Boston Globe, The (MA) August 17, 2003
SAUGUS POET HAS TAKEN FLIGHT
Author:ALAN LUPO, Boston Globe
Even if Tom Sheehan's name was Nunzio Goldfarb Gonzalez,
you would know he was Irish-American. You can see it in his
large ruddy face. You hear it in his voice, this grandson
of immigrant Johnny Igoe, who left the famine and traveled
alone at age 10 to these shores before the Civil War, Sheehan
says, and lived almost a century.
The grandpa took the boy Tom aside when the kid was only
5, took him aside on the porch of the Main Street house in
Saugus and began reading him the works of William Butler Yeats.
Seventy years later, sitting at a table he crafted himself
in a room he made himself, sitting in an ancient house on
Central Street, next to where he grew up and a few blocks
from where Johnny Igoe read to him, Tom Sheehan quotes Yeats
from memory. He says his grandpa
saw the writer in him and that by the time he, Tom, was in
the fourth or fifth grade, he knew himself.
So he set himself to it. He wrote with pencil, then pen,
then manual typewriter, then and now computer. He wrote poetry
in high school, and when he, the quarterback, called the Saugus
High football team into a huddle in the mid-1940s, his pals
would rib him - "How much do I love thee, let me call
the play" - and he would say, "Hey, just remember.
I call the plays. I'm the boss." He must have called
some pretty good plays. The team was undefeated in its league
In the Korean War, Tom the infantryman kept writing, kept
writing through Boston College, when his legs were too far
gone to keep playing football, kept writing forever afterward,
rarely making a buck at it, as such, too often, is the nature
of the craft for poets, short story writers, and novelists.
He worked his way into a management job at Raytheon, retired
in 1990, and began writing as if his grandpa, his father and
mother, his college professor, his wartime buddies, his old
teammates, his everyman's Saugus-born and bred neighbor were
sitting with him in his cluttered office, sitting there and
telling him, "Tom, tell them
the story about . . ."
He has been published in print, vanity press, by small houses,
and on the Internet. He guesses 500 or more of his poems have
been published on various Internet sites along with 50 or
more short stories. We are not talking here about some guy
who whiles away his retirement hours doing doggerel.
Sheehan has the soul of John Dos Passos, of Carl Sandburg.
In a "prose poem" that he calls "Saugus, Embassy
of the Second Muse," he writes of that muse speaking
"Dispel me of doom," the muse says. "Let the
music of words come, let them dance first in your eye, roll
on your tongue, live to die on the page. Let them vibrate
on your spine, get kissed of your skin, shoot out of here
in flight of geese, and mournful sound of heading home when
there is no home, steaming freight train whistle calling you
from a circle of blue nights, self shout at the moon still
shining on a hill East of Cleveland, South of Yang-du, East
again a long stretch from the Chugach given you in a word
picture, West of a cliff near Kerry . . ."
In a short story, "Fred Rippon's Mushroom House,"
Sheehan relates his time as a boy shoveling horse manure near
Lily Pond, his very words evoking its luxuriant stench, and
writes this, "Mostly I remember the eyes of a horse that
plunged through the ice, like great dishes of fear, wide and
frightened and full of the utmost knowledge. His front hooves
slashed away at the ragged rim of ice, but could not lift
him out, nor leather traces or ropes or sixty feet of chain,
and when he went down, like a boat plunging, huge bubbles
burst on the surface and a December afternoon became quiet."
Sheehan the prolific Saugonian inundates Internet publishers
with poetry and stories. He wins awards. He says he could
not move somewhere other than his hometown, because it is
there, in the town, in the rooms where he sits that the voices
of his community, past and present, come to his mind's eye,
ear, and soul. But he is more than a prophet in his own land.
So, then, Lit Pot Press, a small publisher in California,
has now released "This Rare Earth & Other Flights,"
a collection of Sheehan's poetry. Editor Beverly Jackson says
of her author, "This widely published, award-winning
master has the uncanny ability to lift the reader to heights
of euphoria with language so rich that it's rapturous."
Sheehan says he wants people to buy the book so Jackson can
"That's her money in there," says the street-smart
and book-smart guy. "She put about five grand into that.
We've got to sell 280 copies to get her money back."
Oh, and Tom the husband, father, and grandfather wouldn't
mind making a few big ones someday either, he admits. "I'd
do anything I can to make a buck," says the guy who once
shoveled manure. But should no bucks appear, he will continue.
Johnny Igoe would expect nothing less.
Alan Lupo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2003 Alan Lupo