Sunday Apr 14

TolanJames James Tolan is the author of Mass of the Forgotten (Autumn House Press) and the chapbooks Red Walls  (Dos Madres Press) and Fresh Fruit and Gravity (Far Gone Books). Co-editor with Holly Messitt of New America: Contemporary Literature for a Changing Society, his poems appear in such journals as American Literary Review, Atlanta Review, Connecticut Review, Indiana Review, Linebreak, and Ploughshares as well as a number of anthologies, including the Autumn House Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry. Originally from Chicago, he earned a Ph.D. from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and worked for years as a poet in the New York City public schools with Teachers and Writers Collaborative. He is an associate professor at the City University of New York/BMCC. Find his website here. And here's the link to his collection, Mass of the Forgotten.


Love Song after Lorca

Doe-eyed and deaf to all
but his own fears and pain,

he longs for what
the silence overwhelms.

She who loves him sings
what his longing longs to hold.

She doesn’t know
what he can’t hear,

if it’s his own
pit thick with pitch

or an emptiness
she might begin to fill.

How does she say
she loves him so

he knows more than the quiet
between every pretty sound?

The Angel of Social Dance
At the Moulin Rouge, The Dance, Toulouse-Lautrec

Who among the haunch drunk could ignore
your freckles as they rise along
your pale length of throat?

Those who know the tangled ache of lives
too long obliged, too long denied—
the plodding every day off to what needs doing—

mill about in overcoats and from their woolens watch
the way the cancan makes your clumsy heels fly,
the way you melt

decorum with your thighs
as you lift the loose drape of your dress
and frame, with your red stockings, an Eden in the air.

Terror in the Service of Delight

From the taxidermist specializing in alligator heads
priced by the inch, I toted a stuffed bullfrog to her house,
stowed inside a brown paper sack I gave to her daughter,
nearly five and still inclined to let me in the door.

This is a present for your mom,
a surprise I want you to hide till later, but,
whatever you do, don’t peak inside.

A few steps out of the room, I heard the thrilling scream
of innocence disheveled. Her mother, not yet accustomed
to such high-pitched joy, darted for the stairs.

Jewel’s hands framed the outskirts of her face.
Sack open at her feet, she pointed there.

Her mother peered inside then puckered a grimace my way.

I smirked and gathered the gift returned to me
that became for years a paperweight on my desk,
where Jewel brought friends to prove her story
of my depravity was true.

They stared
but, like apt princesses, wouldn’t touch its dried
but somehow slimy-seeming hide, then mustered
courage in the guise of indignation to ask
if I really handed this ham-hock-sized atrocity
over to their unsuspecting friend.

I played the part I was invited to reprise
and looked each with wanton glee dead in the eye,

I really did.

Some wanted answers, others wagged their heads
and left me, irredeemable in their wake,
arm wrapped around my stepdaughter’s level shoulder
as they turned her from my lair.

Jewel, most times,
glanced back and grinned, sometimes at me, more often
at that frog, my first best gift to her.

While I Complained—

enamored with the succulence
of my misery and contempt—

how she had been laying down
steady rhythms with her bass player,

picking my pocket and letting him
play her harp for free,

my friend, her engineer—

lips set and head gently bobbing
to the babbling of my incessant laments—

turned to queue a new track on his system.

Before I recognized it was hers—
the pitch-perfect a capella        

she laid down for me,
Greensleeves, her Irish to mine—

my bitch and moan caught in my throat
and set my every ounce to trembling.

That voice I still loved
drew the sting of salt from me  
and quieted all except what was
most true and impossible to say.