The poems in this first book by Jim Kelleher present a gritty, no-holds-barred depiction of people, creatures and events for which hardship and endurance are the hallmarks.  Early readers of the book have been universally enthusiastic: Maxine Kumin has commented that “Kelleher makes tough, knobby poems out of what he knows as carpenter, wood splitter, snowplower, and canny observer of the natural world. He is one of a kind and so are his carefully crafted but unvarnished poems.” And Susan Kinsolving has this to say: “Hard work, hard winter, and hard truth are the realities often embraced in Jim Kelleher’s poems. As he takes his readers from auction to quarry, from woodcutting to snow plowing, from tending the dying to attending Kerry dancing, his fortitude becomes a valuable affirmation. The poems in this fine first collection are shaped by direct observation, determined craftsmanship, and a rare hardiness of spirit. Whitman would say Welcome. And so do I.”

Jim Kelleher teaches literature and composition at Northwestern Community College in Winsted, Connecticut, works in a group home to support three handicapped men, and is also a self-employed carpentry contractor. He earned an MFA degree from New England College in 2007.  In former lives he was a teacher in the Boston public schools, caretaker for a summer camp, and Fillmore East usher. He lives in Goshen, CT, with Queenie Troy.

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ISBN: 978-0-9798451-4-7
60 pages, 6" x 9" perfect bound



Orange afternoons I sweat to split
dead tree logs.  I saw and square
big blocks of fuel, I spit
on sore thumbs and I don’t care.

Forget money, woman honey,
friends, family, even poetry.
The axe and I are here to hit
wide-ribbed chunks of etiquette.

Why?  Why not?  A smell
like skunk or a lover’s scent,
what’s her name, what the hell,
so what?  I crack ’em bent

or straight and tall, I don’t quit —
I bust logs for the hell of it!
You understand what I’m telling you?
Watch your butt, I’m chopping through,

I’m a true log-buster,
a catalytic trouble-thruster,
a mad machine with the jive.
I grunt and pop to stay alive.


Billy Steele gnawed black nailbeds
and raw red knuckles. Auto body ace
at West GM Perfect Body, spraying paint,
watching the clock, he drove what he could
fix: a Buick Regal with a rebuilt six,
and four new black rubber sneakers
(Michelins off a wreck that somehow
got mounted on his own rusting ride).
He was too sure a mechanic to fire.

Tonight he played hide and seek
with his shy, peek-a-boo daughter.
A dark doll like her mom, with almond
eyes — how pretty his girls were.
Some people go up and down the road,
he thought, and some people know
exactly what they need so they go out
and work like pistons to get it.

After punching out today, he stopped
to help a boy squatting by the flat tire
on his rusted Caravan. Soft white hands
squeezing a lug wrench, the boy torqued
the Jesus max from it, grunted and swore
as the lug nuts snapped right off the bolts.

The boy sagged as the Fat Boys
loomed. The bikers wheeled, revved,
blew more waves of noise at the kid
by the sad van. Billy Steele parked.
He knew the nuts were reverse threads —
the trick was spin the spanner clockwise.
He changed the tire, heard the boy’s
stammered thanks. The Fat Boys blasted
past, supreme hogs spewing decibels.
Billy Steele lit a cigar, spat on the tar.


City pigeons are beggar birds, dirty babies, poor, tough,
spattering the ironwork. – Emelene Grusakas

When Emelene’s roofer failed to tar the flashing
behind the attic dormer, the rains pooled there,
the sheathing rotted, a round hole opened wide
to let the pigeons in. Coo! They liked it there, Coo!

The flock entered as one: gray, white, black,
no discrimination. The rough-sawn collar ties
spanning the rafters from side to side
served as roosts in long winter storms.

Emelene’s husband Frank died in Fairvew Manor.
Cost her five hundred each last day. Her savings spent,
she stayed home, renting rooms, stretching
social security, watching cable TV. April passed,

her flock grew. Baby pigeons hatched from warm white
eggs. Pigeons nested in the eaves, nested in bookshelves,
nested in the old baby carriages stored up there. Pigeon
droppings collected, coating the attic floor. Manure

gave off a strong ammonia smell. In hot July, diseases
beat like eager reptile hearts: bronchitis, tuberculosis,
psittacosis. If Emelene heard her pigeons’ cooing
as she sipped vodka tonics and watched the Cubs

on CBS, she did not move, she did not speak.
Her Chicago Cubs were losers but the fluttering
team pennants beckoned like angels’ wings, gathered her up,
held her high and safe and soft in cooing angels’ wings.


In late February
when snow lies in dunes
and trees crack
on arctic New England nights
they hide like black burrs,
two featherballs in a thicket,
oblivious to wind chill
or crashing, sparking snowplows.

In mid-March they emerge,
the cock strutting first
to mark what’s his:
the meadow and spring,
the hardwoods on both sides
of furious State Highway 63.
He parades on the stone wall
while the hen guards his flank.

A learned behavior,
this cooperative scanning,
red heads and long necks twisting
right to left, left to right,
one leading,
one covering,
this mutual turkey radar,
to browse safely, to survive.

Then they withdraw from sight,
absent until June when
inexplicably they are twelve:
the parents round as tires
with ten half-pint turkey poults.
This irregular convoy
zig-zags through high grasses,
adults always last, and first.

Summer passes in circles.
They feed around the farmhouse.
I watch them growing
from the high east window.
They know I am watching.
Often they watch me
working, talking, laughing.
We give each other space.

When the treeline bursts
into scarlet and vermilion
they are reduced to eight,
black balls, long necks twisting.
Only bobcats and arrows are faster.
They sidle through the grass,
ponderous, awkward, fat,
wild turkeys doing the turkey trot.

Traffic speeds on Route 63
and from the north window
I watch my careening flock
peck in the roadside brush.
Road kills are common here,
life collides with death.
Heavy trucks hurtle south
and I hold my sudden breath.

Wild turkeys look
to left, then right,
then trot, and gather
wobbly speed
until, like a prayer exhaled
they lift
and rise and fly —
dreams escaping, again.

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