Jul/Aug 2001 spotlight

Four Poems

by Tom Sheehan


Where the Last Star Went

(for Daryll Koolian, BSA)

Midnight leans over itself
nearly silent, only the sounds
old stars make passing on
their witness of once being here.

Today the ants were mining
an old shoe at the trash pile;
I assume they are yet plying
their colonial energies

in that dark dominion and seat,
that mutable territory.
Often when we listen we hear
just skeletons, mobiles in wind,

our lives tinkling a faint music,
faint as a dead and distant star.
This day another shadow passed
in the shadows my eyes possess.

It was yours, Daryll, at labor,
going down in a deadly ditch,
what you had thrown out by shovel
coming hard down on your last cry.

I think you a warrior, bent
under the battle of your task;
your armor, your heart and hands;
your medallion, Mother Earth.

I do not recall you good at knots
or making camp or trailblazing
or how many merit badges
have gone silently like the stars

into cluttered oblivion.
But I remember how you smiled,
how campfires leaped lightly
in your eyes, where the last star went.


The Barn at Rapid Tucker's Pond

Some barns know how to kneel;
this one does, looking over shoulder,
sighing, whispering, I'm never sure
which in these bird-gray mornings.

They tolerate much: host armies
of creeping squadrons, dragooned
columns gnawing away time, flighty
creatures busy as town Saturdays,

ceding fathoms to dark hungers.
The warp and twist of checked timbers
silent as skulls, heady lintels
and cross braces at straddled chest

being crushed, sills aching to cry,
all stand their serious doubts.
They cling at selves, members
of the immediate family

waiting for a wake to happen,
or a song of reprieve at dusk,
heaving into morning's mirror
another night of survival.

It is why I love this old barn,
one like the others, falling down
slowly, taking pulse at oak wrist,
finding its own bright heart of tree

cored hard in gallant crosspiece, joist,
perhaps in hoof-thinned grasping plank,
or, in ever-summer loft, dreams
cached away for awakenings,

odors barns have a right to keep.
Here, at pond-side, I look over
shoulder at a barn looking too
back at slow, labored beginnings,

feel crosscut vibrate, axes shiver
at edging, two men's breath rising
in a column as if one lung works,
ritual of barn-raising, cutting into air.


Cutting Ice on Rapid Tucker's Pond

It was always horses, dragging ice
to the wooden ramp obeying chugs
of the gasoline engine, their traces
often slack as the ice slid on ice
and thundered slowly and resolutely
from hard shore to hard shore. Up the
ramp the ice cakes lumbered, six feet
of Arctic beauty before the huge saw
found the blue and silver-red signals
sitting just under cover and waiting
to flash once more before sawdust
poured down on their frantic coloring.
I have no hard memory of the men who
steamed their labors on the hard pond,
who swore and drank coffee from bottles
whiskey belonged in, who went gloveless
and carefree and irreverent to winter.
Of their faces I have no memory, or names,
or how they spent their money downtown,
or where they trod for stitches when
the angry saw went haywire. I only know
they poled ice floes and huge cakes
with an indifferent touch, that they argued
long hours against the cold, the wind,
and the incessant and desperate need
for sleep, that at-zero degrees they mopped
brows with red kerchiefs large as sails.
They were the reverse itinerants
who came not for fruit but for ice drop,
who appeared one Saturday in December
and began to take away pieces of our pond,
huge rectangular chunks they hitched
up to horses shrouded wholly in steam,
their wide mouths rimmed by thick lips
often white with frost around the red tongues.
They wore soft felt hats, brimmed, jackets
so odd you could not find a mate, but boots
with horsehide laces, wide belts, and looked
westward where the sun would set part-ways
through the afternoon.

In latest July, ever,
you could find December deep in the icehouse
under the waves of orange sawdust still wet
with some of their sweat, a cool hideaway
to puff the stub of a cigarette, touch a breast,
play hide and seek for hours as winter
sprawled under our feet cold and foreboding
and nearly two floors high inside redan walls
two feet thick.

Mostly I remember the eyes
of a horse who plunged through the ice,
like great dishes of fear, wide and frightened
and full of the utmost knowledge. His front
hooves slashed away at the ragged rim of ice,
but could not lift him out, or leather traces
or ropes or sixty feet of chain, and when he
went down, like a boat plunging, huge bubbles
burst on the surface and a December afternoon
became quiet.

We stood transfixed, as if frozen
in the gray of that day, the itinerant workers,
other horses at rest, my shod friends, as Rapid
Tucker's Pond began its disappearance under
the edge of yesterday.


Night River, East Saugus

Silver under-rides every wash and turn,
ribbons of it, plucked pieces from a sea
of chemicals and ores pocketbook rich.
I have fished exactly here, by this rock,

saw my monofilament disappear in ripples,
see it now raw-mooned and winding out
as if some great striper gills it home,
takes it tail-deep, threatens to spawn

majestically all these bedrock places.
Night sings in rushes and wind-bowed reeds
where red-winged blackbirds shagged worms
for their hidden young, peepless, cribbed

in rich sanctuaries, darkly bedded, barned.
All day the old ones mounted swift sorties
against me, dove screaming out of the sun
like Spads or Neuports in France's prime.

Now they shove wings in tucking places,
uncoil, rest heads as if necks are broken.
When I shake day and boots from feet,
plunge them in this silver rewarding,

feel sea's edge the way a poem cuts
a solitary hour, the river takes itself
seriously, dares, moves like a sly hand,
reaches for true flesh, tastes the nouns.


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