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Poetry by Tom Sheehan 

Tom lives in Massachusetts.




© 2004  Tom Sheehan



Searching for Mushrooms and Trolleys

(Amanita Colyptraderma and Electric Street Cars)  


They came out of West Lynn or East Saugus years ago,

dark mushroom seekers, with their long-pieced poles,

their own language whose word for amanita,

to the initiate, would tell where their roots

began, whether they were Florentine, Roman,

or islander, Piana di Cartani.

They might say Cocoli, Coconi

or Coccori,

the delicacies growing thirty or forty feet

up on the great elms in the circled green

of Cliftondale Square, those huge sky-reaching elms

that fell to the hurricanes of '38,

or Carol in the 50s, finally to the toll of traffic

demanding the green

be cut down to size.


Once, in a thick fog, on my third floor porch,

the mist yet memorable,

I remember thinking the elms were

Gardens in the Clouds.

I felt a bloom

rise in me, a taste

fill my mouth.


They don't come for amanita anymore

because the elms have all gone,

those lofty gardens, those mighty furrowed limbs;

now shrubs and bushes stand in their place you can

almost see over.

Nor do the streetcars come anymore

from Lynn into Cliftondale Square.

They say the old yellow and orange ones,

 high black-banded ones,

 red-roofed ones,

 real noisy ones,

ones long-electric-armed at each end,

the ones off the Lynn-Saugus run,

are in Brazil or Argentina or the street car museum

in Kennebunkport, Maine,

quiet now forever

as far as we are concerned,

those clanging, rollicking machines that

flattened pennies on the tracks so that good Old Abe

became a complete mystery,

or the Indian Chief

as flat and as charmless, him and his background,

as his reservation.


From my porch high on the square,

I'd watch thin long poles extending men's arms,

needles of poles they'd fit together,

as they reached for the white-gray knobs

growing in cloudy limbs.

They wore red or blue kerchiefs around thick necks,

like Saturday's movie cowboys if you could believe it,

as if any moment they could slip them over their faces and hide

out in such bright disguises.

They'd cut or tap loose the amanita, see it fall slowly

end over end like a field goal or a point after,

down out of the upper limbs,

cutting a slowest curve and halved orbit,

and they'd swish butterfly nets to catch the aerial

amanita, or Cocoli,

as it might be;

or their women, in kerchiefs and drawn in

and almost hidden away,

faces almost invisible,

with an upward sweep of gay aprons

would catch the somersaulting fungi,

the amanita colyptraderma, or

being from Piana di Cartania, calling out its name

Coconi or Coccori,

Oh, Mediterranean's rich song airing itself

across the green grass of Cliftondale Square,

Brahminville being braced,



I was never privy to know their roots,

their harsh voyages, to know where they landed and why,

and now their sounds are lost forever, their voices across

the square, the gay and high-pitched yells

setting a brazen mist on Brahmin Cliftondale,

their glee as a soft white clump of fungi went loose from its roost,

coming down to net, swung apron, or quick hat

as if a magician worked on stage in the square,

heading for Russula Delica,

Cocoli Trippati, Veal Scaloppine,

Mushroom Tripolati, Risotto Milanaise,

or plain old Brodo dei Funghi.


All these years later I know the heavens of their kitchens,

the sweet blast front hallways could loose,

how sauce pots fired up your nose,

how hunger could begin

on a full stomach

when Mrs. Forti cooked or Mrs.Tedeschi

or Mrs.Tura way over there at the foot

of Vinegar Hill.



    and I grasp for the clang-clang of the trolley cars,

the all-metallic timpani

of their short existence, the clash of rods and bars

stretching to the nth degree, of iron wheel on iron rail

echoing to where we ear-waited

up the line with

fire crackers' or torpedoes' quick explosions,

and the whole jangling car shaking

like a vital Liberty Ship I'd come to know intimately

years later on a dreadful change of tide.


How comfortable now

would be those hard wooden seats

whose thick enamel paint peeled off by a fingernail

as you left her initials and yours

on the back of a seat,

wondering if today someone in Buenos Aires

or Brasilia rubs an index finger

across the pair of us that has not been together

for more than fifty years. But somehow,

in the gray air today,

in a vault of lost music

carrying itself from the other end of town,

that pairing continues, and the amanita,

with its dark song-rich gardeners,

though I taste it rarely these days,

and the shaky ride the streetcars gave, for all of a nickel

on an often-early evening, softest yet in late May,

give away the iron cries and, oh, that rich Italiana.







The Saugus




The river here

heaves up on the bank

like an old man getting into bed.

Birds cry downstream.

A gull perfects a theft,

executes a drastic turn in air

that could break bones.

I do my walks

dutied like perimeter guard,

shoulder walking cudgel

the way I carried a carbine

back there at 23,

know the pound of it to an ounce;

knowledge of the scabbard hangs on.

I'd rather the river

and the tired water's run

as 76 years weigh a heavy canteen.

Nothing's like a river's

to and fro against the sea,

tide-wash, catch of kelp, air sting

full of briny sea's salad smells,

perpetual anger, always earth-dig,

sand-flush and rock-wear, drag on the moon,

where ship ghosts and canvas call.

The river's never lonely:

dancing grass by bank and levee

keeps nests of redwing blackbirds

hidden away like keys in a pocketbook,

has scum of illegal drain, used rubbers,

cat-o-nines high and proud as Fourth of July

rockets ready for the final match to strike,

rats waiting for the ultimate revolution,

artifacts of time like Ford fenders, Chevy wheels,

down behind the minister's house where the slope

is steep and you don't have to work hard to belabor

a river that's been harder at living for longer than us.




I measure all the contributors

the Saugus has from here to the sea;

computer cops say garbage in garbage out:

and I think the birds die,

a river dies, bank grass gets burned

without flame ever on the make,

silt is sludge of tune-up residue,

dance of dark foam makes images

needing little imagination.



The mill turns its back

when the chemicals burn even the spigot,

coarse landfill the contractor brazened out

is sour where fish hesitate to cast their lot,

old service station leaks into the underground

where roots linger and grease takes its time.

Neighbor gives his gifts in direct pipe drop,

turns his back like the mill does,

pretends he doesn't hurt the Saugus.




My Saugus hurts.

Dashed blue trout have gone,

birds move away from oily contributions,

people pass by and don't know the river's terror

and that hurts more than all.




Some nights,

grant me my mystic choice

when wind's blowing out to sea

and I am on my perimeter walk at river bank,

there's no other joy. Upriver comes down,

pasture and  field fall on me, woodland walks,

new cut hay hurries itself, a new salad of smell.

Porcupine and rabbit and deer and such merry folk

of talk and tale crown the river air, give hope,

ride over me, say river does not die.




Everything smells here.

Going away. Losing. Six o'clock Fridays.

Monday departure for work. Wood choppers.

Police escort and ambulance. Town Hall offices.

Riverside Cemetery in May like popcorn.

Not having enough money at the checkout counter

(and hardly enough food).

A deep breath any place on the Turnpike.

Park Press halfway burned down.

The men's room in McCarrier's.

Tumble Inn Diner at six Monday morning.

Any doctor's waiting room. MBTA buses.

People who don't believe me. Viet Nam veterans

because of their eyes. The whole town the night

Odd Fellows Hall burned right to the bricks.

VFW carnival. Pop Warner refreshment stands.

Saugus High locker rooms for a thousand years.

Back rooms and back stairs at nursing homes.

But most of all the river smells.







We speak of alternatives.

I know of none for river place.

Have seen upriver dredging fall

away to politics and budget stress.

But in the bottom of my tackle box,

having worn hook and worm and salmon egg,

lies a picture of the 17-incher from years ago.


Now I wait for crystal dreams, the flow

of white waters, Earth being lapped clean

the whole sing-song length of banks,

a flashing beneath arching alders

as boulders ease in their washing,

as bones of the old river

come up like trail skulls,

and trout find their memories

ripe and turbulent and explosive

                                                all down the river's curves.





All work is copyrighted property of Tom Sheehan.



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