Mile Markers
by Tom Moran
29 Poems ~ 36 Pages
Price: $15.00
Format: 5 ½’’ x 8 ½’’
ISBN: 978-81-8253-839-9
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Reviewed by Michael Escoubas

As I opened my heart to Tom Moran’s excellent debut collection, a saying by Seamus Heaney (1939-2013) came to mind: “A poet is someone who feels, and who expresses his feelings through words. This may sound easy, but it isn’t.” Heaney, arguably one of the greatest poets of recent times, is known for the lyrical beauty of his poems and their plain-spoken truth about everyday life. Bullseye!

Growing up in the rough neighborhoods of Chicago’s suburbs, Moran puts readers “in the game” of his life. From the get-go, Heaney was right. Tom Moran feels things deeply. This is poetry’s first requirement. Moreover, words do not come easy for this poet. I sense a certain struggle here. That is, he wrestles with his writing. Again, Heaney, This may sound easy, but it isn’t. That is why these poems are good poems.

As I worked my way through the book, I stopped cold at “Each Dawn.” I was reminded of what my mother told me to do on cold and windy days:

        I walk backwards
        in the wind
        to shield me
        from the cold.
        Walk backwards
        against my poetry,
        hide from raw truth.
        Walk backwards
        from a sunrise,
        to drown
        in the carpeted night.

        I turn,
        face my words,
        walk across a field
        of unwritten poems.

Here, the poet struggles in his psyche: the irrepressible need to “walk across a field / of unwritten poems.” As Mile Markers so poignantly illustrates, Moran’s backward walk into the wind is a journey of growth. It is a journey of learned poetic depth. “Google Maps” reflects on childhood experiences where, as a child standing on the corner of “Stoney Island Avenue, / he raced across eight lanes of traffic / to get to kindergarten.” This took no small of amount of courage. In the same poem, I experience, “how my stomach tightens / walking through a viaduct.” And,

        the warm bakery I took harbor
        on winter mornings walking to St. Felicitas,
        looking for my place in this louder world.

Ah! The aroma of fresh bread and raspberry scones reaches my nostrils!

Moran is no stranger to darkness. “A Gift” is a haibun. The poet exploits this form perfectly using prose to describe the death of his friend Mike. Mike’s life ended at age fourteen when he walked in front of a train. Other friends made a suicide pact. Another died by an overdose of heroin. There are more. But through the darkness, life emerges as an inexplicable gift:

        People fly off the potter’s
        wheel as wet clay.
        God molds a humble mug,
        grace sustains the firing.

I return to Heaney, This may sound easy, but it isn’t. I get the feeling that Tom Moran has seen a lot of life. I sense poetry to be a key to Moran’s understanding of life. Wallace Stevens once wrote, “Poetry is a response to the daily necessity of getting the world right.” I don’t know if Moran is familiar with Stevens’ aphorism or not. But the ending of “Moonflower,” a tribute to the poet’s wife Christine, shows his depth of understanding:

        We are two raindrops
        folded into one;
        wait on the day when we’ll realize
        Jesus has everyone’s eyes.
        We are bits pulled from sourdough batter,
        set aside to add to the next batch
        to keep the recipe alive.

Mile Markers has nourished the recipe of my life, keeping its nutrients evermore fresh, evermore alive.


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