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.
Bringing Logs to Beth’s Kitchen
Shadows pinch slowly into corners as
if they have been caught on light tackle,
a marionette catch being brought home.
Catsup hides from sight. Mustard remains
more for the eye than the nose, yet it
holds up its head in the soft dark verges
night lets go of. The wood stove leaps
into morning like an engine revving up.
Butter has gone downhill all night long
in the deep white bowl set at her table
(I’d have it rather hard and cubed, setting
unspreadable on toast crumbling brown,
but the children argue for it from crust
to crust). When piccalilli starts cranking,
all aromas dwarfed to slighted oblivion,
jars set upside down like yoga sitters,
the green contents merely compost piles
sitting under gay rooms of sun, or hay
ricks breathing lazily on an August eve,
this delicatessen turns quickly inward,
talks of peppercorns, onions, warfare.
A white flake in a milk carton acts up,
turns its atoms into aromas swift as fire,
sours a space ten thousand times bigger
than its body weight. On gracious coffee
it can float like a raft on the Colorado,
Polynesian balsam on pacific Pacific,
or the single ark, bound and boneless,
on a peak commissioned to Ararat.
Under spoon it eddies outward, a Norse
ship coming close to my Irish precedent.
I can imagine the cow still at cud, ripe
in its reaping, staved against wooden
barriers, its mouth full of iron, hooves
in the slow exotic tap dance planks answer
to, the way pumpkins talk at Halloween
or throaty grenades hello a distant war.
Damply, the fireplace makes itself known,
a thousand fires smoldering shiny soot
and a bridgework of creosote building to-
ward brick-captured flames. It settles into
tomorrow like a lost legend giving rise.
I have seen logs chewed like old andirons,
firedogs herded from the antiquities of heat,
over-run solders, wrought iron geometry
twisted to mysteries, and the flames are blue
as horizons and green as peppers and pulpy
the way fruits blossom inwardly, sensually.
“Aha, I am warm because I have seen the fire,”
the logs have been saddled in my hard arms,
the maul arced as slow as a piano lesson.
Her table’s a throwback, a behemoth unearthed
from glacier swarm, a soft pine endorsement
of socializing and cereals and spilled milk
and remnant rings of beer cans and candle wax
and Thanksgiving hot plates and the footprints
of this infernal machine at infernal creation.
Perhaps the verb is never right, or the noun
selected from the wrong group, poor class, sing-
ing when the voice is still, awkwardly still.
The broad-barked trestle, slabbed from north
acre, pulls all our meals together, our visitors,
homework, experiments, dough rising overnight
under damp bleached flour bag covers, their
loomed legends fading all the way to dusk, new
poems rising to their knees from mud in my mind.
We pass through spills of her olla podridas, we are
touched and tainted and carry off many atoms
from kitchen’s ground zero. Distantly, upriver,
mountain path high, at fish or bird or game, world
songs beating at our door, they explode again
and again, sonatas, rainbows, a dialogue.
in the stone folds
of her life
a flower bloomed
Four Signatures for Evening’s Rush
Wide-armed May, like an amateur lover,
rushes into evening in the select company
of drum-throated frogs, crickets at castanets,
and a soft Spanish crescendo translating
quick mechanics of sounds. Awed oles hang in air,
in tree and bush, in floating darkness as if a million
paratroopers begin an act of invasion. The whole
stadium sings hoarse hosannas, their joys at other
disturbances below ground. A red flamenco skirt,
a parachute, a clipped cheer, all fan the business
of nightfall; images of night are stuck in one’s ear.
July, or course, beside the becoming lake, is tactile,
is meant for fingers and skin tender as thermometers
underarm, fore-headed, at hot junctures back of the neck.
July is the moment of touching, is night’s thickest heat
viscous as syrup in a cabin though a lake’s near and cool;
July falters through invisible fires; July escapes only halfway
through August when you can remember, vaguely, September
acceptance of a first cool night, cool night, a breeze talking
to the corner of your eye and speaking about lightness
in the heart, a voice of whispers and old promises, songs,
days when you were half a world younger.
If October is trees, if its nights melt pale in embers
of all its limb-borne flagrance, if roadside conflagrations
linger in the dark or whole sides of mountains stick
in your eyes as if the end of color threatens reality,
then this night is the cool end of the year. This soft rush
of evening coming over the hill and over a barricade
of maples leaning like elves in colorful display is, indeed,
a special night, when the squirrel’s tail begins to blossom,
the worm goes deeper under rock or log fallen to dust,
the bird leaps out warmly, the bear slows, a shortstop’s glove
gets stashed away, and scores remain in a scrap book’s
final pages. October talks all night about old loves, old loves.
I let January fall through the cracks. We wrap in wool, we twist
into crullers of people needing warmth, pretzel people bent
inward toward fires and hearths, bent to sacraments of sheets
and legs and total underworld of wanting flesh warm as our own
rides over us like cars elevated on bare iron of bars and columns.
January lets its evening get out of hand; broken arms, car races,
demolition derbies, northeasterly winds and high voices exploding
out of a white cloud that is merely horizon and the promise of day
coming upon us. January has the least of evenings, but warmest.
High Tension Language
In the wind in January, trees stripped to the rawest dimensions. On the edges of this electric road, crows by the dozens the only intruders in full dress shadows, a three-day-old snow crusting to gray, the marvelous, mysterious wires, hanging as if they knot ships together at low ride, weighted, with more than a sense of ice, sing through the keen teeth of a day going to its knees.
The song is wolfish, high pitched, a remnant at odds in the pack. The main strands, thick as hawsers, carrying theater lights, marquees alphabet-bright in upper case, library lamps under which notes are passed, the grocer’s late display behind a six-foot window, fire alarms and call boxes with blue lights like the taillights of a ’51 Ford, carry on the way divas do their derring-do, an octave and a platform above all else.
Are they heard downhill, flat side, down where this strange road ends, or begins, a dynamo bellied into earth the way a bear buries in all winter, or an old man writing a journal just past his last midnight? These songs are not for grocers or ticket takers or lovers embattled by scents and pressing time. Even bears are spared this wizardry, songs the wind owns at lips of wires, arias heaved offstage from spider webs slung between Erector-set steel skeletons like lapsed and forgotten messages, or compliments remembered in quiet hours between places as special as odors. These songs of thin mils, stretched in copper and newer alloys, high-minded and high winded, humming of the universe and music of this sphere, falsetto, bird level, dog-sharpening. Transcend all insulation techniques.
When you’re young and shadowy, alone in a lakeside summer camp, wind, through a midnight screen, rain its brazen complement, belongs in the same irreverent choir, voice sharpening the wind itself, honing to a point the cold stridor, the caterwauling, that metal ribbons exhaust upon dark rivers of air.
Now and then, as if orchestrated dull and basso cantante, a tower vibrates and threatens to topple, its voice plunging with the roots and footings to
where stark trees ache their emptiness. The last sound made, the ultimatum inverting the lolling cables, is unheard.
I walk here between the songs, watching rabbits, sleek as snow, whitened for the last resort, paddle- footed, snow-shoed for their abrupt run at living, alerted of the hawk tasting them from a thermal undertaking, and find myself ready for the noisy adjectives wires spill overboard. The far away rivers, mountains melting. dams letting loose, crackle their undertones.