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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 Filched (Dos Madres Press, 2017) and 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.


Inside this grave 
womb that drums 
and groans 
as it takes

of my spine

I hear it 
seem to say

go        /           you go	

don’t   /           you go

don’t go          /           don’t		

go now	           /           don’t

I’m 52, inside 
this calibrated tube, this 
picture box 
and singing machine 

that will tell 
my doctors if 
the drugs and

marrow have 
been killing 
the tumors set 
on killing me

go        /           don’t grow	

don’t   /           go

The droning 
chant of this 
temporary tomb
returns me 

to Junuh at the ocean 
only four 
and screaming 
into the waves

the two of us 
charging, arms 
flailing like 
the fleshy swords they are

the water beating us 
back before
we Charge! again, 
roaring the whole time.

We can’t give up. We 
have to fight, he says.
And back in we go
wild into the wake.

don’t go          /           don’t 

go                    /           don’t		

go now	           /           grow	

grow    /          you	

grow    /          no	

don’t    /           go		

don’t    /           grow	

go         /          no

From Filched (Dos Madres Press, 2017). Copyright © 2017 by James Tolan. Used with the permission of Holly Messitt.

From Filched (Dos Madres Press, 2017). Copyright © 2017 by James Tolan. Used with the permission of Holly Messitt.

James Tolan

James Tolan is the author of Filched (Dos Madres Press, 2017).

by this poet

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
More than the execution
of what we owe 
to whom and for how long,

more than attention 
swallowed and returned,

love might be the kindness 
that bathes the crust from life

like scalding milk 
and a wire brush
to thick and brutish hides.
Is that vintage? they ask.  

It was my father’s, I say and think of a man for whom 
that word meant only a crack about drink—

            Gimme a tall one of your finest vintage!

I found it among tie pins and cufflinks in his top drawer, 
filched it years before I knew the word