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Tom Riordan: Horses and Ships
Part of the PoetryCircle Showcase series.
  • Goddam Sea
    Has the sea too been killed by a sniper's bullet? - Nizar Qabbani

    Pharaoh sent out his army,
    and look what happened:
    the lemmings threw themselves
    at the sea and she ate them.

    Our road to revenge is stealth:
    six years of training,
    then six inching toward the bluff
    on knees and elbows.

    Finally we lift our eyes
    to the rifle sights,
    and there she is, defenseless,
    full, still busy with digestion.

    I depress the small red button
    to radio “Target Acquired,”
    and we wait for our green light
    from rear command.

    Though we have achieved
    a clear tactical advantage,
    the Major, for reasons
    that will never be revealed to us,

    lets us sweat and start to cramp
    for what seems an eternity,
    then sends the yellow signal:
    “Covert Withdraw.”


    Goddam Love Poetry
    Were you my lover, I might invade the sun with horses and ships. -Nizar Qabbani

    I want to sack the sun—not lead him in chains and give him to you as a slave,
    but present you a locket containing one curly snippet of his golden flame.
    I’ll wear a shadow of armor, split my assault in two, one go left, one right
    to besiege him like a halo till the last uncoupled atom of hydrogen yields.
    If I succeed, I’ll pardon him, let him keep shining as a further tribute
    to how your aspect stirs me—if I fail, fill the locket with the salt of tears.

    Yet it won’t matter whether I return triumphant or burn to a crisp and plunge
    if you decline to love me and instead affirm you’re in the moon’s embrace.
    If that were so, she would not be off limits either. I’d continue excavating her
    until her keepsakes were as thin as illusion and suspect as ivory dust.

    Passion—obsession—this malady wears many names, and I don’t want you
    to give in out of concern that the whole sky might eventually mourn in subjugation.
    I ask you only to accept this tiny capsule, whose dried grief or arc of blinding fire
    is not borne on battleship or stallion, but on romance-laden sigh.


    Goddam Difference
    Something’s different,
    but no reason why.
    A ripple,
    then still again,
    as if here floated
    up or down
    from zero
    and then back
    to where it was before,
    yet somehow
    different now.
    The waters sigh
    You've lived
    and soothe
    Just let it go.
    How is it possible
    to let it go
    without a sense
    of what it is?
    Nothing is changed.
    The hell it isn’t.
    What was ever nothing
    now is nothing
    after something
    made it different.


    The Writer And His Father As Knotwood
    New giant knotweed rises up in March
    amid the skeletons of last year’s 8-foot dead
    with feather-tendrilled tops
    like chandeliers of freeze-dried smoke.
    It rises foot to foot, then leg to leg, then rib to rib
    and arm to arm and cheek to cheek
    with last year’s ghosts,
    which in the third year lie as litter
    from which new shoots once more rise
    along the bird-encrusted riverbank
    where mallards and red-breasted robins nest.

    Our dead get rites, then grave, or crematory ash.
    When you go, Father, I won’t cask you off.
    I’ll let you air-dry in the corner by the front door,
    tease whatever hair you have
    into a sort of Einstein-wannabe French tuft,
    and lean the golf umbrellas on your knees.
    When my time comes, I’ll crawl and press my cheek
    against the saddle of your cordovan macallister.



    Goddam Mastery
    On the first day the freshmen scrimmage
    with the high school varsity,
    Jo comes home dejected, hopeless:
    they’re too much faster, larger,
    better trained, more confident.
    The next day, she has it figured out
    and schools them all:
    deking them right and left to score a hat-trick.

    This is my daughter, a poet with a soccer ball,
    and it fills me with joy.
    She’s smarter than they are.
    She’s smarter than anyone else on the pitch.
    She thinks strategically.
    She knows how much, how hard, how quick.
    Adrenaline only slows time down,
    and gives her space to move.

    I’ve seen the truly great performers:
    Messi, Ronaldo, and Marta.
    I’ve been blown away.
    So why such pride in watching my child succeed?
    I hear it called “triumphal disagreement
    with the truth.” What truth?
    Why so much pleasure in defeating it?
    It seems like such a sorry trait.

    The ugly fact: I’m living through my girl:
    berserk ego gorging
    on her flesh and blood as hungrily
    as if an ax-slain dire wolf’s heart.
    Instinctive thrilling to the hot blood
    sliding from a corner of my mouth.
    A drubbing of the fait accompli:
    I’m dominionless, and so is youth.


    Goddam Time
    They refer to the “moment” of death,
    yet to the person dying, it is not a moment,
    but a yawning epoch
    which seems as if it should never end,
    and it never does, entirely.
    After what they perceive as, then verify as
    a discrete event, those at the bedside
    will stand up and go to the bathroom,
    place telephone calls, or fix something to eat,
    but before any of that happens,
    the person dying inhabits a temporal Doppler
    shrinking decades into milliseconds—
    so much to do and to undo,
    to prepare for and to recover from
    to think about and to forget about,
    to accept and to decline.

    That extreme relativity of time,
    more than anything, characterizes death.
    The dying person, who once roved time
    within the same order of magnitude
    as her live companions,
    now experiences it many orders differently,
    and that is what separates them,
    making further interaction seem so odd,
    scarcely recognizable to the living,
    dismissed as some sort of notion or haunting,
    the dead person perceived as faint,
    when in reality her presence
    is no longer sufficiently condensed
    within the time frame of the living
    to be perceived as solid,
    though her absolute solidity is unchanged.

    Listen. You know as well as I do
    in your heart of hearts
    a person who has lived with you so long
    doesn’t simply disappear just like that.
    You need only decelerate your own time frame
    as the death watch lengthens,
    loosen your clasp to keep in sync
    with your beloved as far as possible.
    If during your vigil
    you begin to get drowsy and nod off to sleep,
    the person dying might seem to die
    to the others around the bed,
    but not at all, not yet, for you.
    And if you manage to stay there and not wake,
    you will have lost nothing whatsoever
    and shall remain beside her in her shift.


    Most of Us
    sleepwalk through life
    begin foreplay with kissing
    don't know McDonald's biggest secret
    can't make money online
    cannot throw an effective punch
    don't even notice
    would have traded Deuce for Reggie straight up
    will have some other rifle by elk time
    don't need their cholesterol-lowering drugs
    in your condition would have died by now
    don't know about insomnia
    must be elated for Aaron Rodgers
    won't be able to do it
    will always grant permission to a tactful request
    don't want to hear the truth
    eat mushrooms safely
    will tell you what you want to hear
    will never see it
    won't bother to read it
    have no idea who Slim Gravy and Paris Pershun are
    don’t have any type of garage security
    love it
    have no idea where Cuba is
    won’t quit
    can make a decent living
    will compete for the laptops and other nice stuff
    are afflicted
    hear “Christian Lit” and bristle
    play online poker for purely social reasons
    know Nancy for her role as Jo in “Facts of Life”
    do want to leave a mark.
  • Tom Riordan, married with three children, lives in New Jersey. He's a retired restaurant worker and teacher, and dreams about becoming pope for his next career.
  1. LeRoy Candle Baker
    Goddam love poetry is aptly named.   Here the title, within the theme of Goddam title themes, pulls and corrects the entire thrust and direction of the poem
  2. LeRoy Candle Baker
    the poetry, or at least, the first two poems has well-sold and represented the figurine, this Nizar Qabbani    both through the thematic abstraction (rifling towards, that is, aiming at the sea) but also through sheer quality of writing
  3. brendan christopher
    Love how Goddam Time and  The Writer and His Father as Knotwood work together here--a great collection.
  4. well, this is great. Like your style
    Tom Riordan likes this.
  5. TrishSaunders
    ALL credit goes to T.R., for writing these great poems.
    Tom Riordan likes this.
  6. Dax
    Smashing, Tom
    Credit to Miss T
    TrishSaunders and Tom Riordan like this.
  7. ljordan
    Love how they work together. Really nice work.

    Tom Riordan likes this.
  8. Michael Ashley
    Great Tom!
    Tom Riordan likes this.
  9. tiko lewis
    La Machine, well done!

    Tom Riordan and TrishSaunders like this.
  10. Lyta
    Wow, thanks to Trish for this wonderful collection of Tom's outstanding writings!
    Tom Riordan and TrishSaunders like this.
  11. Paul Brookes
    Master classes in skill, competence, accurate, poignant conveying of argument, emotion and great humour.
    Tom Riordan likes this.
  12. Mary McCarthy
    This is a treasury of riches--I need to give them more time-there is so much here- especially love the ones on love and dying-beautiful, rich, evocative, singularly new!
    Tom Riordan likes this.
  13. JimAitken
    Exceptional work.  Great craft and resonance.

    Tom Riordan likes this.
  14. Lavonne Westbrooks
    Mesmerizing, astonishing, inspiring, I could go on. You are such a wonderful poet.
    Tom Riordan and TrishSaunders like this.
  15. TrishSaunders
    Your poems always astonish us, Tom.
    Jenn Zed and Tom Riordan like this.
  16. Tom Riordan
    Very nice! Thank you!! Tom
    TrishSaunders and Jenn Zed like this.
  17. Jenn Zed
    Great to see some of your work put together, Tom.
    Some good ones here.
    TrishSaunders and Tom Riordan like this.