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Tom Sheehan


Memories, much of recollection, hang on me desperate for sound, for eyes not mine, for those strangers who succumb to a few words, an image, my say in all of this, words free but costly, how connections arise, surprise, stay afloat, stay aboard. In high school, a girl turned away from my hello and walked elegantly off to her lifetime, smiling yet, a raving beauty yet, mother-proud, regal in skirts, perfect edge of temperament.  The same day, before anybody else, I slyly tore open my brother’s fragile V-mail letter from war’s wild Pacific, its onionskin contents marked by a censor’s serious look at life. And I also heard my cousin’s telephone voice for the last time, from a Port of Embarkation somewhere on the East Coast, and remember his falsetto voice holding back, saying nothing, saying everything important to us. 


They must have ears like mine, switched to cool jazz after hearing Puccini at his best. In New Jersey, Jimmy Smith heard trumpets, knew what Auden meant, saying, “In the nightmare of the dark / All the dogs of Europe bark,” and words that fell from my poetic grandfather’s lips like reading from an Old World cairn, "Red Fergus put down on a warring O’Sheehaughn," words of music I heard and  recognized as my own, and war changing everything we knew, heathens tossing stones at the other village.


Yet my heart’s locked into Saugus whose streets I walk the way I’ll walk another paradise, if there's one like this, if I can earn my way to it, where the river comes palpable touching East Saugus, where one sees old pilings and boats, worn by muscle and time, continuing journeys back into earth, where marshes turn suddenly brown, then white, and where friends, old, lost and forlorn, herald every corner I round, telling me they love what I still have.                                    


At Aveiro, Portugal, by the river’s mouth, boats scatter as compass points, small scoops on an interminably huge sea rising to the line of sight where gallant Genovese fell off the known world. They await oarsmen, hands warm with women, mouths rich with memory and signals, whose sons later come to these small boats topping the Atlantic, anchored by thin rope and night's tidal pull. It's where I stood between commotion and silence, spills of olla podridas riding the air with ripeness, early bath scents, night’s wet mountings, saw boats move like sea and earth move against a distant cloud. I questioned the hammer that drove the raw poles of moorings into the sea floor; a mustachioed Latin god, laughing at his work while waving to a woman on the strand, sees her, urged from bed or kitchen, eye him eye to eye. An artist could tell us what's missing is important; before dawn, an oarsman knows old calluses where Atlantic sends messages up through heel and calf, through thigh's thew and spinal matter radiant in miles of nerves, while small boats gathered at Aveiro speak of loneliness.

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