February 28, 2015


Sheehan served with 31st Infantry, Korea 1951 and graduated from Boston College, 1956. Poetry books include Ah, Devon Unbowed; The Saugus Book; Reflections from Vinegar Hill; and This Rare Earth & Other Flights. Korean Echoes nominated for Distinguished Military Award and The Westering, 2012, nominated  National Book Award, and 26 Pushcart nominations.

A Voice Touching (appeared in The Cenacle, 2011)
Remnants (an earlier version appeared in River Poets Journal, 2009)
A Spirit Not yet Home (an earlier version appeared in my collection, Ah, Devon Unbowed, 1978


A Voice Touching

A drunk startles me
from a doorway.

He cries against
his mother’s arms,

into darkness
and nothing of daylight,

which has gone like a thief
over the stonewall at street’s end.

His wail vibrates
slowly off the curbstone,

goes cold, curb-gray,
weak as a river

out of sight
under thick alders.

He is not alone despite
all this loneliness,

this cold street,
September touching pavement,

Saturday touching
Sunday, acceptance,

being what you are
and where you’re supposed to be.

I keep seeing
the dark doorman

stashed in his cubicle,
shaded, ragged, dreaming

of the door opening, light
spilling on his hands,

night flaking its pieces
from his soft shoes,

a voice touching
where his mouth went.

Grandfather ran the city dump,
burned clinkers in a little house
made of scrap. On cold nights drunks
slept in, thicket ‘round the grouse.

They were welcome, long night heat
of iron stove they wrapped around,
hot rim cold feet were propped upon,
quick difference from frozen ground,

bare railroad tracks and entry ways,
darkness where abides the ghost,
or last resort, dread cardboard wrap.
The lonely birds came in to roost,

flew in at dusk. He stoked the fire
to flames, dried their feather sward;
often he left his lunch about,
like suet hanging in the yard.

On Saturdays I brought his lunch,
dense laminates of bread and meat,
thick and heavy, coarse as sin,
brown banana we would not eat,

dark coffee bottled in a pint,
wound about with paper clasp.
I never saw one bottle
finished off within his grasp,

never saw his hand inside
odd-size paper bag. His flock
did choose, had suet choice,
hens dining before the cock.

When he died they came to grieve
the man who gave them sup,
drunk and besotted brothers
who once drank of his cup,

mottle skinned, so soured of life,
pale host, the beaten and the warred,
they came to touch the little man
who gave them what was left of God.

A Spirit Not Yet Home
    (Being the Thrust of an Irish Muse)

Devon whispers to me tonight
Out of the Bulliwicks and Doneraile and Elphin-Mere.
Devon whispers in the clutter of an alley
Where grandfather Johnny Igoe ran as a boy.
Devon whispers through the amber of glass
And the dark dark of my beer suds.
Devon whispers.
If I told my father he’d be angry
Because he knows not Devon but another.
And yet Devon comes in the long dark alleys
And side streets of my nights
And in the neon of shouting at my own silhouette on the moon.
Devon whispers.

I have heard him in the cratered hell of Korea
And in Cleveland’s dusky pit
And in Providence falling down a hill
And in the big rail yards of Chicago
As I tramped away from a troop train
Looking for a Budweiser
And sober as hell on a March morning
Knowing the mists and hill greenness of Frisco
As she popped America out of the purple.

And Devon whispers tonight sort of faded
And distant as a thin star voice
Calling down the crook of years.
Devon says words to me:
“Ye bird is led a wilde goose chace adown ye river.”

And I hear him move, furtive and sly as winks,
His shoulders hung in tight to hold off the cold
Moving on his skin even beneath his heavy cardigan,
Through Clanricard’s Alley and past Lyman’s Place,
To find himself beside the door he long sought.
He touched the door as he might have touched the hawthorn once
That stood in the small green yard in front of the brick house
Back in the Bulliwicks.
Back in the Bulliwicks.
Back in the hundred years of time.
He touched the door expecting it to sound
As a stone on his fingers,
A hard experience of touch,
Not really a touch of a hundred years of a tree,
But it opened, the door.
It opened
And Devon saw the light beneath a further door,
A crescent burst in the pit of the room,
A sky of night of a room.
Devon moved inside the sky

And closed the door behind him,
Hinges rolling smooth as leathers,
The only sound his own breathing,

The quiet burst of his chest
Only now finding painless expansion,
Just now finding relief from the sharp bang
And pierce at his right breast.
He enjoyed for a moment that knowledge of relief,
That uninterrupted heavy breathing,
And moved, more carefully than he had moved
All the long evening from the river,
Toward the crescent of light
In the deep space of a new place.

Devon was silent.
Even his knees did not creak out
Their hyperbolic drumming and snapping
That had once betrayed him.
He moved out into that space
Of darkness and moon silence and treachery of sudden stars,
In a stealth both grotesque and yet stolen
From Ledwidge’s ballet, until he seized up in mid-flight.
The room, the space, the utter darkness,
Had matter.
Matter shared the air with him,
Shared the darkness,
Shared the faintest odor of burlap
In the air as thin as old gunpowder.
Matter, with him, was soaking up
The few calories of heat held inside the walls.

Matter, he suddenly knew,
Shared knowledge with him.
He let the one last hard breath go
As if a sign were needed or indeed
Was being sought after.
Then the bully whistles blew.
All around the bully whistles blew
And they split the darkness,
They split the room,
They split the outer space of the room
And Devon whispered to me and said,
“Tommy, Tommy, me culprit, I’ve lost it!
But keep listening.
The world is calling, I must go.”

How can I know he does not pass
Booted but silent in the midnight grass?


Moved one night just past into the Bulliwicks
And hid hard against a stone wall
And Devon whispered through grass
As fine as velvet threads,

A hoarse whisper, a ragged edged whisper,
Much as liquid steel scratching in the Borgmal Mill
Against the bucket edge,
A medicinal whisper with thick, dark dosages,
A whisper full of tombs and brasses,
A whisper Devon knows I feel

Even before I hear it coming
Hard through the soft grass.
“Ah, Tommy, Tommy, I’m out on it!’

Grass moved on his face
Catching as webs not quite there
And shoved up into his nostrils
Hard as bamboo sticks,
All the while a half moon
Poked neon shots at him,
At the sad, dark, long, cold,
Hungry, passionless, painless body of a man
Moving through the grass as if Eden lay ahead
With all its promise.

He remembered a game they all played
Back of the other wall a mile back,
Smelling leaves, eyes bound, hands tucked away,
Trying not to smell even one scent of the odor
Coming up from their armpits ripe as dropped melons,
Saving odor-telling acumen for one quick breath of a leaf
And to spit out the name of the tree.
Oh, hawthorn, he thought.
Oh, tree. Oh, leaf. Oh, veined figment of a full life.

He swore the moon was cold.
He swore the rock wall
Coming hard up against him was cold.
He knew the stone of every wall
And this was much like them all.
He knew the gray slam of it,
The flint, the fire thrust.
Then the marble pits buried in other rocks
Older than the earth itself,
Pulled out of the universe by a power
Stronger than the one
That would take it again.

He measured, with his hand, a cold, callused hand,
A hand this night had closed on life,
The almost bottle-green bulb on a rock
And swore he knew the fire that sent it.
There was but the wall.
There was no other wall.
There was no other wall to climb over,
Slide down, scurry behind, squint over at the unknown.
This was his last wall.
This was his last field,
Last meadow, last pasture, last fling far from the little stone house.

Devon told me in that deep hurting whisper,
It was his last field.
He thrust one shoulder under himself
And the jacket bound tightly at his armpit
And he measured the slowing blood touching at his fingertips,
A tide withdrawing from the very edges of the world.
“Tommy, Tommy, I’m out on it!’

And he sucked in the night
And the stars and the half-death moon
And the bamboo-threatening grass
And the bottle green of rock bulb
And the heavy-necked taste of his sweater
And the air leaping in cold pieces
And the abject, miserable silence
Strutting proud as death
And the odor of a hawthorn leaf
Moving its anesthesia deeper into his mind
Than he cared.
His fingertips took the silence first.

He lay on his side, but his head back
And eyes looking up into the near-cream moonlight
And thought of looking up
At Rhoda MacGawran standing above him
On a staging back in Schlah Cruach
And how the white of her never seemed to end,
And how his fingers ceased a grasp
With cold coming through them slower than suds.

There was something else.
He had forgotten something else.
How had it been so important once
And now to be forgotten?
He was sure it had not gone away.
Things don’t disappear without reason.
There was something.
But what?
What besides the cold?
The cold now in his fingers
Was more reality than the whiteness above him.
What else?
What took him to this?
There was something beside the whiteness.
There was something besides Rhoda MacGawran’s crotch
Staring back down at him
Heavy as an August garden.

There was something. It was alien to him.
It was alien to him.
It did not belong.
It had not meant to be.
That was the real matter,
It had not meant to belong.

And then the insidious heat of that alien thing
Became known to him again,
The sly, subtle, beguiling heat,
The white heat, the pained heat;
Somewhere, down where his hand could not reach,
Where his fingers could no longer feel,
The heat of the alien thing grew.

And the total night leaped in flames.
It raced through him.
The hawthorn leaf faded,
Its odor lost in the smell coming up under his sweater

Strong as stable sweep,
Sharp as a Friday stable sweep back in Schlah Cruach.
He strained to bring back the hawthorn leaf,
Strained to bring back the blessed Bulliwicks
Full of sun and bright air searching out all things,
Strained to race a million years back
To his first fish, stone, ride, seed,
Chocolate bite from Newby Gantt,
To the previous of forever,
And he suddenly knew the alien.

It was lodged there somewhere off the hip,
Deep in, hot, burning,
Feeling as if it would again explode on him,
In him, as it had.

The corporal had taken one shot.
It was growing now.
It would always grow,
It would never stop growing.
It would explode again.
It would careen in him like a mad shell
Of a car in a wild ride.
It would hurt again.

“Oh, Grampy,” he cried.
“Oh, Tommy. Oh, Grampy. I’m out on it!
Oh, God, I’m out on it.”

Devon cries when he whispers.
It is the hoarseness in his voice.
It is the dosage.
It is the liquid of steel.
It is his own shell.

Ah, Devon, is your peace in me?


“Ah, Thomas,
You’ve been wondering where I’m at
And all the time I’ve been burning the mountains behind me

And burning the rivers behind me
And burning circles in this old land behind me
And the bloody bastards keep coming!
Oh, lad, they keep coming
Like the angel’s breath was on them.
I tell you, it’s a great thing to see perseverance
Like they have,
Not letting air out of sail,
Or steam out of gut,
Just coming on in one command,
And if they become notorious or famous
For these goddamn deeds,
Well, lad, they’ve earned them.

They’ve seen more of this land,
More of her real bush and stream
And strange tree lines
Than many mouthy bastards I’ve met
In my great circle of home.
One of them’s a savage bastard
And near caught me in Ballinascarthy
And if he isn’t my brother
He near is for the damned way he has about him,
Like part Skye terrier.
I swore once I would kill him
Next time meeting
And then that night,
Safe in a dark room with a real lass of the land
And one without upstart ideas,
I could have loved him like the brother I never had.

It would be such finery
To have a brother now.
This one has a way of dog about him
And I hate him, the bastard he really is,
And I love him because he’s me
Coming after me
And there is no power so great in the world, lad,
As one chasing one’s self
In merry circle of life and death around the amoebae
Of the Irish Ocean/Atlantic Sea.

I was settled in a sure place
At Ballinascarthy,
Warm and good tea near
And some muffins I haven’t had for twenty years,
Sitting in a pan so close it was
Like stealing each time I ate one.
And my Uncle Tim from Rathkeale
Sitting, reading, in the half light
Of the fire and pretending all the time
He was hero and his heart pumping
So loud you could hear it across the room
And the sweat pouring off his brow
And the tip of his nose regular as rainfall.

It’s something, Tommy, Tommy,
To sit in the presence of a coward
And feel all your heart go out to him
To make the one move that will bring it all back
And you know it just can’t happen,
Because one is made the way he’s made,
And wishing don’t change a thing.
A coward has a special way of covering.
It’s a way he has learned in
Many places and many scenes and many situations.
He’s excellent at protecting himself
Most of the time
And horribly bad at protecting others
And as smart as I am, I’m as dumb as I am,
And should have smelled the rat moving
In the guise of himself.

And I sat there, Tommy, Oh, Tommy,
I sat there trying to renew myself
And trying to speak at him the words
I wanted to say
And I was as much coward as he was
And held my tongue.
And all the time this near-brother
Is using my uncle to get at me
And I should have known.
Oh, lad, I should have known;
The fox has all that’s left over of cunning.

I moved with a slight word of goodnight
Into the deep silence of my room
And closed the door behind me softly
And with a prayer for Tim.
My mother is crying yet over him
And I could not pass on without giving a word
She would have given regardless of the situation.
Mother, your brother sits like a savant,
The book open to a good word,
His glasses tipped at a professorial angle,
His pipe giving off a comfortable smoke.
But I don’t believe the body of his eyes.
He was born one with the fox
And I could feel the fox near.

You might think for one moment
Your Devon is gifted,
But not so, Tommy, not so.
More coward than gifted
That moment in Ballinascarthy
As I lifted the window sure as the devil himself
Coming in from the Easter sunrise
And slipped away.
I heard the strange edge of voices
And that of the near-brother
Coming from the full darkness.

Oh, there’s no heart so loud as one’s own
In the dead of night,
No heart so drumming,
No heart so full of a nearness to pain
That you want to reach out
And pull it in to get rid
Of the suspense and anxiety.
There’s no heart so brave in its beating
And so fragile in its pounding
As one in flight.

I wondered, even as I moved
As sly as I thought the fox of him could move,
How my Uncle Tim’s heart really sounded
In his own head, in his own mind,
In his own conscience.
And suddenly I was told by all the grains
Of my own thought and being
That the heart my Uncle Tim heard
Was indeed one of fright, always of fright;

From dawn to dusk, at all hours of the night,
He would not know anything more than he would know fright.

And I could have cried then.
I could have spilled the waters
Of heaven and hell for him then
As I moved, even greater than the fox could move,
Through the crowding night
And out toward Carrigaline
And the place where Jack Templemore sat
Night after night,
His heart echoing in the far recesses of his mind
A dial tone of love.
Waiting for one or another or another
Of the small committee in its flight
To touch at his door,
To take of his bread,
To sip of his tea,
To pass on to what lay in the politics
Of the land and perhaps,
And more than likely,
Never to be seen again.

And he asked nothing,
Not thanks, nor gift of any measure,
But shook a man’s hand
And looked into a man’s eye
As no man shall ever be accosted
And we who moved away from Jack Templemore
Remember that eye upon our eye
And that hand upon our hand
And we had found the power of the people.

And some nights I sleep like this,
Tommy, Tommy,
Such nights as tonight,
With the sky as big as bells
Peeling out freedom in great waves
And clouds breaking up at dawn
To run off in strange elopements,
And all turns well for me,
Though my flight is not yet done.

When my flight is done, you shall hear my cry.”


This night is frogged down,
There is a gulp in its air.
The night moves without the blessings
Of moon or stars,
But the voice moves over the land.
It comes out of icebergs
And across floes of the north
And full of steam up out of
The equatorial limbs of one man.

Devon has my ear this night.
He will not let me be still as dead leaves
Or snow banks at midnight,
But wants me to know.
So I listen as Devon speaks to me,
His voice a shadow of his other voice,
The laughter gone from it,
The gaiety gone from it,
The mystery of love gone from it
The panic of chase gone from it,
As a voice cannot remember of oneself.

“Tommy, Tommy,” he said to me.
“Listen this night.
Oh listen, me culprit,
The word is now.”
And Devon slunk in his hospital bed
As a piece of uninvited vermin
And gave me his terror of white,
His mind shrieking into my mind,
His heart bursting into my heart,
His breath bursting into my breath,
His loneliness and fears
Finding their way into my self.

“Ah, Tommy, Tommy, there’s no right.”

Can one feel the beauty of a man dying?
Can one man in this bloodthirsty world
Feel the dying of one man

And his dreams going like crap
Up the air of our lives?
I fear Devon is going this way
And I listen to hear his dream
Buried in white,
Buried in the solvents of a strange world.

There is no tuning but Devon
As he calls out from his lonely place.
He shares his sudden stars
And sudden darkness with me.
He has his way over the air
Full of white linens and anesthesia.
Devon cries in this world,
In this jungle of corridors and white walls.
He abhors the odors
In the middle of the air.
He cannot stand the artificial smell of things.
The sterility in the rooms
Gathers about him strong as Lysol.
The walls of a tomb
Begin their smothering
And lids close down and he refuses
The belief of cherrywood’s closing
Of final doors over his eyes.
But his voice does not say the same thing.
It is filled with the real belief.
“Ah, Tommy, Tommy, not now, not now!

We’ve not done yet!
We’ve not done yet!”

He has been a hundred roads
And a hundred caves and dark alleys
And secret rooms in all the time I have known him.
He has lived more life than I have
And he touches at me in strange ways,
But the word carries and I listen.

“Ah, Tommy, they must get me from here.
And if they don’t,
Get me to the Bulliwicks, Tommy!
Only you can get me to the Bulliwicks!
After all the times, Tommy,
Only you can get me home again!”

And I know on certain nights
I can never take him home.
He must move on to a new task,
The real assignment he calls it,
Of one man’s life and destiny.
“Tommy, I shall not go easy to the clay.”
And suddenly that terror is mine.
I cannot take him home again!
I cannot let him rest in the Bulliwicks
Until his job is done.


Ah, Devon,
The bullet of my spirit
Hits the runway at Shannon
After The Dingle popped out.
You crowd me with misery
And the pestilence of long hope.
I have brought all my nights with me,
Our silent screaming back and forth,
The kaleidoscopic stars and moons
Serving as soul transmitters,
The brittle, unremembered pain
Numbing my bony joints
Forever scarred with your injection,
The well of tears I’ve spent
And hold collected in the explosive bag
That veins and aorta serve,
And the talkless times
When my son was born
And my nights were cries for him
Grasping at the edge of life.

Oh, Christ, Devon,
You smother me, the highs and lows
Of such long pursuit,
The sands shifting over the spectrum
Of lore binding our ends,
As I move the English Ford
Between obstacle barrels
Like crude orange chess pieces

On a Limerick bridge
Guarded by a new army,
Their automatic rifles hung bore down,
Their faces stiff as clock faces,
Lips set at nine and quarter past the hour,
An army you never knew
And yet began.

I impelled myself out of the city
Ganging at me harsh as Lowell
Or Lawrence or Worcester
With the ghosts of their mills
Forcing thousands of aimless steps
On every corner, every street,
Their red bricks inanimate,
Bearing the wrong breathlessness,
Usurpers, idle squatters;
Then only to find that new army
In wayside patrol, slow meandering,
A bore-down search for time,
And I know you are near.

Will I find you in Elphin-Mere,
By the crude hut of Johnny Igoe,
Blue and thatched on the far turn,
Or out from town, toward Cassidy’s,
Where that lone statue stands,
The Gaelic names burning stars.
Your army, Devon, your army,
Imprisons me at Elphin-Mere!

I struggle for the Bulliwicks,
Moving nowhere in the tide
Rushing through my limbs,
Helpless as my son crib-bound
Looking up to me, only eyes reaching,
And I am my son!
I am that babe beneath the power.

Oh, Christ, Devon,
I am you! I am you!
And the Bulliwicks fade,
The hawthorn fades, sweet smell
Lost in the granite pull,
Strong stable smell up in smoke,
The Easter names popping bullets
Of letters in my eyes,
And I am caught, we are caught,
In a freeze of time.

Ah, Devon, will we never go home again?

~Tom Sheehan

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