The HyperTexts

T. S. Kerrigan


Thomas Sherman Kerrigan, aka Tom Kerrigan, has been published in The Formalist, Light Quarterly, The Neovictorian/Cochlea, Iambs & Trochees, Southern Review, Slant, International Poetry Review, Poetry Monthly, Kansas Quarterly, Pacific Review, Tennessee Quarterly, and many other literary journals. He has also read his poetry on NPR. A collection of Kerrigan’s poetry, Another Bloomsday at Molly Malone’s Pub and Other Poems, was published by The Inevitable Press in 1999. Kerrigan’s work was included in the Garrison Keillor anthology Good Poetry (Viking-Penguin, 2002). Kerrigan is also a theater critic, a member of the Los Angeles Drama Critics’ Circle, and the author of several plays, including “Branches Among the Stars” (Louisville, 1990). His plays have been produced in Los Angeles at the Ensemble Studio Theatre where he served as a member of the Board of Directors, and at the Globe Playhouse. He is also a past president of the Irish American Bar Association and once argued a case before the Supreme Court, which he won. His book The Shadow Sonnets and Other Poems is available from Scienter Press and can be ordered at

Former American Poet Laureate Richard Wilbur described Kerrigan's  poetry as "full of life, authority, playfulness, and good rhythms."

X.J. Kennedy, former poetry editor of Paris Review, has hailed his work as a "rich and vivid collection admirable for the verve of its language-handling."

The Dust of Stars

for Louis Turenne

We breathe the dust of stars, you said,
The smoke from long-exploded worlds
When chaos shook the galaxy.
Our voices made the rocks resound
With music never heard before;
We played upon the three-stringed lyre
To pacify the jealous gods
And give an antiphon to man.
Philosophy proclaimed us mad
And even vowed to drive our kind
Beyond the city gates en masse:
Those men of dialectic mind
Who never breathed the dust of stars.


When days of stormy skies have done their worst,
And river waters rise and levees burst;
When wind and rain have flooded every field
And blackened all the grain and corn they yield;
When men implore their gods as skies grow dark,
And every two-by-four becomes an ark;
When some are lost, and burdened with our grief,
We count the cost of storms with disbelief;
When children doubt and wonder how we’ll live,
And we’re without assurances to give;
When we’re bereft of all, except the dross,
And mankind’s left to calculate its loss;
We’ll shut our eyes against the wind and rain,
And, waking, we’ll arise, and build again.

Published by The Raintown Review

Roger Kelley

They placed us alphabetically
In history and math;
you sat between Bob Katz and me.

You’d been expelled from other schools,
For truancy and theft,
And bragged you’d broken all the rules.

By spring we heard you faced arrest
For unpaid traffic fines;
Your brand new Ford was repossessed.

It’s ages since we saw your face,
Or read your name in print,
But who’d forget that time and place?

The week they took the Ford away,
To get to Mexico,
You panicked, stole a Chevrolet.

The owner tried to intervene,
A teacher from the school.
You shot her twice and fled the scene.

The day I read they gave you life,
I swore I’d rather die
Than live without a girl or wife.

Yet even grief wears off at last;
We spoke about you less,
Tried not to think about the past.

But social workers called one day
To see Bob Katz and me,
Then shook their heads and went away.

You’d named us each your closest friend,
Two kids you swore to them
"Would back you to the very end,"

Acquaintances you’d only met
Back then by happenstance,
Contingent on the alphabet.


Mais ou sont les neiges d’antan?


Please tell me, if you can, mon frere,
How all those former wantons fare:
The nymphets, virgins, teasers, flirts
Who always acted so demure
In mini, midi, maxi skirts;

Nicole, I met behind the stair,
Who came to me sans underwear;
Gervais, who left at break of day
By climbing out my window sill,
A ghost in filmy lingerie.

And where, mon frere, does passion go,
In billets-doux, the cant of verse?
And what’s become of last year’s snow?


And where are all those Adelaides
Whose faces blur across decades?
The Angeliques of singles bars
In pushup bras and clinging pants,
Who incandesced like falling stars?

And where’s Marie, who promised bliss,
But only gave me Tosca’s kiss?
And Madeleine, the ingénue
Who followed me around for days,
A lover pushing 42?

And where, mon frere, does passion end,
In memory, oblivion?
And what’s become of last year’s snow?

Give Me that Old Time Coition

When Bea Shapiro walked to school,
Enamored like that Nazarene
Who gave his heart to Magdalene,
I trailed behind, a tongue-tied fool.

I’d catch her eye sometimes in class,
And looked away before she guessed
I dreamt of splendor in the grass.

Though Boaz may have bragged of Ruth,
My phoenix cast a brighter light.
Believe me, that’s the Gospel truth.

And when she smiled, I didn’t care
That Xerxes lay in Esther’s arms,
Or Solomon knew Sheba’s charms,
I loved a creature far more fair.

Those fifties proved repressive times,
The Pentateuch, unnatural law
Made simple joys egregious crimes.

But Vico says that destiny,
That ever-turning cosmic wheel,
Evolves in cycles none can see.

We felt a new decade begin,
When lovers lay in fields of flowers
As fragrant as those ancient bowers,
Their ecstasy no longer sin.

While I contrived to pass the bar,
She ran off with a local mensch.
And made me love her from afar.

A girl I’d never got to kiss,
Who now would never be my bride,
Became my Jewish Beatrice.

Bereft, I cursed the stars, the moon,
The firmament, all womankind,
And all the planets unaligned,
That I’d been born too late, too soon.

Lines Written During Pentecost

That April, morning etched our room with light--
I can’t forget that morning--bleary-eyed,
I told you all I dreamt about that night,
My turning, all those hours, from side to side.

I can’t forget that morning, bleary-eyed,
It all comes back, that dream of souls half dead,
My turning, all those hours, from side to side,
That silent, sad procession in my head.

It all comes back, that dream of souls half dead.
There’s something else--I’ve tried but can’t explain,
That silent, sad procession in my head,
We bore somehow their share of earthly pain,

There’s something else--I’ve tried but can’t explain.
You’ll read these lines someday and then you’ll know,
We bore somehow their share of earthly pain,
I knew it then and never told you so.

You’ll read these lines someday and then you’ll know,
I saw us both among those lost that night,
I knew it then and never told you so,
That April, morning etched our room with light.

Christmas Ghosts

I always sense them drawing near,
repeating all their old complaints,
those wraiths that no one else can hear.

I’ve thrown away their letters, notes,
mislaid their faded photographs,
forgotten all their anecdotes.

“Just wait,” they warn. “You’ll see the day,
perhaps before your body’s cold,
your own effects are tossed away.”

The children long for Christmas Eve,
the presents underneath the tree
they wait for unseen hands to leave.

We sit around the radio,
hear “Silver Bells” and “Silent Night”
and talk about the chance of snow.

“You’ll know the truth the hour you die,”
that choir of bitter voices drones.
I’ve learned to turn the volume high.

A Sighting on the River


That summer morning years ago
we watched a red-tailed hawk
descending from the pines
across this stony riverbed.

O River, wind us now in light.

His talons clutching writhing prey,
his plumage spread against
a shaft of swirling air,
we saw him slowly rise again.

That circling image calls us back
as strangers now, to drift
beneath these trees, this sky,
to wonder where the river leads.

We tie our rotting skiff along
a fringe of wooded shore,
survey the massive sky
for hours for pinions, talons, beak.


A vagrant sun recedes behind
a line of reddened hills.
At dusk, let down and cold,
we slowly row the skiff upstream.

We make our way to camp as night
reclaims the river, pines.
Without a word exchanged,
we pack the old sedan and leave.

We saw a sign among these woods
that morning years ago,
an emblematic bird
abreast of water, earth and sky.

If we can hoard its symmetry
against the whorl of time,
perhaps it was enough
to know that feathered splendor once.

O River, wind us now in night.


Their spouses still asleep indoors,
they leisurely retrace
their steps at dawn, their arms entwined,
content in pearl grey light
to sniff a damask rose or two.

The daffodils have reappeared
in clumps beneath the oaks.
They find their special bench again,
grown shy, who were so bold
last night beneath a darker sky.

Remembering the wild bouquets
they gathered here, their years
together, years apart, they sit,
recalling vanished things,
the squandering of all those springs.

The Monaghans

We’d see them after dark
across the countryside,
in meadow, field, and park,
the tousled boy astride,
the lissome girl beneath
(her hair of palest oak
entwined with hill and heath).
That hair has gone to snow
from shades of palest oak.
For years a knockabout,
arthritis brought him low.
They rarely venture out.
How odd they both suggest
this latter love is best.

Kincarrie Miller

A sickly girl, we took her in that spring
when I was ten, my brother twelve,
another of my mother’s strays. As I
recall, her salesman father had to leave
on business trips from time to time.

They’d moved into the neighborhood, the wife
and mother’s absence unexplained,
some months before. Though just fifteen, disease
had culled the roses from Kincarrie’s face
and left her eyelids purple-veined.

She seemed content to share a room with boys,
read novels, spoke a little French,
and looking down her spectacles, disdained
our “bourgeois” neighborhood, where none, she said
read Gide, Hugo, de Maupassant.

One night while sprawled across the upper bunk
my eyes strayed from my grammar book,
to see her, having brushed her teeth and hair,
emerge in bra and panties sans her robe,
still drying on the back yard line.

Impulsively, I doused the light, jumped down,
and clasped her body close to me,
my skinny, trembling arms around her waist,
my throbbing face between her girlish breasts.
"What’s going on?" my brother yelled

I instantly released her unresisting form,
aware her eyes were fixed on me.
My brother rose and turned the light back on.
I stared at him but gave him no response.
I didn’t understand myself.

I flicked the light off two more times that night.
She looked at me as though her eyes
had never really seen my face before.
My angry brother knocked me down and made
me cry. "What’s wrong with you?" he screamed.

That fall her father got a job up north.
I watched the Bekins moving van
depart with all their worldly goods inside.
I thought of how that fragile body felt
that night while gathered in my arms.

My fourteenth spring a voice outside
my bedroom door awakened me.
I heard enough to know Kincarrie died.
"She never got the proper care," my aunt
exclaimed. I couldn’t sleep that night.

So set apart by circumstance, did she
accept my boyish lust that night ?
Would other arms encircle her? Or was
I last to draw that pallid body close
before the cold embrace of earth?

El Camino Real

So many strangers passed this way.
Some came for gold, a few for souls,
but few would leave these larkspur hills,
this green, exotic coast, unchanged.

I think of that Franciscan monk
who forged this stretch of road to link
the scattered missions north and south,
to better lead the tribes to Christ.

His kind would try to hold the land.
They farmed the fertile valleys, plains,
and named their pueblos after saints,
But they, in time, were dispossessed

of ranchos, haciendas, land,
when scores of blue-eyed dons appeared,
the men who traveled west to make
a second El Dorado rise.

We leveled all the citrus groves,
destroyed the ancient Chumash shrines,
and mile by mile we subdivide
and civilize this untamed ground.

Mission San Luis Rey


A perfect logic rules our dreams
from swaddling clothes to winding sheet,
and has me -- turning twelve tonight,
climb up among the glowing boughs

of phosphorescent apple trees,
endow equivocating leaves
with apparitions silver bright
beneath that orchard’s halfway moon.

But have I merely dreamt that boy
who once envisioned things in leaves
that no one else could ever see,
the radiance of August light?

Does mind invent those images
we cherish in our doddery,
those vestiges of innocence?
Is all, at last, just memory?

Ascending to the upper height
of apple boughs forever white,
beneath the godsend moons of youth,
that silver tracery of clouds,

he seems as real to me as night,
that boy who watched a dazzling world,
those wonders, splendors everywhere
we only see with children’s sight.

De Claribus Mulieribus


         The Ingenue

She credited both ruined girls
whose stories no one else believed:
the startled princess by the sea
his taurine-headed guise deceived,
so innocent in golden curls
she gave herself to him for free;
and Leda, pale among the reeds,
who felt his down against her skin
and satisfied his baser needs,
too young to know the stain of sin.

Attending to those tales in full,
she vowed she’d never be misled
by providential bird or bull,
or let some barnyard share her bed.
But wily Zeus could always guess
the way to get around such girls.
Could riches turn that pretty head?
Awakening to golden rain
across her fallow nakedness,
not even Danae dare complain.


         The Goddess

He was tending the fire
as the goddess passed by,
letting fingertips stray
on his shoulders and thigh.
She could sense his desire
from the depth of his sigh.

Still, she chose not to stay
to receive his embrace--
for she darted away,
and was gone in the gloom,
in a flurry of lace
and a train of perfume.

In that state of undress
with the fire getting small,
he relived each caress,
though caresses don’t last.
She’d forgotten them all
in the moment she passed.


             The Queen

The gates of Sparta opened wide
to welcome back our errant queen,
her withered husband by her side.

She hadn’t shown her face in years,
but older men recalled her charms,
those lovely eyes, those perfect spheres.

We saw, instead, to our surprise,
a gnarled doll, a fingerling,
a gorgon of diminished size.

What king would burn a city now
to get her back again, this crone?
Was this a face to launch a skow?

We’d been misled by foolish men,
false oracles of elegance,
who dared proclaimed this imp a ten.

Were wretched Paris still alive,
who dared to judge the goddesses,
he’d readjust her score to five.

The Bridge to America

On board the rotting coffin ships
they fingered icons, beads,
invoked the Sacred Heart of Christ,

my Sligo forbears, proud in rags,
with mouths of crooked teeth,
the meek who dared inherit earth.

Unswayed by intimations scrawled
across prophetic winds,
they sought the solitude of stars.

At last a landfall came in view,
a dark expanse of coast,
this brooding New Hibernia.

I picture them on rundown wharfs,
the greenhorns striking out
for Canaans all across the land.

Pretenders to the whirlwind night,
the vast unchosen staked their claims,
the meek who dared inherit earth.

Secretly Reading My Mother's Magazines in Childhood

We had very few books and no library near
that old tumbledown house at the end of the street,
in that neighborhood stinking of cabbage and beer.

So I savored the love lives of Allison, Dawn,
all those Merediths, Ericas, Tiffanys, Belles,
in my bedroom upstairs or the chaise on the lawn,

though on greater reflection those names seemed as queer
as souffle de poisson or escalopes de veau
in a neighborhood stinking of cabbage and beer.

And I thought to myself as I read more and more,
I might find that oasis of beauty and grace
and encounter those women I’d grown to adore.

But a moment of truth proved my hour of despair.
I’d been lied to, defrauded, seduced and betrayed,
like some pitiful character out of Flaubert.

With that paradise lost, my dilemma was clear:
I was trapped in a world full of Marys and Anns,
in a neighborhood stinking of cabbage and beer.

The Jargon of Lovers

The jargon of lovers has no word for absence.

With her image only a blur in your mind,
you were certain your blackest hours had passed,
they’d never catch you staring into space again.

But a snatch of music, the Valse des Fleurs,
playing over and over in your head,
had you twisting in your sleep last night.

By morning the immodest fragrance of jasmine
(reminding you of the scent she always wore)
came flooding through the white billowing curtains.

As you moved like a stranger in the awakening streets,
you encountered her lips on every woman’s face,
littering the morning like rose petals.

The jargon of lovers has no word for regret,
no name for the barren stations of memory.

The HyperTexts