by Tom Sheehan
Break down the house, take it over there piece by memory, or memory by piece
like damned piecework in the war when some counted bucks not hours, take it
over there where mountains sit down with quick clean breaths, where edge of the
small pond works upright. Drop it there piece by piece; we are tired of the old site
where nothing but pain lingers at the doorstep. What spoke here speaks up:
One broken wing
One leg trapped by steel
Shingle tossed loose by wind
One dug grave left empty
To what recourse
Three empty aches left over
Finger a burnt leaf
Taught of dust
A limb learnt
The cutting rope
Things lightly considered
But deadly lost.
Tom Sheehan’s newest book is Korean Echoes, an e-book from Milspeak Publishers, and five more eBooks are in their production queue. In his cover letter, he wrote: “Every now and then I pore through one or more writing pads I carry in my vehicle and find a piece I had written, not always remembering where or when and often not what kicked a piece off in the first place, but somehow treasuring the effort of recall that I am commanded to in the second place, sometimes with a better yield than the original. That is a severe joy.”
by Tom Sheehan
A starter for a western short story
Lots of folks down in south Texas still tell the story of the relentless search for a prized horse stolen near Rancho Lobo. They spin the story years after the horse was stolen during the night of one of the greatest storms that ever roared in from the Gulf of Mexico. Like Hell was shot out of a cannon, they said of that storm, calling it “The Night the Devil Broke Loose.” The winds of that momentous storm, roaring banshees seeking wild revenge, ripped inland from the Gulf and cut a scandalous path of devastation more than 80 miles wide. Roofs of barns sailed in the air like wings of ungodly giant birds, windows in meager huts imploded before their scanty roofs came free, and one small settlement not far from Rancho Lobo witnessed every one of its buildings blown apart the way dynamite could do the job. And the horse, a 6-year old stallion, a magnificent animal from the first day, big and black and fiery-eyed, by the name of Chigger Boom, belonged to 16-year old Chuck Curtin, the son of a small rancher. That’s probably going too fast for some folks any distance away from the local area, so we’ll have to go back to the beginning when Chigger Boom came into the world of lower Texas, near the grass town of Rancho Lobo that lasted only a dozen years. The town folded up one night and died a sudden death in another weird storm from the Gulf. The successor storm roared in from the sea, great and noisy and earth-shaking, the way steam engines pound into towns at the baptism of new train tracks connecting all the way back to the Atlantic Ocean. But Chigger Boom, according to historians, carried the real story.
* * *
Western Pulps and Similar Magazines
Reasons behind the imitation
In my early years, in the ‘30s, the Depression in full swing, my adventurous spirit and thirst for new things at a full gallop, pulp magazines stuffed much of the void. They filled the empty spaces and often the empty stomachs waiting on a late meal of canned salmon, peas and a white sauce I remember to this day, or a meal of a quart of real oven-baked beans and a loaf of brown bread from a converted garage building just down the street on Charlestown’s Bunker Hill Ave, and all the lamb kidneys I could buy at a corner market with change from a dollar.
Often that simple meal fed the early five of us.
I particularly loved G-8 and His Battle Aces, Nippy and Bull, Doc Savage and his crew, Lamont Cranston as The Shadow and any pulp westerns I could get my hands on, barter for, even those with the covers torn off, or had the title stripped so they could not be put back on another shelf, to be sold as new. The covers were glorious paintings of cowboys in full gear and riding horses with wild eyes, their guns drawn and firing away, their lassos working a whirling magic, or running ahead of a cattle stampede or Indians chasing them to cover. The west was dynamic, a real place that hung out there on the edge of the rest of the country.
There was therefore a gastronomical and a literary connection for me where I lived less than 200 yards from history itself, Old Ironsides in Charlestown, MA Navy Yard, my father in the Marine Corps across the street from our cold water flat in a three-decker building on Bunker Hill Ave, and uphill from us stood the Bunker Hill Monument. Often he served as charge of quarters aboard that floating piece of history still making the rounds for us in their yearly turn-abouts. And many of those times were spent in my carriage when he baby-sat me while my mother shopped or completed other errands.
I seemed hungry much of the time those days, for those late meals, and for the accompanying adventures that reading pulp magazines brought to me, my mind exploding for the next few years, until girls intruded in their special way, a football felt comfortable in my hands, or a line drive into left field could be hauled in with a sprint and a sure glove.
Often when I select a name for a character in one of my stories, I feel some unique but unknown connection persuading me in a choice of names from a distant past aboard a fictional horse at a lope, trot or gallop across a pulpy page of print, or some character from Doc Savage or The Shadow, in a deliberate manner, making his name or the names of cohorts echo in the back of my head.
I always welcome such intrusions, calling to be repeated.
For a time they were real for me, and I try to make such characters real again, weaving them to do their thing in late stories I write, westerns, thrillers, or folk tales breaking out of the mind.
With over 240 cowboy stories committed to one Internet site alone, characters come to me looking to be named: I have uncovered Caleb Bonner, Mexico George, Lakota Betty, Otto Pilsner, Tobin Rally, Yardley Doyle McKee, Big Jack Tuppence (Coin of the Realm), Clay Hartung, Bad-Boy Goode, Bruce Danby (Pony Express rider), Doc Hannah, Falcon Eddie, Gregory Tolliver the Tascosa Gunsmith, Mrs. Binnie Minn of Shangri-La, No-Hugs Calhoun, Plumbeck the Fiddler, Will Halfloaf the Bumbler, and Crackbak Mellon-Mellon. I feel there’s an adventure coming up attached to a character’s name.
I call it romance of the language, the demand of phonetics playing at my ear, the sounds calling to be repeated from my reading past.
Memory knows yet the reading niches I had; to be alone, on a rooftop with the pigeon coops, in a cellar with the dust of coal in the air from a recent delivery, or in a portion of a hallway where the tenants were off working, all of them, all making their way to today’s computer at my command.
In those delicious hours, the cowboys came and went, G-8 flew in and out, Doc Savage did his thing, but I reaped all the rewards of their good deeds.
Those characters are still in my mind, suspended in some manner, waiting to be found again.
For me, it’s pay-back time.
Tom Sheehan’s newest book is Korean Echoes, an e-book from Milspeak Publishers. Five more eBooks are in their production queue and one NHL mystery novel is seeking agent representation as he dawdles in his 84th year.
by Tom Sheehan
Hey, Saugus, get off my back! Get off my back, Saugus.
You, yes, you, who preaches from Appleton’s Pulpit, you ranter and raver, you extraordinary tongue wielder, you who yells in chorus from Stackpole Field when wind brings from the banks of the lost pond voices forgotten except by you, a goodly chorus of faces and spirited ones how many times fallow for a quick generation of yells. Take back your yelling, Oh Saugus, and your cries. Get off my back, Saugus! Saugus, get off my back! You who hastily harangue from the Town Hall floor a bending of principles and fundamental yields your seeded and spirited politics have given the ages; or your echoes, oh echoes of told timbre and tonic Riverside throws up for grabs the one day trumpets cut to the quick of small argument advancing outward, when one falling leaf, nurtured by one, one old friend, comes, October’s breath and daring, to my footed path, saying his name to me, her name to me, saying we to me.
Get off my back, Saugus! Saugus, get off my back!
That trail over there, pond-sided, a boy once knew; new here, that boy, brought to duck and carp and fox, summer’s sweet immersion, winter’s scissored ice, brought to this place out of all places, brought to you, to be layered on, to be imposed, scribed and etched, by what makes you what you are, and that boy, that boy lured here to the burned edge of the pond, which lingers in the mind one second longer than all.
Get off my back, Saugus! Saugus, get off my back!
You do not come at me softly except night-shaded where the wetted, youthful, endless kiss ends sixty years later when her last picture is delivered to New Jersey, to another, an older flaming moth who knows you inside so deeply the ache is read; who knew your waters blessed us, pond, stream, river bend by bridge, marshy pools’ awesome pair wearing summer’s threatening horse shoe crabs down back of Sims’ Orchid Farm’s arms-wide spread of glass, and sticks for miles and miles of reeds promising fire, and antennae-slick worms marsh-dug for a nickel apiece, for Atlantic bait, bye the bye.
Get off my back, Saugus! Saugus, get off my back!
You take me past Eileen’s house full of ache I can still feel, the way her soft words flinched, or Honest Lawyer’s sign saying “I’m almost home,” or where a rumble under stone is but the one voice first comforted me, and my brother too, good lady of iron who talks from under granite these days of settled touch, who, landing here from Cork’s land and loving this place of yours, stays now forever, sweet incarceration.
Get off my back, Saugus! Saugus, get off my back.
Today, trekking on you, you make me think about a man I haven’t seen in fifty years, or heard, his coming out of your cut century of shadow and of shine, Phillies’s A’s and Cornet’s old-time catcher, big-mitted Sam Parker, died on Hopper‘s masterpiece device. Every day you do the same thing taking me back, grasping, clutching, your claws wrenching soul, letting me know you’re all about, on Pirates’ Hill, Standpipe Hill, Catamount Cove, where Charlie’s Pond used to be, the Pit, easterly where our river runs dim and crooked to the sea, and on all the artifacts of being, illustrious bones, tossing them up, Saugus, oh one by one tossing them up.
Ah, Saugus, will you never let go? Will you ever let me free?
Tom Sheehan served with the 31st Infantry Regiment, Korea, 1951. Books include Epic Cures; Brief Cases, Short Spans; A Collection of Friends; and From the Quickening. He has 14 Pushcart nominations, a Georges Simenon Fiction Award, and is included in Dzanc Books’ Best of the Web 2009; has 200 short stories in Rope and Wire Magazine, with print issues including Rosebud (4) and Ocean Magazine (8) among others. Poetry collections include This Rare Earth and Other Flights; Ah, Devon Unbowed; The Saugus Book; and Reflections from Vinegar Hill.
Curry a new poem
with a wire brush
toss vanity aside
when you dare to
hit it two or more swipes
with the same scrub brush
your mother kept the kitchen
clean with, drag with a fine tooth comb
the kind she sought out nits
with when school was overrun
the way ant hordes might come
yet, fire ants from Brazil’s interior
the Amazon bone-dry
old wells besieged
silence the final
by Tom Sheehan
We talk fifty miles over wire, a mile
for each year since our eyes touched.
Legends still vibrate in your voice, fables,
story of a stray star, Atlantis provoked,
burst meadow beyond the hill, bedding down,
a tree counting the darkness, flower in a field
of rye. I remember a winter clean as salt,
memorialized snow banks, foreign country
of a couch thickly green and awkward
as landed amphibian, a blue wool skirt
of accordion pleats I blew smoke into,
my ear on its blue sky listening to stars
inside, eyes closed, mouth opened,
stretching, reaching, turning corners.
by Tom Sheehan
(Jeff Eff’s Lily Pond Transit)
He declares hidden sets for me, pastel passage, same seat I have sat,
though different set of eyes, wondering where the spring, summer
and winter’s at. The hidden fires of fall have declined, flame without
smoke, though fire’s heart was born in stem, stalk and sprig in spring;
fall leaf and limb all flame, so cindered. Summer brazier on sunlit girl,
a sylph from diving board, who October wears a soft yellow sweater,
a skirt to match, who when the fire’s lit, thinks the fall’s the end of it.
Not sparks we hit, old ice houses in sheets of flame, wild sparks due
a mile away, heat enough for spring. Oh, yes, that’s it. Back to spring.
He thinks perhaps I see canoes slipping off pickerel-like from LeHavre
or New London’s watered pit, or a skater’s pond-wide whitened trail
on year’s first ice, twice black thunder leaping up the shore, and more,
the core of unheard music from olden noisy Odin’s Valkyrie with baton
underfoot, a blade honed by youth got on. Younger you and your crew
have followed arcs and marks leave visible the volts of thundering bolts.
Oh, Lily Pond’s never the same, takes aim for becoming done and gone
in seasonal’s phenomenon. Yet Jeff tells me what it is, how he recollects
his past from where he paints beside the pond, and mine, for all of that.
Tom: I’ve been thinking of collaborating. Take a peek at Qarrtsiluni. Perhaps a Lily Pond scene, our first common ground, might realize something nice.
Jeff: Let me see what I can develop. We’re on a short porch, submissions due by January 15th. Something of Lily Pond would be interesting. Let me see what comes.
Tom: I’ll keep a log of messages to support the effort, a piece of the submission. There’s free rein on the type of art. I wasn’t thinking of drawing you away from your work, but thought a pass at some graphic image or painting would do. It would take both sides of the coin to get what might be acceptable.
Jeff: I went to the pond yesterday, walking in from Central Street along the river, to get some reference material. Will continue to search and see what develops.
Tom: Much of what I remember is in the attached, “Diamond-faced Lily Pond.” When you have some time, take a look at it. Perhaps it’ll touch something in you.
Jeff: We share the same sentiments. Yesterday, as I walked past the river and the bridge no longer there, I remembered walking the woods to Billy Mitchell’s house or listening to highway traffic or staring at a winter evening’s sky. I tried to imagine my mother’s stories. The striking one is the Prentice boys saving her after a fall through the ice. I remember playing army with other kids, walking through after a football game, much later hiking to Martignetti Liquors and sharing a brew under the summer sky. I’ve watched the pond shrink and yet remain a treasure. Now I search for the right image for those thoughts.
Tom: (Saw Jeff’s pastel painting today, Lily Pond in fall colors, from below John Burns’s house. He will send me a pix. Lovely.)
Jeff: I shoot all my artwork with slide film, liking the way it captures images. Some background here: the painting was done in “en plein air” and is a pastel painting on watercolor board, toned to burnt sienna, of the area by the swing sets. I removed the houses in the background, trying for an original look. Rolling clouds were a challenge, occasionally blotting out the sun, playing havoc with the color scheme. This piece was created during the morning. The submission page doesn’t say what DPI or format the image should be. I’ve made this 300 dpi. The size of the piece is 7×9.
Tom: (Received email with the painting and was transported.)
Jeff: You’ve captured my thoughts, what I tried to catch in my painting, same seat, same scene, different but intertwined. I thought of trodden leaf, faded footsteps, seasons gone by, solitude, visiting old friends, sounds of hockey, plop of fishing lures, rustle of leaves, how we all eventually pass on, but still the seat and the place remain. I thought how you and I share a thread, tied together to this place. I thought of loneliness sitting there, like leaves lost from the trees. I think in many ways you’ve captured what I tried to capture. Different memories, different dreams, same place. I sit here grinning warmly, satisfied.
Apprehensive, she pushed open the door to take a final look, to check the Earth as far as she could see, to measure, to see if the gods she held were less than perfect. This was her world. The terror she found was in the measurement, in the time she had spent exploring dividend possibilities, the market’s surge, a late movie thought more boisterous than life itself, someone’s divorce, chicanery and outright theft, and a rigged election all too soon winked at. It came at her, the swift thought: our feet are caught in place: we are sucked into loam and hardpan and left for all of this rock; we are locked up tighter than the grip of stable Earth’s 17-degree axis. Escape is not here, or atonement for us. She kept saying “we,” kept herself aligned in that rare and human confederacy. There was assessment and agreement not known about; at that moment, in one half-held breath, hoe in hand, eyes gone to marble, a gaunt Filipino suddenly apprehends a minor shift in the Earth’s crust. It is the awed way she would know a tilt at a pinball machine. Beyond him, her, momentous Krakatoa, an island yet, proves to be imaginative again at the foot of history, and is no longer breathless. And deeper yet, farther away, thought to be buried out there in the fluffed accountabilities of Time, one long horse-tailed, red-eyed, incommutable comet picks up a little bit of left hand English… just for the hell of it.
by Tom Sheehan