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Once Screamed to the Flag-waving Drunks at the Vets Bar, Late, in the Evening


Tom Sheehan

Fifty years now and they come at me, from Chicago,

Crown Point, Indiana, by phone from Las Vegas,

from a hill outside Pittsburgh or Bethlehem, PA.

I tell them how it happened, long after parting, one

night when I was in a bar, thinking of them all.


Listen, gunmen,

all I can smell is the gunpowder

on you sharper than booze.

You wear your clothes

with a touch of muzzle flash.

Is it a story you want…?

Listen to the years ago,

to the no shooting,

to the no rout,

to the just dying.

The day stank,

it wore scabs, had odors

to choke tissues and burn

secret laminations of the lungs.

Rain festered in soot clouds,

rose in the Pacific

or the Sea of Japan,

dumped down on us,

came up out of yellow clay

like a sore letting out.

The air must have been

full of bats, of spider weavings;

it was lonely as the lobo,

yet a jungle of minds

filled it with thought leaves

shining with black onyx.

Who needs doctors at dying…?

Prayers sew wounds, piece heads,

hearts, hands together, when blood

and clay strike the same irrevocable

vein, arterial mush; when God

is the earth and clay, silence,

the animal taker leaning to grasp.

Listen, gunmen,

listen you heroes in mirrors

only you see into, we through,

it isn’t the killing, it’s the dying

must be felt, associated,

even if it stinks.

Blood freezes in hot days

of dying, is icicle inside movement

of trickery less than glacier’s,

where a man crawls to his maker

up his own veins, is touched,

feels the firebrand burn in the cold.

Where are the shade trees, cool drinks…?

Once I froze in the confessional

against the fire.

He was a Spick,

they said, washed his skin

too much, wanted to sandpaper it white,

be us, be another man.

But we wagered ourselves

to get him out of a minefield

live as breathing, comrade shot

down in the clay in the rain

in the time of bright eyes rolling

with thunder’s fear.

Was it him we carried, or the stone

of his monument…?

Tons he was of responsibility,

one of us despite the Spick name,

man being borne to die.

God is everywhere,

the catechism says, my son says,

now, years later. It was once

a divinity we carried on the poles,

with his balls gone pistonless,

no more a god to his woman.

His image rolled red on the canvas,

burned through the handles of the litter

as secret as electricity; Spick shooting

himself into us, Godhead shooting signs

up shafts of wood.

Lugging God

on sticks and canvas

is frightening. We felt this.

Jesus! we screamed,

have You let go of this god…?

Do You fill him up making him burn

our hands? He wanders now for times,

rolling himself together,

womanless, childless, a journey

in dark trees, among leaves,

in jungles, to get near You.

God seeking God

at the intercept of shrapnel,

the tearing down and lifting up

by our hands, God

in the cement of death.

Oh, gunmen,

it’s the dying not the killing

you must speak of. This day

is theirs, not ours, belongs

to the gods of the dead,

of the Spick we carried to his dying

and all his brothers, none of them

here among us.

Drink, gunmen,

one to the Spick and grave’s companions,

jungle flights they are in

to match their god with God.

And think, gunmen,

who among us have the longest journey

among leaves, in darkness,

through the spiders of trees,


--Tom Sheehan, 31st Regt., 7th Div., Korea 1951-52


Check out Tom Sheehan’s instalments novel, An Accountable Death, in the Regular Features section, and several of his short stories in the fiction archives. Tom was recently nominated for the Pushcart Prize. His work has recently been, or will shortly be, published in the following magazines, among many others: The Paumanok Review, Nefarious, Carnelian, Melange, Drunk Duck, Eclectica, Clackamas Literary Review, Dakota House, and Samsara. Tom’s novel, Vigilantes East, is due shortly in paper edition: 3 AM will let you know exactly when!

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