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About this poet

James Tolan received his PhD in English and creative writing from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. He is the author of Mass of the Forgotten (Autumn House Press, 2013) and coeditor of New America: Contemporary Literature for a Changing Society (Autumn House Press, 2012). He was the recipient of honors from the Association of Writers and Writing Programs, the Atlantic Center for the Arts, and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs and taught English and creative writing at the Borough of Manhattan Community College. Tolan died on March 8, 2017.

The Forest of My Hair

I'm 28 years old in the flesh
but in a mirror all I can see
is a boy after his first crew cut,
five years old and wondering
what happened to his hair,

disbelieving it would ever
grow back, as the barber
and his grandfather promised,
while he wept, silently,
trembling air through his lips,
pointing at his hair
strewn across a tiled floor.

My grandfather unwrapped
sour balls for both of us, and, 
leaving his Falcon behind, 
walked with me to the woods.

These woods, he said, are yours.
They were mine, but I give them
to you. I am old, and it is only right 
they should now belong to you.

I have lived most of my life
in the absence of that 
gentle voice, and those
woods of mine were clear-cut
years ago, but my hair,
I wear it long in honor of him.

Originally from The Atlanta Review (Fall/Winter 1996). Copyright © 1996 by James Tolan. As found in What Have You Lost?, edited by Naomi Shihab Nye, published by Greenwillow, 1999. Reprinted by permission of the poet. All rights reserved.

Originally from The Atlanta Review (Fall/Winter 1996). Copyright © 1996 by James Tolan. As found in What Have You Lost?, edited by Naomi Shihab Nye, published by Greenwillow, 1999. Reprinted by permission of the poet. All rights reserved.

James Tolan

James Tolan is the author of Mass of the Forgotten (Autumn House Press, 2013).