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Six Hits: Poems by Tom Riordan
Part of the PoetryCircle Showcase series.
  • A Great Fuck

    after something Tiko said

    Not only was I never a great fuck but
    I never even belonged to that vast class of people
    who once thought they were.
    I have fucked people who thought they were
    and one person who actually was
    and that's about the closest I ever got.

    It's sort of like catching a no-hitter in baseball.
    You can allow yourself a brief acknowledgment
    that someone cannot be a great fuck
    all by themselves but you cannot forget
    that this was a one-off in your life
    and most likely a daily event in theirs.

    So when Sandy with a y asked me if I was—
    she wasn't a lady who wanted to waste time—
    I told her honestly that no I wasn't
    but that we might still manage things
    if she herself was great. She burst out laughing
    said “Good enough!” But she wasn't.

    She said she was and said it was my fault
    the fucking didn't go that well at all
    and I said something about poor workmen
    always blaming tools and she got furious.
    I proposed that such a thing is no one's fault
    and she proposed I shove it up my ass.

    Friends, this is why 90% of the all adults
    at any given time are celibate—the lovers
    in stale relationships, between relationships,
    too young and scared, too old and scared,
    unable to find what they are looking for, etc.
    Casual sex is far too often much too fraught.

    There are standards, rubrics even, now.
    There's no excuse for fumbling or overzeal
    or underzeal, dyssynchronicity or too much
    hair or too much stank or too much sweat.
    You have to prove you're not diseased
    and demonstrate some prophylactic expertise.

    You're read a user's manual on Pleasuring.
    There is, however gauche, some measuring.
    Talk dirty. Wait, I didn't mean perverted!
    I adore it when you're wild, an animal,
    but not a dog—
    or yes a dog—and not a crocodile,
    not a monkey chattering and not a kangaroo.

    The great fucks—well, the one I knew—
    are unconcerned with all of these considerations—
    seem only to concern themselves with you,
    but that is mostly an illusion, not exactly true.
    They are in tune with currents, waves, swells,
    winds of which mere mortals haven't any clue.


    The Nine Lepers

    Ten lepers lifted up their voices and cried, 'Master, have mercy on us!'
    Jesus said,' Go show yourselves to the priests.'
    And as they went, they were cleansed.
    One of them saw he was healed, turned back, loudly glorified God, and fell down on his face at Jesus' feet, giving thanks: and he was Samaritan.
    And Jesus said, 'Arise, thy faith made thee whole. But weren't ten cleansed? where are the other nine?'
    -Luke's gospel

    The fucking leprosy was horrible enough,
    why would we spend our first day whole
    prostrating ourselves in the dust
    and singing the praises of the miracle-worker?
    Samaritans feel lucky just to be alive,
    they're full of charity and gratitude,
    but we are Jews, Jehovah's chosen,
    and the mere fact that our ears and noses
    aren't falling off is not our idea of a thrill.
    We're paupers, ill-dressed,
    not one job between the nine of us,
    all cast out by our families long ago.
    Is this a state to stir men's halleluiahs?
    Do you see all the other Hebrews
    throwing themselves at some healer's feet
    to thank him too that they lack leprosy?
    Then why should we?
    Let him put a hundred shekels
    in each of our purses; let him give us purses.
    And proper robes,
    and decent sandals, and a decent place to live,
    and food, and love. Nine good careers.
    Then we'll give thanks, sing glory-be's.


    rude poet manifesto

    part of my portfolio
    is figuring out
    what can't be said
    and saying it

    god is a nigger
    whose favorite sport
    is putting his cock
    in a little angel's ass

    another part of my
    portfolio is asking why
    such smut is part
    of my portofolio

    the last part is
    smugly insisting
    the answers are
    none of your business


    To My Little Muskrat

    I'll tell you,
    nothing is ever
    going to hurt you,
    not while I'm around.

    My wing
    stretches over you
    like babble over
    a brook

    or the silence
    stretched over
    a gnat pond.

    Don't look up,
    you won't see me,
    but neither will you
    ever spot a goshawk.


    Christ's Favorite Chair

    I imagine you relaxed, in your favorite chair
    leaning back, hands resting, arms at ease

    But when you speak
    when you answer every question

    - from ca.leverette ”Literally beautiful and weary”

    Only at your last supper are you sitting,
    as if it were a posture intermediate
    to death.

    Otherwise you held yourself erect
    even as a babe in arms,

    erect as Joseph's helper,
    erect at the wedding,
    on the Mount,
    on the water,
    on the hilltop with Satan,

    on Golgotha, in resurrection.

    But surely as you were a man
    you sat,

    and had a favorite place to sit,

    for if not,
    how could you know us
    or our sins?

    It may have been
    a simple stone
    beside a quiet stretch
    on the road to Tiberias

    a place
    where sparrows
    came down from the air
    to harry ants,

    or at Magdalen's,
    the sofa
    where her husband lorded
    himself over her
    before he walked with
    Peter's wife

    or did you have
    a sparsely furnished room
    to which you retreated
    from evangelist eyes

    and simply sat,
    for hours,
    or days?

    You just sit, they say,
    in Heaven

    a habit
    you must have learned
    and liked
    when you were here,

    in a chair
    you smuggled back
    in the confusion
    around the ascension

    or built,
    the carpenter's son,
    from bits of lumber
    by the crucifix maker,

    spirited off
    by weeping angels
    at your command.

    When I come, I will sit beside you.
    I am tired of standing.



    (Jewish observance of the anniversary of a loved one’s death)

    Mrs. Waite is walking to church.
    Don’t say hi. She cannot answer.
    See her? There? A tall, thin lady
    With the improbably silver hair?
    It’s Sunday. Her husband David
    Stands on the lawn, rake in hand,
    And watches until she disappears.
    See him? There? A tall, thin man
    With disappearing hair? Then he
    Turns back to the matter at hand:
    A perfect lawn. They both attend
    Our Lady of Perennial Despair.

    They are our next door neighbors
    But they inhabit their home lightly
    As if they are space invaders still
    Not sure about the local language.
    Other Earth concepts — don’t pile
    Your recycles in your neighbor’s
    Driveway — also escape their ken.
    Their daughter Ivey, who all but
    Lived with us one summer before
    Her parents realized that it raised
    Hopes they would also talk to us,
    Is looking out the window, dazed.

    They know a few things, though.
    Every spring we get an envelope
    Delivered in the mail — backwards
    It seems, since their house is just
    After ours when the letter carrier
    Comes by — soliciting money for
    The American Heart Association.
    They open their door to children
    Every Halloween and offer them
    A bowl of candies, yet even then
    Are unable to say hello to anyone
    But stand in a close silent cluster.

    If you stand out on the front lawn
    With a rake in your hand, just so,
    It has been said that David might
    Come over and say things to you.
    Maybe Nancy chit-chats at church
    But probably she just knows how
    To rise, sit, kneel in the right
    Order and say "Peace be with you."
    The day your Mom ruptured a disc
    And the EMTs wheeled her away,
    Nancy asked through the hedges
    If I needed her to watch you two.

    One rumor has it that the Waites
    Call the police on the 4th of July.
    It is also thought they telephoned
    Village Hall on the morning after
    Thanksgiving to complain because
    Four plastic Halloween pumpkins
    Were still sitting on our stoop.
    The inspector who came to tell us
    Said he could not reveal the name
    Of the complainant but he did roll
    His eyes toward the Waites’ house
    And advise "This is only a warning."

    Still, how can we help but worry?
    Our town is an inner ring suburb,
    A home world sustained by codes
    And methods for enforcing codes,
    But everybody does not embrace
    The same code at the same time.
    The Waites are so close, just one
    Thickness of a green arbor-vitae.
    Every evening we see their faces
    Framed in their kitchen window —
    Nancy, David, and tall thin Ivey
    As they dry the dinner dishes with
    Plaid towels of interwoven wishes.

    These are your neighbors. Once
    You ate and played with Ivey —
    Do you remember? Once Mrs. Waite
    Almost watched you when your Mom
    Was being put into an ambulance.
    Your mother could just collapse
    Again some day, when I’m away.
    One day, all three of the Waites
    Might open up their mouths and
    Say one awesome thing, a comet
    Heralding a marvelous spring.

    Now Mr. Waite resumes his raking.
    Ivey fades back into the watery
    Pool of their kitchen to resume
    Whatever she was doing before
    Her mother headed out to church.
    Who we are is sculpted by forces
    Beyond our control that set us up
    As portals each to our own cosmos,
    But remember how the warm night
    Caroming with stars and fireflies
    Colonized the expanses between
    Who you were and who she was?

    Nancy goes through the motions
    In church, David pulls and herds
    His leaves into one long mound,
    I stack these lines like lumber,
    And you kids count off the days
    Until those daring rescue ships
    That all kids manage to imagine
    Arrive triumphant at last from
    Wherever it is they come from —
    We are builders who must build
    One kind of structure or another
    To have any chance of enduring
    A universe so bent on ignoring us.

    What but dumb can a universe be
    Being an eternal uninspired zero
    Expanding at reckless velocity
    While we tiny flecks of flotsam
    Reach out our hands to connect
    As if we could infinitely stretch?
    But what save us are the houses:
    Screen doors, kitchen windows,
    Front stoops and barefoot lawns,
    A big brimming pot of spaghetti
    Staring down five paper plates
    With the confidence of a pasha,
    A church in the shape of X or T
    Where bells extol our mastery
    Over the fallen leaf, the dropped
    Beat in one iamb, and the spirits
    Desperate to embezzle what we
    All together agree to agree upon,
    Namely, that we are neighbors —
    Maybe not the best of neighbors,
    But still, in this relationship
    We can outrun whatever comes at us,
    Circulating a tiny white envelope
    For the sake of each other’s heart.

    The doorbell rings. Trick or treat.
    See how the Waites are clustered
    As if your Ninja and your Reaper
    Are going to decapitate the bronze
    Of Saint Martin de Porres sweeping
    The vestibule? Instead, select one
    Of these chocolate bars, one each,
    And go twirling back into the dark.
    The plastic pumpkins by our door,
    The stuffed coat a headless ogre —
    They surely do a great deal more
    Than simply state "This is October."

    But it is late November now, just
    Nine days until the final curbside
    Collection of leaves: earth-movers
    Partnered with huge dump-trucks.
    No one has to tell David "Rake up."
    This kind of observance is serious
    Business — he cannot bear to think
    How many things it keeps at bay.
    It bothers him that we don’t rake,
    But we have something raking us
    With chilly talons, so I sit here,
    And your mother is on her guitar.

    So where are you, where are you
    Right now when the seesaw plank
    We ride on teeters in the balance
    Between who we are gazing up at
    And who is gazing down at us? —
    Beams as painstaking but flimsy as
    Your Elmer’s glue papier-mâchés
    Holding our warm souls together
    While the circling ice scavenges
    Tears shed in inclement weather.
    What are you thinking? December has
    Tiptoed closer in its mask of snow,
    So your Mom and I need to know.

    Is that Mrs. Waite returning? See?
    There? Tall, thin, the silver hair?
    Mr. Waite’s already disappeared
    Back into the house, leaving only
    Leaves to beacon his wife home.
    But look. Is that Ivey’s face up
    In the round third-floor window?
    They rotate like the three moons
    Of the sad demoted planet Pluto
    All vying for the has-been’s eye
    Because it once regarded them —
    Nix, Hydra, Charon — as its apples.

    That is how we both regard you two:
    So very bright and very beautiful
    It will hurt to discover you gone
    Off into your own remote orbits
    Because at first it will seem that
    You are simply flying off in no
    Particular direction — toward no
    Particular redemption — then no,
    A long span of observation will
    Eventually reveal an orientation.

    Now I can hear my wife calling.
    "Tom? Tom! Where are the kids?"
    They’re not with you? I think.
    "Stevie! Johnny! Snow is falling!"
    Is that a Mona-Lisa/Cheshire-cat
    Grin flickering on Nancy’s lips?
    What Christian dyes her hair zinc?
    What would Jesus the Colorist do?
    "Tom, never mind, I found them!
    Look guys, it’s snow! No, don’t
    Go outside with those suits on!"

    Nancy opens the door and goes in.
    Ivey’s moon-face is gone now too.
    All the windows stare back dark
    And dull as if no one is home.
    David’s breastwork of leaves
    In the gutter means that when
    The high-school football fans
    Begin arriving in an hour or so
    They’ll cram all of their SUVs
    In front of our house, which means
    That when my father comes later
    To grieve with us, he has to park
    In the Tow Zone up the block.

    But it’s not the end of the world.
    Nothing is, is it? Not loving once,
    Not the Waites’ toxic indifference,
    Not dreading Dad’s yahrzeit visit.
    I guess I'd better go downstairs
    And see if anyone wants lunch.
  • A PoetryCircle editor for several years, Tom lives with his family in New Jersey and has worked mostly in restaurants and schools.

You, Heather Adams, Oberd Ladiny and 9 others like this.
  1. Obed Ladiny
    Nicely written poems. Loved especially To My Little Muskrat and Nine Lepers.
  2. J.S. Jones
  3. Mel McEvoy
    Enjoyed this collection very much. Different views different voices. It seems the imagination has you and does whatever she wills. Great to be able to step back and write in different personas. I admire that among other things in your work Tom. It is a great set. Would be good to put them on a recording and place it next to them . would like to hear how they sound rather than just the score sheet. Not to lessen the value of poems alone! Loved them
  4. Tom Riordan
    Orphani, Thomas, Trish, Anita, Will --
    Please forgive me for failing to realize you had written here! I just discovered your remarks, and thank you heartily for them.
  5. Thomas Jaccard
    These poems are exceptional. Their greatness is as clear as a gong struck in the middle of a hushed library. I would like to offer you the highest compliment I can think of - This is what poetry should be. A Great Fuck, The Nine Lepers, rude poet manifesto, To My Little Muskrat, are to me essentially perfect, but more than that since even a haiku can be perfect in form, moreover perfect in their ambition, in their desire for true poetic insight and poetic expression, which of course they capture masterfully. The other two I might find minor points of editorial difference but these would be the sorts of differences I would have with T.S. Eliot or Sylvia Plath, in short, poets I recognize as being of the highest of ability. Six Hits lives up to its title and it leaves me wondering - Why in all the contemporary anthologies of English poetry that I come regularly across, anthologies put out by leading universities and publishing houses, do I so rarely find anything even remotely this good?
    Tom Riordan likes this.
  6. TrishSaunders
    My  God these are beautiful poems. YAHRZEIT especially fine.
    Tom Riordan likes this.
  7. Anita L. Russell
    lookee here, folks.  Tom made the world a better place.  :)
    Tom Riordan likes this.
  8. William Antcliff
    Just seen an enjoyed these, Tom
    Tom Riordan and Jay Dougherty like this.
  9. orphani
    Tommy, you know I love you, (not in a sexual way, but in a literary one; your being such a bad fuck, and all, not withstanding), but there is one underlying principle of writing you had better master: To be a good story teller you have to have a good story to begin with. If you obscure the reason that motivates the writing you lose the reader."A Great Fuck" is one example of where you got it right. The strong idea of the subject carried through the piece by your fluid style, unashamed honesty and humor, made it enjoyably readable.
    Now contrast this with "yehrziet". The writing here is also good; it's engaging, but the reader is left traveling too long through a line that seems to ramble on with a lack of specific motivation. It becomes tedious to the reader. The first question you need to ask yourself in writing is why would someone want to read this. I think you answer this to delightful effect in "good fuck", but muddle it in "yehrziet"; where you make some strong observations, but they aren't, in my opinion, enough to carry the piece as a whole. You have the hard part nailed down. Your a natural writer with good instincts. What you are lacking is a disciplined approach to your main theme.If not oh well, fuck me anyway.

    Tom Riordan likes this.