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Tom Sheehan
Searching for Mushrooms and Trolleys

Searching for Mushrooms and Trolleys

(Amanita Colyptraderma and Electric Street Cars)

They came out of West Lynn or East Saugus years ago,
dark mushroom seekers, with their long-pieced poles,
their own language whose word for amanita,
to the initiate, would tell where their roots
began, whether they were Florentine, Roman,
or islander, Piana di Cartania.
They might say Cocoli, Coconi
or Coccori,
the delicacies growing thirty or forty feet
up on the great elms in the circled green
of Cliftondale Square, those huge sky-reaching elms
that fell to the hurricanes of '38,
or Carol in the 50s, finally to the toll of traffic
demanding the green
be cut down to size.

Once, in a thick fog, on my third floor porch,
the mist yet memorable,
I remember thinking the elms were
Gardens in the Clouds.
I felt a bloom
rise in me, a taste
fill my mouth.

They don't come for amanita anymore
because the elms have all gone,
those lofty gardens, those mighty furrowed limbs;
now shrubs and bushes stand in their place you can
almost see over.
Nor do the streetcars come anymore
from Lynn into Cliftondale Square.
They say the old yellow and orange ones,
high black-banded ones,
red-roofed ones,
real noisy ones,
ones long-electric-armed at each end,
the ones off the Lynn-Saugus run,
are in Brazil or Argentina or the street car museum
in Kennebunkport, Maine,
quiet now forever
as far as we are concerned,
those clanging, rollicking machines that
flattened pennies on the tracks so that good Old Abe
became a complete mystery,
or the Indian Chief
as flat and as charmless, him and his background,
as his reservation.

From my porch high on the square,
I'd watch thin long poles extending men's arms,
needles of poles they'd fit together,
as they reached for the white-gray knobs
growing in cloudy limbs.
They wore red or blue kerchiefs around thick necks,
like Saturday's movie cowboys if you could believe it,
as if any moment they could slip them over their faces and hide
out in such bright disguises.
They'd cut or tap loose the amanita, see it fall slowly
end over end like a field goal or a point after,
down out of the upper limbs,
cutting a slowest curve and halved orbit,
and they'd swish butterfly nets to catch the aerial
amanita, or Cocoli,
as it might be;
or their women, in kerchiefs and drawn in
and almost hidden away,
faces almost invisible,
with an upward sweep of gay aprons
would catch the somersaulting fungi,
the amanita colyptraderma, or
being from Piana di Cartania, calling out its name
Coconi or Coccori,
Oh, Mediterranean's rich song airing itself
across the green grass of Cliftondale Square,
Brahminville being braced,

I was never privy to know their roots,
their harsh voyages, to know where they landed and why,
and now their sounds are lost forever, their voices across
the square, the gay and high-pitched yells
setting a brazen mist on Brahmin Cliftondale,
their glee as a soft white clump of fungi went loose from its roost,
coming down to net, swung apron, or quick hat
as if a magician worked on stage in the square,
heading for Russula Delica,
Cocoli Trippati, Veal Scaloppine,
Mushroom Trifolati, Risotto Milanaise

or plain old Brodo dei Funghi.

All these years later I know the heavens of their kitchens,
the sweet blast front hallways could loose,
how sauce pots fired up your nose,
how hunger could begin
on a full stomach
when Mrs. Forti cooked or Mrs.Tedeschi
or Mrs.Tura way over there at the foot
of Vinegar Hill.

And I grasp for the clang-clang of the trolley cars,
the all-metallic timpani
of their short existence, the clash of rods and bars
stretching to the nth degree, of iron wheel on iron rail
echoing to where we ear-waited
up the line with
fire crackers' or torpedoes' quick explosions,
and the whole jangling car shaking
like a vital Liberty Ship I'd come to know intimately
years later on a dreadful change of tide.

How comfortable now
would be those hard wooden seats
whose thick enamel paint peeled off by a fingernail
as I left her initials and mine
on the back of a seat,
wondering if today someone in Buenos Aires
or Brasilia rubs an index finger
across the pair of us that has not been together
for more than fifty years. But somehow,
in the gray air today,
in a vault of lost music
carrying itself from the other end of town,
that pairing continues, and the amanita,
with its dark song-rich gardeners,
though I taste it rarely these days,
and the shaky ride the streetcars gave, for all of a nickel
on an often-early evening, softest yet in late May,
give away the iron cries and, oh, that rich Italiana.

Poet's Biography:
Tom Sheehan, retired for 12 years, has had recent work appear in The Paumanok Review, Literary Potpourri, Small Spiral Notebook, 3amMagazine, Eastoftheweb, Stirring, Samsara, Dakota House Journal, Eleven Bulls, Literary Potpourri, Tryst, Melange, Skyline, Pindeldyboz, Cyber-Oasis, Critique, storySouth, and others. He was cited with a Silver Rose Award for Excellence in the Short Story by ART and has had two nominations for The Pushcart Prize (including one from three candles). He won Eastoftheweb's 2002 nonfiction competition. This is his third appearance in three candles.

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