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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.

Perfect, Wet with Poison

At Edwards’ Field, near the marsh, ours was the blood 
the mosquitoes in their gangly stealth sought. At dusk 
the city sent a truck, its sprinkler spraying 
a cascade of malathion, foul line to foul line, 
from out past the chain-link fence. Time called, 

we spread our arms and turned like we’d been told, 
spinning slow circles, left field to right 
and across the infield dirt, the chemical mist  
wafting over us, its sting 
like sharp dew settling into the corners of our eyes. 

The umpire tossed a dry ball to the tall boy on the hill, 
who rubbed it slowly between bare hands 
as he peered up at the crowd. The drumming in his ears 
dulling to a drone, he stepped to the rubber 
and leaned in. No runners to check, hadn’t been all game. 

Where but here was perfect even possible 
for a gawky boy with elbows thicker than his arms?  
Glove to chest, fingers to four seams, blow out. 
Fielders pounding their mitts, chanting and swaying. 
The gloam falling across the mound. And in the stands 

his mother done with her cursing of the city and its truck. 
Chapped hands over her stung eyes, she didn’t see 
her boy kick high and hurl one 
sharp-eyed home. Only heard the hush before 
the leather popped and those around her rose. 

Her husband roared with all the rest 
before he dropped a hand 
to her bent back and with the other waved. 
Caught his long son’s gaze, clenched a fist 
and beamed before their boy was swarmed.

Then sat down, leaned in, angled for her ear. 
His right hand at her elbow, she lifted 
her eyes at last to gather in 
the ruckus their son’s left arm had wrought. 
Worry later, Mary Lou. Stand up and let him see you proud.

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

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.
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
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