Posted by: tsopr | June 26, 2011

Donal Mahoney, American Poet

Donal Mahoney, a native of Chicago, lives in St. Louis, MO. He has worked as an editor for The Chicago Sun-Times, Loyola University Press and Washington University in St. Louis. He has had poems published in or accepted by The Wisconsin Review, The Kansas Quarterly, The South Carolina Review, The Beloit Poetry Journal, Commonweal, Public Republic (Bulgaria), Revival (Ireland), The Istanbul Literary Review (Turkey), Poetry Friends, Poetry Super Highway, Pirene’s Fountain (Australia) and other publications.

                                    Featured Poetry of Donal Mahoney

Old Man At The Diner

He slaughters his hamburger steak
with a fork and a butter knife,
massacres ringlets of onions
again and again

thumps catsup all over
the bloody commingling,
then ever so slowly
peppers and salts

and reminds me of Hrebic,
whose wife, back
on the block of my youth,
sat all summer out on her stoop,

knees awry, one eye black,
the other turning gray,
sunning the great white hydrants
of her phlebitic legs.

Short-Pants Potentate

Inferno of a summer day
Mother’s dozing

Tommy, tiny, three,
paring knife in hand

tiptoes out, flops
short-pants potentate

upon the sidewalk sunny,
operates on ants

Joint Custody

You were gone
when I got home

at midnight
from a double shift.

Now you’re back,
two years later.

I had no idea
where you went

so I packed up
and got a room.

Long ago,
I begged you

not to leave
but that was then.

You can keep
the house, the car.

I’ll come by
some starry night

when the moon is bright
and you’re asleep.

I promise not to
wake the dogs.

When you get up
you’ll find

I used my key
to take the kids.

When Autism Had No Name

In Memory of Billy G., 1938-1952

Cowlick Billy
always runs

up the alley
down the street

sniffing things
on hamster feet.

No one knows
why Billy runs

up the alley
down the street,

hours on end,
sun or sleet,

and no one cares
even though

when Billy stops
to take a leak

schoolmates ask
shy Billy why

he’s always laughing
when he runs

and Billy smiles
and almost says

goodness gracious
don’t you know

things are sour
things are sweet

up the alley
down the street.

Whole and Steaming

Dingle, Ireland

The bathroom carpet,
wall to wall, is blue,
the lightest blue,
to complement
the bowl and ceiling.

Apropos the moment:
I bend the waist
and heave the gristle
from last evening’s steak.

Tomorrow I shall row again
to see those ancient men
in caps and coveralls
stand like statues
while they talk
and tap gold embers
from clay pipes
forever glowing.

I’ll go there
at the dinner hour
and see them once again
fork potatoes,
whole and steaming,
from big kettles filled
at dawn by crones
forever kerchiefed
and forever bent.

At dawn you hear
these women
sing their hymns
like seraphim
a cappella
as they genuflect and dip
big black kettles
in the sometimes still
sometimes foaming sea.

Death A Bear

Odd the way the very old
pick a winter day to fall,
break a minor bone,
be assigned to bed
and death a bear
napping out the winter
rises in his lair,
instantly aware
here is Spring
and ultimately honey.

Father: Every Morning of His Life

The cup he took his tea from
all those years was Army surplus,
made of tin. It whirred

to the spoon he wound in it
15 times per lump of sugar.
We who slept in rooms just off

the kitchen rose like ghosts
to the winding of that spoon.
In my house, now, mornings

Sue’s the first downstairs. She
scalds the leaves and wonders:
Will the winding ever end?

Country Cafeteria

The two weeks
I spent in that small town
on assignment, I saw no blacks
except for two older women
regal in every way,
hair coifed in silver gray,
working in the Country Cafeteria.
They walked like pastors’ wives
as they bused their 20 tables.
White badges on their uniforms
announced in red their names,
their years of service.
They never said a word,
not even to each other.
They just took the cups and plates away
and wiped oil tablecloths pristine.
I took three meals a day in silence there,
the only place in town to eat.
I was the stranger in a suit and tie,
a city weed among stout farmers in old coveralls
who came to town each day to note
“no rain yet” and “the corn is dyin’.”
Before each meal instead of saying Grace,
I wanted to stand and ask these ladies
as they bowed before the clutter on their tables:
If you have worked here all these years,
and lived in this town also,
where in the Name of God,
other than at home or church,
are you free to talk or laugh or sing
or clap your hands in emancipation?

Last Irish Christening

We christened Megan
Catholic today
just as we had,
years ago, Sean and Nora.
Afterward my wife and I,
with relatives and friends,
talked and joked as Megan slept
through drinks and barbecue
Father fixed behind the phlox
in Mother’s garden.
That was Sunday.
Now, on Monday,
Sue and I begin
another week of work
and all the years
we’ll have to wait
before we’ll know
if Megan swings
the razor of good reason.
We need to know
because of Sean and Nora.
They slew us
at the age of treason.

Booger McNulty and Me

In 1948 Booger McNulty’s coal yard stirred
constant gossip among the citizens who lived
in little bungalows on narrow blocks
in my far corner of Chicago.
That was more than 60 years ago,
a time when families took Sunday walks
and went back home in time to hear
Jack Benny on the radio.
A Sunday walk didn’t cost a cent,
a price my parents could afford.

When my parents took a Sunday walk,
my sister and I always had to go along,
and every time we’d pass Booger’s place,
I’d hear my mother ask my father
what could possibly be on the other side
of Booger’s 10-foot fence.
Hoping to avoid a conversation,
my father always said he didn’t know
but he believed it couldn’t just be coal.

Back then, every kid in the neighborhood
wanted to climb that fence and look around.
But Booger didn’t feature visitors.
According to the boy whose keister caught
a chunk of coal from Booger’s slingshot,
there was nothing on the other side
except for pigeons and a lot of coal.

In the bungalows surrounding Booger’s place,
immigrants from everywhere slept off beer and garlic
when they weren’t working, which was pretty often,
according to my mother. My father always worked,
digging graves with the other men,
most of them, like him, from Ireland.
He dug graves because some Bulgarian
broke his nose, after which my mother ruled
no more boxing. He’d been undefeated until then.

I was ten in 1948 and I’d climb Booger’s fence
when I was certain he was gone for the night.
Inside the yard I’d climb the piles of coal
until I got tired and then I’d go home
and take a bath before my father saw me.
My mother never let my father see me
cloaked in the soot of Booger’s coal
and she always made me promise
never to go back to Booger’s again.

But on Easter Sunday in 1948,
I went over Booger’s fence a final time.
My mother had taken pains that morning
to get me dressed for the Children’s Mass
and sent me off with a caution to be good.
I always went to Mass, every Sunday,
and I would pray and sing the hymns
and usually I was good but this time
the weather was so nice I decided
to go to Booger’s instead.
He wouldn’t be there on Easter.
It would be just me and the pigeons.
But I was gone for hours that day,
and since no one knew where I was,
a furor in the family flared up,
as I’ll explain later.

At school on Monday, Timmy Duffy,
unlike me a favorite of the nuns who taught us,
told me every other boy in class had made it
to the Children’s Mass on Easter.
“And where were you?” he asked.
I told him I’d been sick and thought
with all the polio going around,
I didn’t want to cripple anyone on Easter.
Timmy accepted my excuse because
we were all praying for Mickey Kane,
who’d spent a year in an Iron Lung.
“And so,” said Timmy, “even though
you weren’t there to help, we sang
as loud as we could on Easter,”
something our class always did to keep
the nuns in the aisle from paying us a visit.

I may have sung no hymns that Easter
but I probably looked pretty spiffy
scrambling over Booger’s fence
in my new blue suit, white shirt and tie.
I had a wonderful time in the sun
with pigeons careening in the air.
I was free to climb my favorite pile of coal,
toboggan down on my duff,
and then climb a different pile
and toboggan down again,
far more fun than any sled in winter.
Hours later when I got hungry,
back over the fence I went
and headed home for dinner.

Every Easter Sunday, we’d have
ham and yams, Brussels sprouts
and rutabaga, favorites of my father
from his youth in Ireland.
But when I got home that day,
we didn’t eat right away
after my father saw me.
As I recall, his reaction was
more Neanderthal than usual.

“Molly,” he roared to my mother,
with his hand on the back of my neck,
“the little bastid says he went to Booger’s!
He never went to Mass!”
And then, despite my mother’s protests,
he grabbed from behind the attic door
a belt that had been hanging there for years,
waiting for a felony like mine to happen.
I knew right away what I had to do
and so I dropped my pants and bent
over at the waist as far as possible.
Without a word, he stropped my arse.

I didn’t cry, gosh no, since tears
would have brought additional licks.
We were Irish, don’tcha know,
so we didn’t cry and we didn’t watch
English movies on TV, either.
The accents of the actors would remind
my father of the Black and Tans,
the English soldiers who imprisoned him
on Spike Island, off the coast of Ireland
when he was just 16.
They grabbed him barefoot in a stream
sneaking guns to the IRA.
In 1920, Irish boys ran guns for the IRA
barefoot through the bogs and streams,
provided they were big enough.

Decades later in Chicago, a stranger,
dressed like a Mormon on an urban mission,
rang our bell and told my father
he was from the IRA and had a medal for him
in honor of his service 40 years earlier.
He said “It took a while for us to find you.”
My father hung the medal in his closet
next to the tan fedora he wore to Irish wakes.
He always went to wakes, hoping to meet
someone “from home.”

So there I was that Easter Sunday,
standing in our tiny parlor with my pants
napping at my ankles, the result
of a wonderful morning at Booger’s
and a terrible afternoon at home.
Now, 60 years later,
when that Easter Sunday comes to mind,
no matter where I am, I whisper,
just in case he still can hear me,
“Pops, I haven’t missed a Mass on Sunday
since I got that Easter stropping.
I guess I learned my lesson.”

And then I tell him, as politely as I can,
that if he can get a pass from wherever
the Lord has stored him, he can verify
my Mass attendance with my wife and kids,
the last of whom, a son, moved out on us
Christmas Eve, 2010, even though
the boy promised his mother and me
a ride to Midnight Mass in his new Hummer.
Two feet of snow we got that evening.

My father would have loved that snow.
Back in ’67, when we got 30 inches of it,
some of it in drifts as high as Booger’s coal,
he was just delighted by the winter scene,
so much so that he had the two of us
shovel frantically for hours,
albeit in our usual Trappist silence.
When we got back to the house,
he told my mother,
with more than a dollop of flair,
the hairs in his nose were frozen.
Thank God my mother had his tea ready,
steaming hot, as it should be, in its cozy
next to his favorite chair.
And she gave me lots of cocoa,
swirling hot with marshmallows
floating on the top.

Now every New Year’s Eve at midnight
(and this has been going on for years)
I see those same marshmallows
when it’s time for me to hoist a glass
and make my toast to Holy Week 1948,
the week that I absorbed without a tear
Booger’s slingshot and my father’s belt.
“Praise the Lord,” I shout,
“and pass the ammunition.”

As the years go by,
fewer guests know what I mean.
But most of them
never had a chance to hear
Jack Benny on the radio.

Copyright © 2011 Donal Mahoney

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