Archive for the Donal Mahoney Category

Bill’s Socks by Donal Mahoney

Posted in Donal Mahoney with tags on March 23, 2016 by Scot

Hillary was at the podium
setting the record straight
for people who have a problem
with the tone of her voice.
She said when Bill was
president some folks said
she should have stayed home
and matched up his socks.
No way, fans in the crowd
booed their response.
But in a city far away
a husband at home
watching on TV
leaned over on the couch
and whispered to his wife
he’d bet anything
Monica would have put
those argyles together.

Meeting Dad Again by Donal Mahoney

Posted in Donal Mahoney with tags on July 27, 2015 by Scot

 

My father emigrated from Ireland to the United States in the early 1920s. He had been released from Spike Island by the English who “occupied” Ireland at that time. Spike Island was the “Guantanamo” of that era, located just off the coast of Ireland. It was there the English warehoused prisoners of the Irish Republican Army (IRA).

My father had been imprisoned by the English at age 16 for running guns through the marshes of County Kerry to aid the rebels fighting to free Ireland from the rule of the English. Young Irish lads were recruited for duties like this because they would be less apt to be captured by the English–or so the IRA thought. My father was not coerced into doing this. He volunteered for the duty and would have done it again if the English had not insisted that he and other prisoners leave Ireland as a condition of their release.

On arrival in America, he found work as a grave digger in Brooklyn, NY. Later he boxed professionally and sang in night clubs that catered to Irish immigrants. After he got married, he moved with my mother to Chicago where he was hired by the Commonwealth Edison Company. There he spent almost four decades as a lineman, often working as a “troubleshooter” who was called out in the middle of the night whenever a storm knocked out the power. He liked this work and was very good at it or so I was told by his peers when I visited him in the hospital. They had gathered in the hall outside his room after he had survived an electrical accident that occurred high on a pole in an alley. He survived 12,000 volts, an incident that got his name in the Chicago Tribune.

In January 2012, decades after my father had died, my wife discovered a photo of him on the Internet. It showed him as a prisoner on Spike Island, circa 1920. He was a farm boy, poor as the chickens he fed as a child, but the English dressed him up nicely for the photo that accompanies this story. Perhaps they didn’t want his age to show and to a degree they succeeded in that. You would think they had treated him well but they broke both his legs with rifle butts and let him sit on an earthen cell floor for a long period of time.

unnamed

In the photo, my father is in the first row, third from the left. He is identified as “J. O’Mahony,” which was the family name until he became a citizen of the United States. On that occasion, the judge suggested he change his name to “Mahoney,” which was “more common” in the United States. My father agreed to the change but it was a decision he would rue for the remainder of his life. More than once he told me, “I should never have done it but I was a greenhorn, what did I know?”
My poem, “Meeting Dad Again,” was written many years later after my father and I reunited in Chicago briefly after he had been out of my life for awhile. His two years on Spike Island as an adolescent had taken a toll. He suffered from post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) before that ailment had been identified and named. Despite this problem, however, he was a sober Irishman who labored hard in Chicago for decades to save money to put me through college. His goal was to make certain I would never have to “work with my hands.” He didn’t have to worry. I can operate a hammer but have no manual skills beyond that.

My poem records our reunion when my father, back in town unexpectedly, phoned me at work and, to my surprise, asked that I meet him for lunch. He suggested a cafeteria that was then a Chicago landmark. No fancy restaurants for him, even though in retirement he could afford a touch of the posh. I can’t remember for certain but I doubt that he let me pay the check. He knew that I had bills as the father of five stair-step children.

The lunch went well. Conversation was light. I did not ask him where he had been or what he had been doing and he asked only pleasant questions about me and my children. He showed no mood swings to indicate that he had once been a guest of the English, a confinement that affected him far more, I believe, than absorbing 12,000 volts. The voltage crippled his hand and gnarled his arm but the English crippled and gnarled his nervous system. On this day, however, he was in fine fettle, as he liked to say. This time he was more interested in seeing me than my report card.

____________

Meeting Dad Again

Thirty years later, Dad came back
and we met for Ham and Yams at Toffenetti’s.
Pouring his tea, he told me he had
to restore power once
at a newspaper warehouse
and the storm broke again
and the lightning cracked his ladder.
He spent the whole day, he said,
sitting in that dark warehouse,
waiting for the lightning to stop
and for the truck to bring a new ladder.
He had a great time, he said,
sitting next to a flickering lantern
and reading for hours the Sunday comics
printed and stacked
six weeks in advance.

Seventeen Year Itch by Donal Mahoney

Posted in Donal Mahoney with tags on March 9, 2015 by Scot

 

Marcia was 17 the first time thousands of locusts rose from the fields of her father’s farm and filled the air, sounding like zithers unable to stop. Her father was angry but Marcia loved the music the locusts made. She was in high school then and chose to make locusts the focus of her senior paper.

At the town library she learned locusts spend 17 years deep in the soil, feeding on fluids from roots of trees that make them strong enough to emerge at the proper time to court and reproduce. Courtship requires the males to gather in a circle and sing until the females agree to make them fathers.

Courtship and mating and laying of eggs takes almost two months and then the locusts fall from the air and die. Marcia remembers the iridescent shells on the ground shining, She was always careful not to step on them. She cried when the rain and the wind took them away.

Now 17 years later Marcia is 34 and the locusts are back again. Her dead father can’t hear them and Marcia no longer loves the music the way she did in high school. Now she stays in the house and keeps the windows closed and relies on the air-conditioner to drown out the locusts. Marcia has patience, however. She knows what will happen. She reads her Bible and sucks on lemon drops, knowing the locusts will die.

In the seventh week, the locusts fall from the air in raindrops, then torrents. “It is finished,” Marcia says. She pulls on her father’s boots and goes out in the fields and stomps on the shells covering the ground but she stomps carefully.

At 34 Marcia’s in no hurry. Before each stomp, she names each shell Billy, John, Chuck, Terrence or Lester, the names of men who have courted her during the 17 years since high school. They all made promises Marcia loved to hear, promises she can recite like a favorite prayer. She made each man happy as best she could. They would grunt like swine the first night, some of them for many nights. But then like locusts they would disappear.

Not Far From Ferguson by Donal Mahoney

Posted in Donal Mahoney with tags on January 28, 2015 by Scot

 

 
Not far from Ferguson
in South St. Louis,
a Bosnian man 
was murdered days ago
by four teens–three Black
and one Hispanic. 
They pounded Zemir Begic
with hammers 
while his fiancée watched.
 
The newspaper claims
race didn’t play a role 
in Zemir’s death but
the Bosnian community
felt otherwise as they
marched peacefully down 
the main thoroughfare
in their neighborhood.
 
Today the newspaper teems
with articles about Ferguson,
something it has offered daily
in the three months since
the killing of Michael Brown.
But three days after the death
of Zemir Begic the paper offers
no further explanation.
No word either as to whether
the Reverend Al Sharpton
will come to St. Louis to meet
with the Bosnian community.
President Obama has yet
to offer condolences.
 
Most Bosnians in St. Louis
are immigrants who understand 
hatred and discrimination,
having come to the city 
to escape death in Bosnia
at the hands of Serbs.
 
This is not a good time 
to be either Black or Bosnian
in metropolitan St. Louis.
It’s not a good time 
to be anyone else either.
We are at best observers
in an urban forest 
surrounded by
anger and gossip.
Many of us would prefer
a  bridge to crawl under
provided it’s home to trolls
who offer a silent night.
That might be the best place 
to spend Christmas this year,
better perhaps than
almost anywhere else
in St. Louis.
 
 
 

In the Desert of Iraq by Donal Mahoney

Posted in Donal Mahoney with tags on October 26, 2014 by Scot

It took awhile to find Osama.
It will take awhile to find
the Briton with his knife
in the desert of Iraq.
They may bring him back
unless a verdict’s rendered
in the desert
enabling the Briton
to discover in a second
all the virgins
awaiting his arrival
unless he finds
he’s sitting with Osama
holding marshmallows
blackened on a stick.

Amid the Silence of Imams by Donal Mahoney

Posted in Donal Mahoney with tags on October 6, 2014 by Scot

Carnage rolls
across the sand
amid the silence
of imams

Women raped,
children killed,
amid the silence
of imams

What will it take
to stop the carnage
amid the silence
of imams

At Bus Stops on Thanksgiving Day by Donal Mahoney

Posted in Donal Mahoney with tags on November 28, 2013 by Scot

Before dawn, people
who work on Thanksgiving Day
wait in the wind for a bus
to arrive or maybe not.
It’s too cold to talk
so the people stand
like minutemen and plan
a revolution that would shock
nice families who drive by later,
children tucked in scarves
and mittens, laughing
all the way to Nana’s house
for turkey, gravy, stuffing
and later in the day
a ballerina of whipped cream
twirling on pumpkin pie.
Thanksgiving is the day
America asks for seconds
and sorts its servers
from the served.

Continuity by Donal Mahoney

Posted in Donal Mahoney with tags on October 8, 2013 by Scot

I’m just a dog barking,
I tell my wife who’s upset
with my yakking on and on
at our weekly meeting
on a Saturday morning
stationed in our recliners
facing forward as if we were
in the same row on a plane
with the middle seat empty.

I tell her eventually
any dog will stop barking
if you give him a bowl of kibble
or let him in the house
or find his ball and play fetch.
Or do what my mother did
when I was an infant bawling
and woke my father who faced
work as a lineman the next day.

My mother would get out of bed,
grab her old bathrobe
and whisk me to the rocker.
Even to this day,
many decades removed,
it’s the best solution:
Put a breast in my mouth
and silence will ensue.
Eventually I may even coo.

Death Has Dominion by Donal Mahoney

Posted in Donal Mahoney with tags on July 8, 2013 by Scot

Officer Burks brings Max
the Bloodhound
into the alley
and Max immediately
strains at his leash.
He’s onto the scent
of a killer.

Nose to the gravel,
Max sniffs back and forth,
slobber dripping
from his hammock lips,
his head never rising.

Burks knows Max
will corner the killer,
but not so fast.
He almost trips when
Max breaks his leash
and charges forward,

jaws agape,
incisors bare,
till a shot is heard
and Max drops,
a bullet in his head,
blood puddling
in little lakes
around him.

It is ever so:
Max was slain
by the same killer
wanted by everyone
since the beginning
of time, the killer
who waits
in alleys and caves
and other dark places
primed to harvest,
one by one,
all of us
if our time comes.

Back Then and Write Now by Donal Mahoney

Posted in Donal Mahoney with tags on November 25, 2012 by Scot


When I began writing in 1960, there were no website “magazines.” Print journals were the only place to have poems published. Writers used typewriters, carbon paper, a white potion to cover up mistakes and “snail mail” to prepare and submit poems for publication. Monday through Friday I’d work at my day job. Weekends I’d spend writing and revising poems. Revising poems took more time than writing them and that is still the case today, decades later. 

 On Monday morning on the way to work, I’d sometimes mail as many as 14 envelopes to university journals and “little magazines,” as the latter were then called. Some university journals are still with us. Some are published in print only and others have begun the inevitable transformation by appearing in print and simultaneously on the web. 

 “Little magazines,” especially those published in print without a presence on the web, are rare in 2012. One might say, however, that their format has been reincarnated in hundreds of website publications that vary in design, content and frequency of publication. Depending on the site, new poems can appear daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, semi-annually or annually. For many writers, these websites are a godsend. Some “serious” writers, however, still feel that a poem has not been “published” until it has appeared on paper. 

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