Jan/Feb 2004 Poetry


by Tom Sheehan



for Betsy and Alexa

My daughter's a warming pillow-pod
in my arms, the puff of down folded in,
nestling curves against harder curves
as we move up centuries of stairs to
her borrowed brass-balled iron bed.
I know the iron bed will answer back
to her thirty pounds, but these stairs
speak back to both of us; rough nails,
two hundred years old, still at aging,
are cryptic in their speech, conson-
ant scrape, vowel splurge floating on
oaken treads. Nails on the left side talk
the most, she's head-rested on left arm,
blonde hair in free-fall over that elbow
like blonde cascade, yet cobweb sweep
against my chest, whisper of darkness
clinging in to where the clinging counts.

Nails talk in octaves deft at divisions,
when stepped on and quick letting go,
short greased-up ride on worn wood,
getting hurt and robust feeling good,
foot down hard and foot gone off,
the heft, impress of our peopledom,
we crowd of two in one step. Where
nails have lost their hidden heads
they talk the most, quicker screams
up freed shanks, squared-off torsos
of iron monger's antique tips. Their
decapitations must have been loud
wailings in those long-gone nights.

My daughter hears in dim periphery
ought pulsing anguish of each cry,
but folds her pillow-poundage closer
in, becomes delightful wrap-around
somehow causes woe when it is gone,
the muscle move and bend of bones
only daughter against a father makes;
Earth-long caress without arm touch,
head to toe joining a child performs,
a union never quite the same again.

Cached in fieldstone cellar deep below,
in glass bottles for premium's visibility,
frozen from rust in vaunted airless grasp,
looking so much like petrified earthworms,
stand the nails that have lost their touch on
wood; those I've pulled, those popped out
in the middle of night tired of endless task,
talking too much to guest or quit on selves,

thick stubby ones old oak wood coughed up,
shanks where rust had fed longer appetites,
grip-ground chewed off by termite, black ant,
or thrown off by a Heimlich impersonation.

But old oak wood freed of nail companions
has its own vocabulary, those long XXXXs
of scrape and squeaking, those ZZZZs of rub
and roll on top of selves, Gggcks of break
or parting, the toes-up moving of treads,
most significant sound we hear of wear.
Daughter hears that sound, a wearing out
moving up oak risers, speaks so of treads.
The points between her shoulders narrow
as she pulls herself in, presses hard on me,
who hears the house decompose, and strains,
moving up the stairs, to measure my own
organic failing, rasp breath count, cartilage
being unspeakably taut, or loose, of choice,
old wounds in bodily headlines once more,
(Hell, before she was born, I never breathed
twice coming up this same flight of steps)

but getting old is wearing someone well,
daughter, her brothers, twice taller sister,
and she who sleeps beside me, motioned,
bent like blade of grass, oh lilac's branch,
contortionist to touch, deep night's signal.

The last wood communicant beside her bed
is birch floor piece I can't remedy or replace,
parqueted, doctored down by just carpenter
precise as bone wedge in someone's sorry leg,
ribbed and final exclamation, a long-gone
tree says goodnight to my golden daughter.

When I give her up, free her from my arms,
(fearful of the separation I know is coming)
and place her on that iron bed, ore will talk;
iron has such an endless voice, tuning forked,
shaking itself past my inner ear, demanding
to be heard. Oh, iron says more than fine alloy.
Isn't a brass ball beat by fission's fist of iron?
Isn't a daughter shaped by her father's touch?
Whatever echoes in your life is always heard;
tree fall, saw work, wisp of plane, the driving
home of iron by iron, nails letting go, breaking
away from initial configurations, shape coming
past, daughter clutching a pillow while asleep
as you look on, silent as thew's thickened root,
fingers locked in your own clay, feeling breath,
one searching waft of her own daughter coming
yet into this old house, up oh incorrigible stairs,
hearing the nails talk out in the ever silent night.


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