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Vengeful Hymns

Job Accomplishments
              "Born to make minimum wage."
                            –Bart Simpson

Unlike my cousin, I didn’t slash open
my leg with a machete-like knife while
pruning pine trees into holiday shape.
In none of my Freshman Composition
classes did I ever make any student
so sick of the English language that they
never wrote another word ever again.
At least, I never received any letters
to that effect. Affect? I’ve forgotten.
When I counseled people about just what
their blood tests meant, more often than not
they thanked me for telling them they were sick.
I’m not making this up. And I managed
the books for a company during a time
when I didn’t balance my own checkbook,
although the accountant just shook his head.
I painted buildings without falling off
ladders or peeping into apartments,
and worked at an art museum, but not long
enough to find out what painting I was
supposed to save in case of a fire.
So what if it doesn’t equal a career?
So what if I never made enough money
to play much golf on the course I helped build
by harvesting stones and sowing bent grass?
At least the hypnotist I assisted gave
me my pick of silver Zippo lighters
smokers had turned in at his suggestion
without even using a pendulum watch.
The trick is to never look down, or back.
Because time’s wingèd chariot, or something,
might be gaining, and you can still fall even
when you think you’re on solid ground. Trust me,
I know; I haven’t done all this for nothing.

My father, Michael Emmett Sheehan, and me in the photo that inspired the poem "Blue Ribbon."

Blue Ribbon

Head, Heart, Hands, and Health are the four H’s.
This snapshot’s a part of my sister’s project—
a gelding that’s her whim and which in six
years will be wildly unrideable, God knows,
though now he’s so docile that father drops
the halter to have both hands ready to pluck
me, his sunburned peck of pink fruit, from
this long-legged, muscle-shivered cradle.
I hold on to the leather horn as though
I’m ready to break this wild bronc, this life.
The horse holds its breath, a trick for keeping
the saddle from being cinched good and tight.
Its curried tale flares softly in the wind;
the barn doors are opened to chaff-flecked light.
A rope to hang a worn tractor tire swing
comes down plumb from a blue, cloudless sky.
From Heaven, the parish priest believes. I think
I will hold on for as long as I can.