Tom McFadden – Three Poems

Tom McFadden is an Irish-American poet who was born in 1945 in that country’s Northeast but now lives in the arts-friendly city of Austin, Texas with his wife, whom he met at college (Penn State), and where they have  raised three daughters.  In the best thing they ever did together, Tom and his father returned to Ireland in 1990 to visit the land from which they’d come, including a stay at McFadden’s Hotel in Gortahork, County Donegal.  Tom’s writing has appeared in such venues as POETRY IRELAND REVIEW, POETRY SALZBURG REVIEW, LONDON GRIP, VOICES ISRAEL, JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION, SEATTLE REVIEW, HAWAII PACIFIC REVIEW, SOUTH CAROLINA REVIEW, PORTLAND REVIEW and CALIFORNIA QUARTERLY.


Into the remoteness of Ireland I drove
as a stranger to the road,
for I’d chosen the treasure of wander
to let myself be free,
to wonder where a path might go.
And there it was in its mystery.
So, I entered the lure of aesthetic silence
and assumed the rhythm of the leaves.
Intriguing seemed the wondrous woods
as I deepened in wander toward such feeling.
Yet, as I traveled more deeply through its poetry,
the woodland began a strange, new theme.
To my innocent chagrin,
more and more the road seemed to narrow
while even the shape of the way
seemed ever so slowly to fall away.
Finally, at the ripple of a small, crossing stream,
the road ahead just was no more.
Halted, I could no more than stare…
until, at last, I recalled what the elders would say:
old roads to nowhere had been built long ago
to lead invading armies astray.
But I knew I had been no enemy to the woods.
Wondrous had been that brief touch of life’s art
when the wishing had almost found its way.
Then my mind drifted farther—
around the world with its little roads
all in wait to offer their metaphor
as a forest of life’s experiences,
asking only to be felt.
And I smiled that once it had thrilled me so
to wonder where a road might go.


I look back, through old windows,
to see ghosts in the lessening light.
That house through old windows looks large and looming
as I shuffle in stocking feet
across the cold, fearful, winter floor,
stopping at the terrible height at the top of our banister.
There, so small and young—still too young to go to school,
too young to be out of bed during these haunting hours—
I stare at shadows’ incarnations on the stairs
and at such great steepness, in descent toward the bottom’s utter darkness.
But I have awakened into these hours with great disturbance,
impelled by panicked recall of incompletion,
and in the aberration I have slipped from the blankets’ warm, safe realm
to face the imperative of descending alone into steep darkness,
I have left beauty downstairs,
somewhere near the bottom of the steep decline,
where now it’s lonely and unsafe.
Bright colors lie somewhere down there,
somewhere in the dark,
and it is I who left them there.
So, impelled into precocious journey,
my foot begins to touch each cold, downward slab,
soon joined by the other foot, trembling in precious pause,
before the lead foot reaches downward again,
toward the next, looming slab.
By the time I approach the bottom, my eyes have adjusted to the dark—
and there it is!
I have found the colors of the world that were left at the bottom of the stairs.
I envision all the lovely wonderment about to ascend,
the moments of life so wonderfully painted,
as I bend to lift my lost crayon box,
I see that it has rested on top of the grate
from which poured the heat to warm our night.
My stunned countenance tilts down, through broken innocence,
toward once singular wonders,
and I stare and stare, searching for lost colors,
but they all have melted into one grotesque and homely block of wax.
Darkness seems to reform at the bottom of the stairway,
and, for the very first time,
I learn that beauty can end.
So alone and still, I stand in front of time that has yet to come.
I do not know that the future waits in light.
I do not know that beauty can rerise.
And I do not know
that the dark need not be steep.


How precious are the singularities:
dreams that fossilized into special essence
while the rest of time flowed on.
The ball I was going to race after in deep center field
never did come down,
for the whole team slipped out of Brooklyn
and the field is there no more.
I wish my mother, immobile near death,
those dull eyes angling out,
through side-bars of her hospital bed,
could have looked at me with some vivacity
as I soloed to her the hope of last words…
but eyes remained only in the empty air.
I wish my grandfather’s crude insensitivity
had not driven my fragile grandmother
to live in her bed in a corner of the unlit living room,
perpetually lying in the dark,
beneath her blankets and with her sunglasses on,
in the self-preservation of a hypochondriac.
I would like to have fought with more success
under the tall, shadowed school steps
of the deep-city days
when the school’s hateful figures,
always older and bigger,
attacked without reason;
but, in those gun-devoid days, if one fought well enough
with fists just to survive,
all cuts and bruises would, at last, find healing.
I wish there could have been snow without cold.
I wish falling stars could have been easier to see.
And I wish our early rock ‘n’ roll could have kept its innocence.
But, more than all other hopes, I wish I could have found
my great love
for a wish of sharing to pursue.
But I can have no complaint with the travel of my years…
for that is the dream that came true.




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