The day had gone over hill, but that still, blue light remained, 
cut with a gray edge, catching corners rice paddies lean out of. 
In the serious blue brilliance of battle they’d become comrades 
becoming friends, just Walko and Williamson and Sheehan
sitting in the night drinking beer cooled by Imjin River waters 
in August of ‘51 in Korea.
Three men drably clad,
but clad in the rags of war.

Stars hung pensive neon. Mountain-cool silences were being earned, 
hungers absolved, a ponderous god talked to. Above silences, 
the ponderous god’s weighty as clouds, elusive as soot on wind, 
yields promises. They used church keys to tap cans, lapped up
silence rich as missing salt, fused their backbones to good earth 
in a ritual old as labor itself,
these men clad in the rags of war.

Such an August night gives itself away, tells tales, slays the rose 
in reeling carnage, murders sleep, sucks moisture out of Mother Earth, 
fires hardpan, sometimes does not die itself just before dawn, 
makes strangers in one’s selves,
those who wear the rags of war. 

They had been strangers beside each other, caught in the crush 
of tracered night and starred flanks, accidents of men drinking beer 
cooled in the bloody waters where brothers roam forever, warriors come 
to that place by fantastic voyages, carried by generations 
of the persecuted or the adventurous, carried in sperm body, dropped 
in the spawning, fruiting womb of America,
and born to wear the rags of war.

Walko, reincarnate of the Central European, come of land lovers 
and those who scatter grain seed, bones like logs, wrists strong 
as axle trees, fair and blue-eyed, prankster, ventriloquist who talked 
off mountainside, rumormonger for fun, heart of the hunter,
hide of the herd, apt killer,
born to wear the rags of war.

Williamson, faceless in the night, black set on black, 
only teeth like high piano keys, eyes that captured stars, 
fine nose got from Rome through rape or slave bed unknown
generations back, was cornerback tough, graceful as ballet dancer 
(Walko’s opposite), hands that touched his rifle the way a woman’s 
touched, or a doll, or one’s fitful child caught in fever clutch, 
came sperm-tossed across the cold Atlantic, some elder Virginia-
bound bound in chains, the Congo Kid come home, 
the Congo Kid, alas, alas,
born to wear the rags of war.

Sheehan, reluctant at trigger-pull, dreamer, told deep lies 
with dramatic ease, entertainer who wore shining inward a sum 
of ghosts forever from the cairns had fled; heard myths 
and the promises in earth and words of songs he knew he never knew,
carried scars vaguely known as his own, shared his self with saint 
and sinner, proved pregnable to body force,
but born to wear the rags of war

------Walko: We lost the farm. Someone stole it. My father 
loved the fields, sweating. He watched grass grow by starlight, 
the moon slice at new leaves. The mill’s where he went for work, 
in the crucible, drawing on the green vapor, right in the heat of it,
the miserable heat. My mother said he started dying the first day. 
It wasn’t the heat or green vapor did it, just going off to the mill, 
grassless, tight in. The system took him. He wanted to help. 
It took him, killed him a little each day, just smothered him.
I kill easy. Memory does it. I was born for this, to wear 
these rags. The system gives, then takes away. I’ll never 
go piecemeal like my father.
These rags are my last home.

------Williamson: Know why I’m here? I’m from North Ca’lina, 
sixteen and big and wear size fifteen shoes and my town 
drafted me ‘stead of a white boy. Chaplain says he git me home. 
Shit! Be dead before then. Used to hunt home, had to eat 
what was fun runnin’ down. Brother shot my sister 
and a white boy in the woods. Caught them skinnin’ it up
against a tree, run home and kissed Momma goodbye, 
give me his gun. Ten years, no word. Momma cries about 
both them all night. Can’t remember my brother’s face. 
Even my sister’s. Can feel his gun, though, right here 
in my hands, long and smooth and all honey touch. Squirrel’s 
left eye never too far away for that good old gun. 
Them white men back home know how good I am, and send me here,
put these rags on me. Two wrongs! Send me too young
and don’t send my gun with me. I’m goin’ to fix it all up, 
gettin’ home too. They don’t think I’m coming back, 
them white men. They be nervous when I get back, me and that 
good old gun my brother give me,
and my rags of war.

------Sheehan: Stories are my food. I live and lust on them. 
Spirits abound in the family, indelible eidolons; the O’Siodhachain 
and the O’Sheehaughn carved a myth. I wear their scars in my soul, 
know the music that ran over them in lifetimes, songs’ words, 
and strangers that are not strangers: Muse Devon abides with me, 
moves in the blood and bag of my heart, whispers tonight: 
Corimin is in my root cell, oh bright beauty of all 
that has come upon me, chariot of cheer, carriage of Cork 
where the graves are, where my visit found the root
of the root cell---Johnny Igoe at ten running ahead 
of the famine that took brothers and sisters, lay father down; 
sick in the hold of ghostly ship I have seen from high rock
on Cork’s coast, in the hold heard the myths and musics 
he would spell all his life, remembering hunger and being alone 
and brothers and sisters and father gone and mother
praying for him as he knelt beside her bed that hard morning 
when Ireland went away to the stern. I know that terror 
of hers last touching his face. Pendalcon’s grace
comes on us all at the end. Johnny Igoe came alone at ten 
and made his way across Columbia, got my mother who got me 
and told me when I was twelve that one day Columbia 
would need my hand and I must give.  And tonight I say, 
“Columbia, I am here with my hands
and with my rags of war.”

I came home alone. And they are my brothers.
Walko is my brother. Williamson is my brother.
Muse Devon is my brother. Corimin is my brother.
Pendalcon is my brother.
God is my brother.
I am a brother to all who are dead,
we all wear the rags of war.

(L-R) Tom Sheehan (Saugus, MA), Frank Butcher (Elston, Iowa), Tom Durocko (Springfield, Illinois) and Chuck Rumfola (still in Avon, NY), taking a musical breather in a reserve area after Iron Triangle business. 


It came to Greg again, the breakfast they created for the Last Supper, lounging in the back of his head; not the way he remembered it, the way it was: It was raining, it was 1951, it was Korea, and they lay barricaded behind dirt, loam, rock, shale, speckled hardpan, spent shrapnel, an unknown blood brown as a berry stain on a bleached wood. Stale powder smell was a laboratory smell circulating in the small hole of the mountain, the saucer of war left over, battle’s cup spilleth, the meat and meal of death taking up the air. They were wet, they were cold, they were hungry. Now and then, muffled by all of earth, Chinese came spoken as the enemy passed over or paused above the retreat. Once vaguely he had thought of Sub Gum Harkew, quickly forgot Chinatown, brought rifles back, the probe of bayonets in Chinese hands, the thrust a search would bring, invasive, calculated, war’s steel surgeons at work, dread doctors at awe. They waited, they hungered, they whispered, and silence, like fungus in a root cellar, like onions in  a poem he could vaguely remember, grew all around them, sopping, thickening, becoming moldy and wet and ever damp, crypt stuff if there ever was, mad man’s mausoleum. It was a piece of an old barn he had known, probably still struggling to sit up on its haunches back there in Middleboro, Massachusetts, horse leftovers, mule-stuff, leather traces, hay as old as Methuselah, fallen dust, mushrooms taking over corners. 

Diaz’s beard then was a mold he could only feel. He had trouble feeling his own feet, his legs locked in place, now and then thighs convulsed. Come outhouse ripe was his breath and he cursed without using words, magnificent curses that blew out from his soul. McCaffery, on his left, two days of blood on his dry forehead as hard as plaster cast, mumbled about steak, onions, round breads his mother made atop her old stove where the blue haze climbed the mountains back in Kentucky’s range. 

McCaffery brought Kentucky across the parallel, pulled it into that dim and dark retreat, as if it had seceded finally from the Union; Kentucky has ripe odors that live forever; he whispered of a turkey taken down, browned wild rice, hickory up in smoke, ham air curling all the way down a valley’s run where the boar thought it would be loose forever. Darkness did food proper. It dissipated the edge of death, carried off wounds, lingered in wet silence as if someone had spilled next door’s olla podrida. The pot is the great custodian for nosy things after blood, after pain, after resurrection of hope, after palate memory, after taste finds one breathing air foul as rotting flesh. On the second day of mold, damp, other liqueurs, Chinese spoken atop rarely now, but so distinctly, Diaz said they ought to speak of urgent meals to make their mouths go to water, to salivate.

McCaffery’s Kentucky came succulent, wet, leaves taking on mist, the mountains blue as far as you could see. He saw deep-set stains working his mother’s apron all to pieces as she delivered the turkey into meals that might last a week, the rice of  them, a red jelly, steam-twisted green vegetables, bread thick as an anvil and justly memorable.

Diaz, though, went Mexican haywire; enchiladas wild with dark chili, almost Cajun burn in his own mouth, the desert afire under a saucer sun. In the middle of Diaz’s meal Greg had remembered a goat once over buckets of coals in New Hampshire, on a farm cut into the side of another mountain, poets reading into and out of a night of loving and the disappearance of the whole goat. 

Now Diaz’s face refused to come back to him, but mold of his beard. He knew Diaz’s eyes were not blue, but could not pick out their color. His mouth, his mouth so close to him, was ripening yet. Back over meals the stench came, live as an ache. Chinese lingered again, wet, jabbered, passed on the way history eases itself forward, slipped away like rain or pain or a forgotten cloud when your back is turned. 

McCaffery, in the bowels of the Earth, said he cried for sausages. 

Greg himself whispered of Vermont morning mountain peaks sticking up through an ocean of cloth-clean clouds, dew-damp gracing every surface, as if lacquer’s sheen had been put in place to wait out the sun, and his brother Jim, early bird, dawn’s pot-rustler, spiller of coffee, drawing together pairs of eggs, near-burnt toast, noisy Canadian bacon slabs echoing from mountain top to mountain top. 

He told Diaz and McCaffery and Archie how his brother cooked, how he floats forever in the holiest waters of Lake Erie drumming up meals for him. McCaffery cried again, bled again, became desert hot, cooled, said his back hurt in a new setting. Wept. The mountain rocked. And Kentucky rocked. If those sounds were in the Sonora Desert would they have been heard? What was tamale? Chili? What was that dank smell, that small explosion, old wet barns, mildew in the mows, eggs gone over the edge, moist blankets holding onto night in their twill, those brothers, those comrades, his brother, that wetness, the drivel of four bodies as if they had been canned forever. Sardines cooled and wet in the war.

Silence. Wet silence. Hush.

Boot noise, beyond the barricade. Above, a voice, an uncursed, non-Asiatic voice, “Jeezzus, Sarge!” It was the tasty sound of comrades.

Sweet as yams it came, maple syrup, and the catch that’s caught up in Kentucky rice. Brought Mexico across the border. Made his Vermont suddenly valid. Made morning’s meal, wet miracle, come in the latter part of that long ago day, that impermanent burial, those meals of war.



Tom Sheehan, of Saugus, MA and a graduate of Boston College (1956), served with the 31st Infantry Regiment in Korea, 1951. His books are Epic Cures and Brief Cases, Short Spans, both from Press 53; A Collection of Friends and From the Quickening, both from Pocol Press. His work appears in the anthologies Home of the Brave, Stories in Uniform (Press 53) and MilSpeak: Warriors, Veterans, Family and Friends Writing the Military Experience (Press 53). He has 15 Pushcart nominations, to include Noted Stories for 2007 and 2008, and a Georges Simenon Fiction Award. 
Tom has hundreds of online publications of prose and poetry, and has published three novels: An Accountable Death; Vigilantes East; and Death for the Phantom Receiver, an NFL mystery). His work is included in Dzanc Best of the Web Anthology for 2009 and was nominated for Best of the Web 2010 and 2011. He has 230 short stories - all Westerns - published online in Rope and Wire Magazine. 
Print issue publication include Rosebud (4 issues) and Ocean Magazine (7 issues), among many others. Poetry collections include This Rare Earth and Other Flights; Ah, Devon Unbowed; The Saugus Book; and Reflections from Vinegar Hill.  With two co-editors he wrote, compiled and issued two books on their hometown of Saugus, Massachusetts.  Each book held 400 pages-plus and sold all 4500 copies printed, with all proceeds going toward scholarships for Saugus High School graduates continuing their education. People can search for copies on eBay or Craig’s List these days, and can now and then find one. 
Korean Echoes is Tom's latest book. He has four proposals in the hands of publishers.


Other Books by Tom Sheehan

Ah, Devon Unbowed (Poetry)
The Saugus Book (Poetry)
Reflections from Vinegar Hill (Prose and Poetry)
An Accountable Death (Novel/serialized in the online magazine, 3:AM)
Vigilantes East (Novel)
Elements and Accessories (Poetry)
Death for the Phantom Receiver (Novel)
A Collection of Friends (Memoir/Pocol Press) 
From the Quickening (Short Stories/Pocol Press)
This Rare Earth & Other Flights (Poetry)
Epic Cures (Short Stories/Press 53)
Brief Cases, Short Spans (Short Stories/Press 53)
A Gathering of Memories, Saugus 1900-2000 (Co-editor, History and Nostalgia)
Of Time and the River, Saugus 1900-2005 (Co-editor, History and Nostalgia)


Jessica Trufant interviews the author

for “The Item Live”

online at The Daily Item