Unaccounted For poems by Paul Scollan

picture of Paul Scollan

Photo by Hector DeReza


Paul Scollan makes the common uncommon. Like Winesburg, Ohio, the poet’s hometown stands for more than itself. In all their vivid specificity, its people and places achieve mythical dimensions, though always in down-to-earth language. The same is true of all the unsung heroes in this set of entirely American praise songs, which depict the pain and joy of life in unvarnished terms. They pay homage to the unnoticed and avoided, looking for beauty, mystery and spirituality in the most unlikely places, and striving for honesty, though painful at times, in telling of the poet’s personal past. Alexandrina Sergio comments that “Unaccounted For is more than merely a good read, though it surely is that: it is a trip back to a place we have never been, where we visit old acquaintances whom we have never known. Through the subtle artistry of poet Paul Scollan, this makes perfect sense. We don’t just read about the streets of his factory town but find ourselves walking them, familiar with the place that is ‘an old suit vest without the suit, with orphaned buttons / that don’t match – and when one pops off lost, you’ll see me looking.’ We belong here. How else would we know the unwritten history and mien of Mad Molly, whose task is to keep God from dozing; and the ‘keeper of memory’ at his post in Miller’s Tavern; or Mr. Bergeron who, facing death, has bought himself a brand new Buick Regal? In Unaccounted For, Paul Scollan offers a richly experienced look at life’s ironies and accidental joys, the chance events that can jolt loose unrelated bits of the past, and encounters with the truth and reality that shape the never-ending process of growing up for us all.” And this from Ken Lee: “In Unaccounted For, the second book of poems by Paul Scollan, we are treated to a wonderful tour through the author’s memory in his sympathetic voice honed by long experience. In poem after poem of beautifully crafted evocations of the joys of childhood, the absurdity of war, the uncertainty of belief, and the various and surprising changes that time imposes, we are treated to wonderful descriptions of the people and places that have come to live inside him: real people in real places, the former often mentally ill or down on their luck, the latter often bypassed by ‘progress,’ but both bestowing us with something deeper and more lasting.”
  Unaccounted For by Paul Scollan cover image
  Front cover watercolor by Neil Scollan

Paul Scollan recently retired after more than thirty-five years as a clinical social worker and administrator at mental health centers. His poetry has its source in his professional work, his years of travel in Spanish-speaking countries, his experience in the Vietnam War, and the wonderful peculiarities of being from a large Irish-Catholic family. His first book, Liberty Street Hill, was published in 2010 and was a finalist for the Eric Hoffer Award in 2012. His poems have appeared in many journals including The Connecticut River Review, Sow’s Ear, The William and Mary Review, and Oasis Journal. A native son of Connecticut, Paul lives in Meriden.

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ISBN 978-1-936482-94-8

Copyright © 2015 by Paul Scollan

6" x 9" paperback, 94 pages



Copyright ©2015 by Paul Scollan

Hero Worship

I look out over the room
and there he is,
sitting at the corner table
at our 50th reunion,
once the twelve-year-old
whose uncanny curve ball
nicked the corner of the plate
almost every time before
smacking my catcher’s mitt,
the pitch that single-handedly
snatched the title for our team.

In dreams and idle musings
over the years, I replayed
the pitch in my head:
the wind-up, release, trajectory,
red stitches on a side-roll
in a downward arc to the batter’s
short-reaching swing –
the perfect true-ness of it
inspired me over time to dig in deep,
to hone fine edges, focus hard
on every task undertaken thereafter.

After the hand-shaking, back-slapping,
cracking wise about the ravages of age,
I cut straight to worshipful words
about the boy wonder on the mound,
enough to enshrine him in Cooperstown.
Boy Wonder hears me out in full
but with puzzlement in his eyes.
He comes back with a dismissive sweep
of the hand, saying, “Thanks, ole buddy,
but you got it all wrong – it was really
the father-and-son coaching duo that won
the day, just in the way they took us in like sons
of their own – making all the difference.”

Next day my mind falls back to its usual groove,
but strange to say, the catcher is leaping, lunging,
digging in the dirt to save wild pitches – forgotten
in the stirred-up infield dust of victory day.

Stockade Fence

We were basic trainees,
all draftees, marching
and singing the army cadence
with Drill Sergeant Lopez in the lead,
Vietnam, Vietnam, late at night
while you’re sleeping Charlie
Cong comes a-creeping around
to an old pop tune, “Poison Ivy.”

After a day at the firing range
with Charlie in our sights,
we were marching back to barracks
when we passed the stockade’s
outer fence in the exercise yard,
with a dozen or so confined soldiers
of every stripe and infraction,
fingers gripping the wire mesh
over heads, faces scrunched
against it, shouting taunts as far
as voice could carry, the likes of
Ya ass-lickin’ gung-ho wusses – or,
Hey, sucker, they’ll send your sorry
asses home in a plastic sandwich bag.

But we the trainees on the fence’s other
side kept marching, marching in cadence
to our destiny past the fenced-in chorus,
till the heckling was drowned out
by our marching feet and the cadence
sounding out in synchronized beat –

... while you’re sleeping Charlie
Cong comes a-creeping around.

Paint Prep

The sun, the planets
and the moon in all phases
fell first, then one by one
the sparkly fill-in stars

fluttered from the ceiling,
those glow-in-the-dark stickers,
touching down only to stick
again to the pile carpet below,

first yielding to my putty knife
scraping the once-white ceiling
of the boys’ old bedroom, then
to my fingers teasing them from fiber,

this same night sky put up there by the twin boys
when tall enough to reach the ceiling while standing
on their beds, for lights-out gazing with keychain
flashlights scanning their twelve-year-old cosmos,

now in their mid-thirties, still lifting a glance now
and then, my hope – and I, down there in the celestial
litter on the dingy carpet, pick up and bag the pieces,
except for a few glowing stars that stick to my fingers.

Writing on the Wall

Bunch of buddies in their thirties
going back long as memory serves
huddled together at pit-stops
home, off-duty from second lives
of carried cargo –

together again minus one,
their Boy snatched fast
and clean, no final “bye guys,”
no last rascal grin;
the thunderclap of a steel door
was all they heard;
the flash-pain of branched
lightning over a stopped heart
was all they felt.

How they tried – hung Number 15
jersey over the bar at the watering hole
as second-skin for incarnation
and luck, and with luck enough
the sparks would arc back
and flicker Number 15 forever
on the left field scoreboard screen.

Old Man Pastore’s Collection

Afternoons he’d sit on the oak-shaded
park bench with his loaf of bread,
slowly plucking little pieces to toss
to the squirrels, chipmunks and pigeons,
calling each by its Italian name.

Wasn’t long before he started putting off
going home, staying out later and later,
past dark, to watch the kids play soccer
under the lights, and after lights went out,
he’d look for Orion’s Sword in the night sky.

On getting word, his only child Vincente
booked the next flight for Scranton,
leaving legal briefs and dockets behind,
and made arrangements on his mobile while
driving to the airport and waiting for his plane.

At the old homestead he did a quick tour
inside and out, noting the effects of neglect
since mother died, and, oh God,
Pop’s prized snuff-box collection, too,
once neatly stored on custom shelving,
the more precious ones showcased in glass –

coffin-like boxes of carved teakwood, silver,
inlaid mother-of-pearl, all smaller than his thumb –
now scattered about in disarray, some lids open,
snuff powder spilling over edges, the catalogue
out of sequence, many piling up in the corner.

Taken aback, Vincente fell into Pop’s stuffed
chair, doing all he could to gather his senses –
yet still he heard the rise and fall of breathing,
saw shoulders hunched, a bald pate nodding
over knotted fingers barely moving,
and the worried look of a keeper not keeping up
with too many little ones in his care.

Ginny DOA

In one continuous flow
she moved from quilted bed
to flannel robe to slippers,
skating on the kitchen tile
to finger on the coffee switch.

Waiting for the pot to brew
she spread her girth into the chair
next to the kitchen window
and watched a squirrel jump
on top of the gnome lawn ornament
and drop down in a scurry
under her trailer home.

Alone but holding her own
she poured herself a cup,
wrapped hands around the curves
and took a sip, feeling the warmth
move down her belly and up to her chest,
holding a glow she’d never known.

She heard the sunlight trickling
in through the curtain ruffles,
heard the lilac buds bursting
fast against the dew-streaked glass,
heard the whirring of the unspooling
maple leaves buried deep inside
the branch shoots outside the window.

Strange to feel so different now,
fear and rage and jealousy
so suddenly dissolved,
those mock-companions seducing
her oh so many years.
Now she only felt a calm, the kind
that comes with unburdening.

Ginny watched the squirrel perch
on top of the garden gnome – again,
but this time it stood straight and tall
on its hind legs and looked into her eyes,
and she could tell it knew her.

Buick Regal

Bumped into Mr. Bergeron
at the coffee shop early morning –
no mistaking that Gallic nose,
short wiry body and jaunty gait.
His story told me in my teens
percolated up on seeing him –
how at age nineteen a landing craft
disgorged him onto an ashen atoll
in the Pacific where he only moved
by crawling on his belly with his buddies,
eating ashen dirt, shitting in his pants
without knowing it, and spitting curses
against every deafening spray of metal.

He grinned a wide grin on seeing me,
threw out a hand for firm shaking,
then waved me out to the parking lot
for a look at his brand-new Buick Regal
sitting there lolling in its imperial shine.
Finishing the tour inside and out,
he paused while leaning against a fender,
dropping word matter-of-factly
as rain on rooftops –
the doctors gave him
but a few months more.

Before I could muster a lame response,
he gave a wink and pat on the back,
tucked the New York Post under his arm
as he snatched up his cup of take-out joe
from the hood, then slung himself
into his slick black Buick Regal –
his fourth-to-last time driving it.

West-Side Window

I feel this tugging pull
to walk outside on evenings
when the sun tilts low
and ducks behind brick
storefronts, parked cars,
leaning fences and linden
trees standing in a line,
winking at me
in my passing periphery,
and I get to see the house
with the wrapped porch
as wide and welcoming
as an old aunt’s Sunday hug,
with two wicker rockers
by the old oak doors,
tilting with the lightest
graze of a passing breeze.

I slow down to a shuffle
by the west-side window
as shadows break
through the fluttery maple,
throwing stencil patterns
against the clapboards,
and the last strands of sunlight
pull away from the white lace
curtains in the parlor window
and hang a breath or two
on top of the high-back chair
and slip through the floor-lamp
shade before dragging
a fingernail along the window
sash – and then the long sigh
of hesitation, slow and aching,
when I have to go on walking.