Poems by Tom Sheehan

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After Apples, Listening

by Tom Sheehan

From Canary Winter 2011-12

Tom lives in a house built in 1742 about 200 feet from the Saugus River in the Saugus River Watershed bounding 900 acres of the Rumney Salt Marsh and 450 acres of a wetland, Reedy Meadows.

They have all gone now,
the fire engine-red Macintosh,
under batter with cinnamon,
gone to day school
on yellow buses
with brown-baggers,
or bruised to a freckled
taupe and plowed under
for ransom and ritual.

Some have had the life
crushed out of them
for Thanksgiving cup.

Standing on the stiff lawn
downwind of winter,
I drop the first cold
moon of November
into a fractured wheel
of apple limbs
and hear the bark
beg away.

A pine ridge,
thicker than a catcher’s mitt,
grabs half the wind
riding off Monadnock
and squeezes out
wrenching cries that hang,
like wounded pendants,
on necks
of far, thin stars.

Deep in the Earth,
in a thermal tube
of its own making,
an earthworm grows
toward a rainbow trout
sleeping under ice
and waiting to be heard,
or the last of an apple’s pips
still this side of the grass.




An Infantry of Stars

by Tom Sheehan

From Canary Spring 2011

An infantry of stars
Swarms the slow sky
Wide as a Vicksburg
Field between shots.
The guidon ripples
The slow torment
Of deep passage
Just beyond Polaris.
Near giant Orion’s
Eastward shoulder,
A torchbearer pops
An impetuous gleam.
Small encampments,
Sometimes sevenfold,
Tighten their ranks
In bright bivouacs.
Others, loners and post
Guards, circle wide
Circles like the dog
Star Procyon hunting.
This vast array
Does not appall me,
Though I diminish
Before its deployment.
I have been told,
In good faith,
That many of these
Stars are dead,
But we know their shinings,
Like old soldiers,
Long-gone, cement
Themselves into statues,
Dim ribbons and old medals
Whose scriptures fade at sun
And slowly, gram by gram,
Inch toward minerals and memory.
Beneath my feet
This veteran Earth slips
Into the far side
Of another’s telescope.




Dowser on the River

by Tom Sheehan

From Canary Spring 2013

Downriver a sudden
wash spills grubs, white
worms, into the quick rush.

Stones, too, hurl
into the fray, like infantry
and horse soldiers out of bush.

The rain is gone
over-hill half a day
and aches its echo on the earth.

This, of course,
is my own war, this drive
to be alone, separatist seeking

shadows of the pine,
the cool, dark cells of old trees
flattening like choice rooms by the banks,

and the phantom foe
sleek as a jet under surface.
He turns to watch my boots stumble

on the rock skelter
laced with lichen and mossed
strains. If he has laughter, it floats

away faint as photographs
at the back end of an old man’s
mind. I trust that he neither laughs

nor cries in his world,
that once he noses upstream,
feels the power gauging his flanks,

knows the message
burning like new stars
in the sanctity where his eyes dwell,

he will forget why I
am in this shadowed recess:
that a secret spawning calls us both

from the center
of the earth, the rhythm’s merge
divining where the river starts itself.




Rubble, Barn Style

by Tom Sheehan

From Canary Summer 2013

Dust from last century
settles deeper, tattles
tales when jammed open
by a heavy broom, a toe

dragged through lifelines,
the demise of contours.
Barns this size, kneed
in the groin by January

storms, wet coughs of April,
August retreats from fire
when gummed capillaries
draw back to old dowsing

grounds, always show age,
the way blue ribbons are worn.
Sun, even a dish-bright moon,
occasionally a star if you’re

still in your tracks, breathless,
hoist themselves where nails
also fell to mines of earth.
But it is here that iron

and wood trade final secrets.
Under rust’s thickest scab
the metal keeps its black shine;
abrade it with rock and stone

and the line of light leaps out,
like the flesh of wood flashes
its white mysteries orbiting
marks of lunar growth.

A mole tortures underground,
a host of bats above like gloves
hang to dry in the dim light,
and in twisted byroads

and blossoming paths the termites,
carpenter ants and dust beetles
chew the cud of oak sills, risers
an ash released to two-hand saw,

and green pine checked, stippled,
full of eyes where knots let go.
Square nails, blunt as cigars,
suddenly toothless, a century

of shivering taking its toll,
shake free as slow as worms.
For all the standing still
there’s action, warming, aging,

the bowing of an old barn,
ultimate genuflection.




Saugus on the Tidal Run

by Tom Sheehan

From Canary Fall 2013

What of all the spills that ache here --- upland dosage where the delta’s done and settling its own routines, the near immeasurable transfer of land and other properties of the continent chasing down Atlantic ways, shifting nations and cities from directly underfoot, moving towns along the watershed, oozing territories.

Oh, how I loved the river feeding the ocean.

I have plumbed the Saugus at the river mouth, found the small artifacts of its leaning seaward, tiny bits of history and geography getting muddied up against the Atlantic drift, suffering at tide’s stroke, roiling and eddying to claim selves, marveling at a century’s line of movement, its casual change of character, its causal stress and slight fracturing under ocean’s dual drives, the endless pulsing tide and the overhead draft of clouds bringing their inland torment and trial, land and loam and leaf running away with the swift sprinters of water, the headlong rush of heading home like salmon bursting upstream for the one place they can remember in the chemistry of life, impulses stronger than electricity, smells calling in the water more exotic than Chinese perfume.

The flounder, sheaving under the bridge at the marsh road, pages of an un-sprung book, one-eyed it always seems, hungering for my helpless and hooked worms, sort over parts of Saugus in this great give-away, and nose into the extraneous parts that were my town, my town.

“Listen,” my father said to me, his eyes dark, oh black during a whole generation, “for a sound whose syllable you can’t count up or down, for what you might think is a clam being shucked, a quahog’s last quiet piss on sand, a kelp bubble exploding its one green-stressed overture.”

He talked like that when he knew I was listening, even at ten years of age.

He wasn’t saying, “Listen for me,” just, “Listen for the voices, the statements along Atlantic ritual, every driven shore, rocks sea-swabbed, iodine fists of air potent as heavyweight’s, tides tossing off their turnpike hum, black-edged brackish ponds holding on for dear life, holding a new sun sultry as anchovies … all of them have words for you.”

I hear that oath of his, the Earth-connected vow all the sea bears, the echoes booming like whale sounds, their deep musical communication, now saying one of his memorials, “Sixty-years and more, I feel you touch Normandy’s sand, measuring the grains of your hope, each grain a stone; and I know the visions last carved in June’s damp air.”

“Oh,” he’d add, “you sons, forgotten masters of our fate.”

Deepest of all, hearing what I didn’t hear at ten, but hear ever since, the hull-hammered rattling before rescue from the USS Squalus, 60 fathoms down off Portsmouth, the sound and the petition count never fading; three quarters of a century of desperation and plea hammering in my ears.

Say it straight out: “Some were saved and some were lost. That is a memorial.”

The eels squirm and fidget on Saugus farmlands, pitch-black bottom land gone south with rain and years, gutter leanings, great steel street drains emptying lawns and backyards and sidewalk driftage into the river below black clouds. The worn asphalt shingles on my roof yield twenty-five years of granules, and now and then tell that story inside the house.

A ninety-year old pear tree shudders under lightning and offers pieces of itself as sacrifice to the cause, dropping twigs, blasted bark other lightning has tossed into the soft footing, the grayed-out hair of old nests, my initials and hers and the scored heart time has scabbed up, dated, pruned, becoming illegible in the high fancy of new leaves and young shoots. There, too, went my father’s footprints in one April storm, washed away in late afternoon as he lay sleeping in that tree’s hammock; and grease off my brother’s hands from his Ford with nine lives hanging on a chain-fall; and across the street a neighbor’s ashes spread under grapevines and pear tree an August fire later took captive in dark smoke I still smell on heavy summer evenings.

This is my word on all of this, this act of love, this adoration:

It is where the river’s done and has the yearling host, this boy’s lonely boast he’s lived the night at water’s edge, on safety’s ledge, on Atlantic side leaning inward from mighty crest and wave where fishermen become brave. I know panoramic view, gulls’ endowment, how fish shapes call them from Earth’s face, that spinning race about the sun and those who dare the seaward fare and spell of salted lung when a boy’s hung between the sunlit surface and a pinch of salt, who knows twisted souls at sea, sweet misery of warming sand, a hand not forgotten far from land where flotation guise reflects on lower skies. I know how water marks horizon’s dwelling where dark stream and ocean meet twice in flow of bayside surge and ocean merge loses out in river’s downhill push, losing lush things like gravel I have trod, and the locks and board holding back my river horde.

Oh, believe … I have come up by image from the sea in other times, by overhand, by curragh, by slung-sailed ship of oak, afloat a near-sunken log; have crawled sandy edges of the bay, looked back at waters’ merge and flow, found the river’s crawl reversed where floating parts are nursed, toting redwing nests the winds abuse, good ground the rain in swift return hauls down the river … Saugus on the loose.




Still Water Covenant

by Tom Sheehan

From Canary Fall 2010

Bowed out before me, slack green
where ripples wash each other
in slow torment, air too long foul
and fish bellied up against the sun
in my savage memory, Rapid Tucker's
Pond sleeps where the canoe plies on.
I am bare movement in the stillness,
a slow energy across swift despair
of water feeding only twisted roots
of pines, scorched alders, reeded haven
for a lone pair of red-winged blackbirds.

Death rattles all about me, canned bones
shaking as if worn lowly on the gunnels,
disease as memorialized as statuary,
illness captured like a held breath.
The vile green liquid carpet staggers
outward from brighter reflections,
the old ripples of a once-tossed stone
moving momentary photographs to mind;
spiking the pond with vibrant trout
silver and red and stone-crushed blue
all along their speckled undersides,
watching the aerial elegance of frogs
where bass bombs burst in weeds,
lazy pickerel flotillas idling shallows
with the sun announcing further shadows
on the sand, then midnight ice caught
as darkness inside of diamond stones.

No sicker than I, this pond, torn
and ripped on my insides, lament
riding its frail blessings in harsh song,
memory stabbing with the other days
relentless as forgotten gunfire,
cursing acid rains and dark clouds,
upland spillage secretive and sly
as armed infiltrators, underwater pipes
neighbors bury after dark, beavers'
departure, April morning silences.

All this death draws promises, half oaths
about this once-hallowed place, Earth-pond,
my Earth though too soon mated with it,
too long interred where long dowsers reach,
Earth that is the substance of my body,
where the unseen mold plays its waiting game.

The slayer moves among us, prowling,
claiming land and sea and air channels,
touching with his dread hand the least of us
and rough edges of the tumbling Atlantic.
Rapid Tucker's Pond dies, then Lake Erie,
and the Pacific sits fattest of targets.
In this morning's silence, even birds abed,
I swear I will not yield easily, or first.




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