wide windows and doors that were never locked.

 

He laughed with us on snow-bound mornings when

. . . . . . . . . . daylight sought us eagerly
And in cricket nights of softness that spoiled kneeling
. . . . . . . . . . prayers.

Sometimes his soft eyes were sad while we laughed,

And didn’t know about the man down the street

Or the boy who died racing black-horse train against

. . . . . . . . . . young odds.

 

His prayers were not an interlude with God:

They were as sacred as breathing, as vital as the Word.

And the politicians never got his vote because he knew

The pain they intended and he hated hurt. Hated hurt.

 

The floorboards creaked beneath him in the mornings

And he brought warmth into chilled rooms and coffee

Slipped its aroma between secret walls to waken us.

The oats were heavy and creamed in large white bowls,

And “Go easy on the sugar,” was the bugle call of dawn.

 

His books had a message that he heard, alone, quiet,

Singing with the life he knew was near past and yet

. . . . . . . . . . beginning.

He pampered and petted them like he did grandma,

And spent secret hours with them and lived them with us

Rehearsing our life to come, and teaching us.

 

He poled his star-lit way down the Erie Canal.

Swung a sledge in Illinois. A hammer north of Boston.

Died in bed.

But the tobacco smell still lives in his room.

His books still live, his chair, his cane, the misery he knew,

. . . . . . . . . . the pain,

And somewhere he is.

 

O Typekey Divider

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .Uncle Jamesie Recording December’s Unbroken Law
. . . . . . . . . . . . . .Two other bums
. . . . . . . . . . . . . .tripped over him on the tracks,
. . . . . . . . . . . . . .Boston outbound, in December,
. . . . . . . . . . . . . .under an ancient moon
. . . . . . . . . . . . . .fracturing itself

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .on ice, on rails becoming one,
. . . . . . . . . . . . . .on his last breath caught upright.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . .They dropped him on my mother’s bed,
. . . . . . . . . . . . . .cut his ragged Mackinaw off, booted laces,
. . . . . . . . . . . . . .found him a worn dark suit

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .at the A.O.H.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . .They’d found two pages
. . . . . . . . . . . . . .of Blackstone in his pocket,
. . . . . . . . . . . . . .the failure who studied two pages a day
. . . . . . . . . . . . . .for the remnant of his life;

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .these even marked,
. . . . . . . . . . . . . .pencil frozen under key words,
. . . . . . . . . . . . . .stones set aside to be memorialized.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . .But his feet, freed of boots,
. . . . . . . . . . . . . .blackest of my young deaths.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .I watched dread ice
. . . . . . . . . . . . . .slowly dismount his lashes,
. . . . . . . . . . . . . .saw soft tears of it go back into
. . . . . . . . . . . . . .his eyes, star-burst loosed from icicles,
. . . . . . . . . . . . . .wondered what last word he had read,

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .remembered. Know December now,
. . . . . . . . . . . . . .boots, laces, harsh cry of bedsprings,
. . . . . . . . . . . . . .how the significant mouth of this month
. . . . . . . . . . . . . .starts coming down midnight tracks
. . . . . . . . . . . . . .with slow howls, and dark justices,

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .robed in the cold crawl of it,
. . . . . . . . . . . . . .sitting, pointing.

O Typekey Divider

Sheehan served in the 31st Infantry Regiment, Korea, 1951, and graduated from Boston College in 1956. He’s published 17 books and has appeared in many issues including Rosebud, The Linnet’s Wings, Rope and Wire, Ocean Magazine, Literary Orphans, 3 A.M. Magazine, Provo Canyon Review, EastlitNazar Look, etc. Pocol Press will issue his next collection, In the Garden of Long Shadows, and proceed with 7 more collections. His The Westering was nominated for a National Book Award in 2012. Alan Lupo (RIP) of the Boston Globe said, “Sheehan is Dos Passos reincarnated and drives a story into our souls as if it were an old Buick Roadmaster.”

tomsheehan

O Typekey Divider

–Foreground Art by Sarah Hardy

–Background Art by Zak Milofsky