The dead

They can wander in forgetting, confused—
I suppose it’s me. I’m the one confused
—time folds so strangely.
Often the talk is of trivialities:

some household chore I ought to attend to,
sports or politics.
My father and I sit at that kitchen table as we did
and tell the same stories to each other

we always told, pretending them new each time.
Dad has that one about Carl Yastrzemski,
how after a bogus called third strike Yaz calmly bent down
and covered home plate with dirt and walked away,

never turning to acknowledge the enraged umpire
ejecting him from the game.
We laugh, smile sharing that moment again.
And then I try to tell him about 2004,

how I’d thought it might be the sweet gesture
when I brought the sports pages and an old Sox cap
to the graveside the morning after they’d finally won it all.

You’d have loved to see it, Dad.

I looked out across the cemetery hill. Hundreds of others
had done the same —baseball caps, pennants, mylar balloons,
catching the clear, tired light of October morning
—all so sweetly telling the dead.


Then and there

As poets ran long, I’d resigned
to not reading at all. Time was short.
Others needed the borrowed space at a fixed time.

It’s in this confusion, perhaps, some aspect of my defense
left mistakenly and waited outside
in the parking lot, leaned against the car
smoking hand-rolled cigarettes
—some such ghost, gone.
                                          And this other
spirit arrived to catch the words
in my throat.

I heard my own voice
sound that last warped note
like you hear from a broken guitar string.

I did not weep.
I promise you that much, my brother,
but you were in that room.
And something so suddenly, achingly
was said
then and there

though, I doubt I managed
an intelligible word.


Good King

You match his stride
as best you can—
your arms outstretched
for balance,

leaping slightly
from one footprint
in deep, damp snow
to the next.

The year’s ending
and tradition’s
just beginning
to wear thin.

It’s always been
that we place these
lamps in the yard,
light the house.

Viewed from the street
by passers-by,
It’s lovely still,
the quaint scene—

wreath on the door
scant glimpse of tree

One lamp bracket
breaks as he stabs
at hardened ground.
He stops, sighs.

He is hurried,
gone at all this
mind elsewhere.

You’re there to help
you remind him.
It starts raining—
cold, heavy.

He sends you in
—this last work his
—to finish it
this last time.

from April: 30 Poems


Absence singing

There in the touch of amber light
and its fluid color upon sentinel trees
at the wooded edge by still water and
an opening to the sky

—there stirring from among the moss
and fallen leaves
—stirring and setting out to disappear

—the mist glow of branches fallen soft, unharkened,
their disappointed limbs accepted into the earth
without notice, without mind or eye to witness

—still facts of being once.

With each such breath of imaginary song
there is this gorgeous and entire quiet

—your absence singing.

Absence singing.


Always love

And which of you comes to meet me
at that table by a window I imagined

having promised myself that person would be
a comfort to me? I would want the old friend

who was always a comfort to me. But then
I remember how that version would complain—

old bones, your past beauty, your sweetest days long gone.
You’d want to be that grinning girl instead, laughing

to realize her silly vanity in a cousin’s photograph
or the small, shy child who does not yet know

her brother’s suffering, who holds his hand,
obedient and adoring his handsome, undamaged face.

Or would you arrive in the company of your shining
son, Soldier Achilles never gone to his war?

I know you would want to be your father’s daughter
—you might finally have the breath to dance to his music.

What tune would turn your terrible, delicate heart?
Would you be the woman who took my father’s hand,

led him that day toward the house as it had begun to rain
falling so very hard upon the dry, bare earth?


Even as we still might

The country comes round to its birthday again and with every birthday there comes the occasion for reflection. We might consider our history with pride for what is best in us, and even rue one or two failings. We might ask ourselves if we are old, or still very young.

Every birthday brings us back to our beginnings, and as I write this I find myself pondering that moment that we’ve chosen to identify as our birth, as our first national breath. It was the signing of a document. We don’t mark our beginning as the day of some decisive military victory, or the day some treaty finally recognized our existence. We mark it as the day we declared our independence, and the day we found some powerful language to define our meaning.

I think what makes that moment in our history, and our living understanding of that history, meaningful is something of the poetry in that document we signed 245 years ago. It is something of that poetry that establishes the moment of birth for our country as something more than the date some disaffected gentry signed a pact against taxes and unfair commerce, made a call for better representation of their interests in government. Had the Declaration of Independence merely been such a listing of grievances and some carefully worded political resolution, I don’t think we would celebrate July 4th in the way we do today. But there is something powerful happening with those words “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” there is something still deeper as our founding promise is sealed with the pledge of our “lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.” There is stirring music in that language, there is also something of substance to those words.

From the very first sentence, we define the American adventure as an episode “in the course of human events.” With those opening few words we state that the charter of this nation and its subsequent fate will be about more than one nation or its privileged people, but rather that these will be a comment on humanity itself. We go on to declare certain “self-evident” truths, and that in among these is the fundamental truth that all men are created equal and endowed with certain inalienable rights. These rights are not conferred by the state or its government, or defined as the due privilege of some select group. They are not ratified by our Declaration of Independence, they are simply, and profoundly, acknowledged, in truth, to exist for everyone.

This Declaration of ours is not about what it means to be an an American. Rather, it is about what we take it to mean to be a human being.

Among those who signed this document on July 4, 1776 were men who owned slaves. There were plantation owners and plutocrats who surely fretted about the dangerous aspects of this democracy they were about to fashion. There would be compromise and contradiction from the start. There would be war upon war, even war upon ourselves. It would be nearly another 150 years before the great great granddaughters of those first signers would be guaranteed the right to vote in this democracy, nearly 190 years before those descended of slaves would finally lay claim to the same self-evident truth of civil rights. Skeptics might be right to call into question some of the lofty rhetoric we celebrate.

But what of that question? What of men who can articulate ideals beyond their own failings?

What if Thomas Jefferson and his fellow founding fathers had chosen more careful language that made a more exact accounting of our nation’s founding compromises and contradictions, of their own moral limitations? Would subsequent generations have taken up the challenge, as Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “to live out the true meaning of our creed”?

To acknowledge hypocrisies, even profound failings in our history, is not to discount the profound poetry of that creed, of what we hoped we could be of at our beginning, what we had the courage to profess as our dream, even as we failed to live up to that dream at the time, even as we might still be striving today.

So I’ll leave it at this: Birthdays are about beginnings and also about what follows. We might indulge in a little pride or harbor a few regrets as we consider the gifts we must live up to and the mistakes we must live down. Each new year gives us another chance to do a little of both.

Yes, I’ll leave it at that, America. A little of both…

This essay appears in Personal Histories


Tom Driscoll Writing


April: 30 Poems

In “April: 30 Poems” Tom Driscoll shares a collection evolved across the month of April in 2021 writing in response to prompts shared by poet and teacher, Jan Hutchinson.

From ‘About These’: “Jan sends out these seeds and her community of fellow poets, they are the various gardens, or gardeners. This “April: 30 Poems” is simply my crop…”

  • Paperback: 44 pages
  • Publisher:; First edition (May 10, 2021)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1667104918
  • ISBN-13: 978-1667104911

Barnes &



Snow bends the bare tangle
of branches, the tree of a type
I cannot name just now
recalling its small purple fruit
and the thick screen of leaves
that hides me here
from my neighbors —all summer.
I’ve never bothered with curtains.
Now, even the snow falls away.

Essays Uncategorized

Whisper, a prayer

There are times when you can see jet airliners way up high above my house. It has to be a clear day, they’re flying at a quite an altitude. You have to look for them. They seem to be moving slowly and silently. The way the light glints off their wings and fuselage, they can be really quite beautiful.

It was just such a beautiful day. I remember that gorgeous September day. I think it was a Tuesday and the kids were off to school. I was very much enthralled with the idea of myself as a singer/songwriter at the time.

I had just put the final touches on a song I’d written and I was wrestling my way through a rendition on my 12 string, sitting in the back yard. (I never did do justice by that guitar – I would eventually sell it.) I distinctly remember the sight of one of those rarely noticed, beautiful, slow, silent jet airplanes overhead – it was heading south, perhaps southwest, for New York or maybe D.C., I assumed, coming out of Boston.

The song I’d written was this enormously earnest, and somewhat overlong, ballad called “Whisper.” I think I was trying to write a peace anthem. At the time the Intifada was raging in the streets of Palestine, and every effort to quell the violence seemed to only make it worse.

In Northern Ireland, the Good Friday Accords seemed to be, at best, a precarious hope, with old angry men and younger dangerous ones still shaking their fists over timeless ‘Troubles.’ Recent history in places like Bosnia, Kosovo and Rwanda hung heavy on my mind as well. I wondered if we humans would ever find the ability to live in peace.

On a beautiful day (such as that day in September) the world could seem to be offering us peace, like some quiet and simple instruction we only needed to accept. Why can’t we hear that whisper? That was the idea anyway. Perhaps I preached a bit much in that song, but that seemed like something worth doing just then. I was proud of myself for using a D-Minor 7th chord in the progression.

That beautiful clear blue morning, as I strummed and sang in the backyard by the white flowered hydrangea, my wife called me inside to the phone. My mother was on the line. Have you been watching TV? There’s been an accident in New York. A plane hit one of the Twin Towers.

As my mother told me what she knew, I assumed that it was a small plane, that this would be one of those small, sad tragedies that occupies the news without really touching us. There would be plenty about it in the papers, probably for a week or more, no need to turn on the TV.

No, this was something more, my mother said. As if only to humor her, I turned on the news. To this day I’m not sure (it was so confused at that moment), but I believe I was watching live as the second plane hit the second tower.

In the song I’d written I was trying to come to terms with the idea of peace, or rather, the lack of it. There was a line in there about forgiveness as an unspent coinage, one we were being asked to give, let alone spend. And there was another line about rage as an empty pavement for empty streets.

As I said, I was preaching.

There was a verse where I imagined a Christ-like figure arriving upon the scene of some safe suburban modern day American town; Christ with his message of even suffering forgiveness. How would he be received? As I think of it now, I suppose for all I was trying to write a song, I was also trying to utter a prayer.

At different times over the past six years I’ve had different opinions of that song I’d just finished writing that morning in September. Sometimes I think of it as a beautiful earnest offering, at others it strikes me as pompous and preachy, maybe even naive. The last time someone asked me to perform it I shrugged it away and begged off. I probably couldn’t play it right now if I tried.

Still, as I realized the date come round again I thought of that song, that light of a beautiful September day, the message that light seemed to convey.

So quiet, almost whispered, a prayer.