KYSO Flash
Knock-Your-Socks-Off Art and Literature
Issue 1: Fall 2014
Poem: 318 words [R]

Gandy Dancer of the Phoebe Snow

by Thomas F. Sheehan
You began right in front of me today.
I don’t know where you came from,
patient muscles hanging loose in your 
soil-painted, dark-blue suit coat, 
one pocket ripped to a triangle, 
one pocket stuffed oh so properly 
with a coffee-filled paper-wrapped 
pint bottle, your thin legs nailed down 
into a pair of the saddest brown pants, 
a long-handle spade extending your arms, 
eyes folded over reaching for noon. 

Off behind you, faded to gray, 
jetted the rip of animate steam, 
coal gases; railroad track arrowing 
in a lake top that still does not exist. 

You said, “Manja,” and laughed at me, 
your big teeth ripe of red meat and bread, 
voice as loud as your hands slapping with music. 

You untied the red bandanna at your neck, 
a sun-bothered sail of red bandanna, 
wiped the brow under a felt hat, sucked 
at the papered bottle until I tasted iodine 
at the bend of my throat, smelled coal dust 
coming a talc over us, like a dry fog. 

It was the same yesterday when I made 
a v-grooved pole to hold the clothesline up, 
and over the fence a visitor from the Maritimes 
said, “You go back a long way. I haven’t seen 
a pole like that in years and years.” 

So I guess you came the way the pole did, 
out of the roads I’ve traveled, down lanes 
stuffed like chairs, past yard geographies, 
a long view over trees, out of some 
thing I was, an organic of memory, 
celluloid flashing of wide spaces 
I passed through, the odors I thought 
I wore or was, cannons at the edge 
of a distant war, colors banging 
their permanence tightly against 
the back of my eyes, 

pieces of the circle I find myself on, 
where you were a moment ago, just 
out the window of my mind, bearing 
the riddle of a melancholy whistle.

— From Sheehan’s collection, This Rare Earth, Lit Pot Press, Inc. (2003); reprinted by permissions of author and publisher

Thomas F. Sheehan
Issue 1, Fall 2014

Master of several genres, Sheehan has been writing for a long time—eight decades—and he has no plans to slow down. Hundreds of his short stories appear online and in print venues, with nearly 400 of his Western stories alone in Rope and Wire. Twenty-four of his stories have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. One of his five short-story collections, The Westering, was nominated in 2012 for the National Book Award, and one of his five poetry collections, Korean Echoes, was nominated in 2011 for a Distinguished Military Award.

Sheehan served in the 31st Infantry Regiment in Korea in 1951, an experience that forever changed his life and continues to inform his writing. Many of his stories also include a special character: his home-town of Saugus, Massachusetts. In 1990, he retired from Raytheon Corporation, after 35 years there as a writer and analyst.

More on the Web: By, About, and Beyond

“His Nibs,” Steven Hansen, Interviews Tom Sheehan in Ink Pot (2005); includes poems, a journal entry, and photos of Sheehan and family members. (The journal ceased publication in 2006, which explains the broken links below the interview.)

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