Posted by: tsopr | May 12, 2012

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. To read more of his earliest poems, click his image.

                                              Featured Poetry

Mother’s Day

In the long run the boy will be worth
all the misery I’ve caused you,
all the grief.
If only for his smile,

yours, I know.
If only for his eyes,
mine, I know.
But his eyes,

they have your smile,
brighter than a rainbow,
streaming through them.

PTSD

In the waiting room, I squeeze
this old rosary a nun gave me
the day I got back from Iraq.

I was still in a daze on a gurney
and I still had sand in my hair.
Some of it remains, no matter

how many showers I take.
Sand from Iraq lingers, I’m told,
until you go bald, and then

you are able to concentrate
on other things.
What might they be, I wonder.

But today, in this waiting room,
I squeeze the rosary tighter
when I hear, louder than

the gunshots crackling in my dreams,
the real screams of that little boy
right over there, the one who’s

rapped his elbow off the radiator.
Lord, listen to him scream!
Each week he comes with his mother

for her follow-up appointment.
He sounds like the jet
that takes me back at night

to that little village in Iraq
where the sand puffs up
in mushroom clouds

above the bullets
as the children scream
in their hovels louder

than that little boy
screaming over there.
Maybe everyone

in this waiting room
listening to him scream
can come with me now

to that village in Iraq.
Sitting here, I know
that boy’s pain so well

that in my fist
this rosary no longer
knows my prayers.

The Old Padre and the Tarpon

          with apologies to Hemingway

Beyond the frippery and folderol
of bishops and the like,
Father Murphy’s on vacation
with just a week to cast
for bigger fish than pike.

And so he sails the peaceful bay
casting every kind of bait,
praying that a tarpon
suddenly will strike.
Hook the big one, Father claims,

and it will thrash around
as if Satan were a submarine
cruising in its wake.
A fish that big, claims Father,
is always worth the wait

for it guarantees an aging priest,
with just a week’s vacation,
action and distraction from
the frippery and folderol
of bishops and the like.

Unintelligent Design

An hour a day,
sometimes more,
I chipped away
with mallet and chisel
on a block of marble
I found in Carrara
and shipped to New York
on the deck of a trawler.

I offered the marble
to a famous sculptor
who told me he works
in granite only
so I grabbed his beret
and one of his smocks
and said I’d sculpt
the block myself
with whittling skills
picked up as a kid
from a drunken uncle
named Whittling Sid.

Several weeks later,
to my surprise,
I finished the bust
of a chimpanzee
simply by wielding
mallet and chisel
the way I wield
pencil and eraser
when hewing a poem.

Working with marble
or working with words,
a sculptor or poet
proves less is more
by chipping away
until something emerges
upright and walking
with a soul of its own.

The Skywriter

Another letter may come today
from the same editor at Poetry Paradise
telling me he’ll pass on the poems
I sent a year ago because

they aren’t a good fit for his pages.
But this time, he says, he’ll give my poems
to his brother, the skywriter,

who will emblazon them in snow
against a sky so blue
millions of people will love them
almost as much as I do.

What Purpose Does A Rabbit Have

The same nightmare woke my father
every night for years.
He had no idea what it meant
and so he wrote the story down
and saved the note and hoped
some day he’d understand it.
But a note like that
can be misplaced.

Decades later Father
found the note
in a drawer of socks
he hadn’t worn in years.
He found it underneath
his old glass eye the night
Mother came back on the Harley
to “make their marriage work.”

He reminded Mother they had
been divorced for years
and then, despite her tears,
he told her, “After all this time,
we both know now that you
were gone before you left.
But now you’re back so
let me tell you all about

the nightmare I’ve had every night
since you took the bike and left.
I wrote the story down to tell the kids
when they grew up but they ran off
before I had a chance to ask them
if they knew what my dream might mean.
You’d like the kids. They’re pretty smart.
Anyway my note says this:

‘What purpose does a rabbit have
other than as prey?
What difference does a rainbow make
in a rabbit’s day?’
You tell me now you love me,
always have and always will.
But the kids are gone forever
so take the Harley now and go.”

Pedro, Pablo and Little José

I have spent an hour
lying in the sun
on Joe Brickle’s farm
waiting for Pedro and Pablo
to fetch Little José

with his sickle and scythe
to cut down the high grass
so Pedro and Pablo
can gun their mowers
over the cowlicks.

After Joe Brickle died
the grass on his farm
soared to the sky.
His goats ate it all
till his son flew home

and trucked all the goats
to the slaughterhouse.
At Sadie’s Cafe in town
old friends of Joe declare
goats bring a good dollar.

I have not wasted my time
lying in the sun today.
I’ve been watching
two doves on the ground
walking in circles

waiting for a sparrow
to land and dance on
the rungs of the feeder
Joe Brickle hung
in his Dogwood.

The doves need the seed
the sparrow will scatter.
Joe Brickle named goats
after prophets in the Bible.
He might be happy to know

that I’ve named the doves
Pedro and Pablo
and the sparrow
now landing
is Little José.

Sadie Says

Perhaps it’s true
perhaps it’s not

we’ll never know
if it’s the reason

Sadie sleeps
till noon each day

then with her limp
walks to the beach

to feed wild cats
but never a dog

because Sadie says
everyone knows

cats are poetry
dogs are prose.

Doubting Thomas

For years I’ve fed this feral cat at 4 a.m.,
a crouching mound of fur, Satanic black, with yellow eyes
that never blink. I call him “Doubting Thomas.”

I place his can of Fancy Feast five feet or so from him.
He doesn’t stir till I go in the house
and douse the porch light.

Then he leaps and cleans the can
and saunters off till 4 a.m. the following morning
when he’s back again, eyes ablaze, crouching.

This pact I have with Doubting Thomas
helps me realize how God must feel
eons after the Big Bang.

Some folks, you see, aren’t certain God lit that match.
Some believe the Big Bang just happened.
Out of nothing they believe something came to be.

I think the cat I feed at 4 a.m. agrees with them.
I’m sure he’d tell you Fancy Feast always was,
always will be and always will remain the same.

I wonder what that cat will do the day I die
when he arrives at 4 a.m. and finds the can
from yesterday empty where he left it.

There’s no mystery as to what he’ll do.
He’ll find another porch like mine where every morning
without a bang Fancy Feast just happens.

Kissing Carol Ann

Back in 1957
kissing Carol Ann
behind the barn
in the middle of
a windswept field
of Goldenrod
with a sudden deer
watching was
something special,
let me tell you.
Back then, bobby sox
and big barrettes
and ponytails
were everywhere.

Like many farmers,
Carol Ann’s father
had a console radio
in the living room,
and every Saturday night
the family would gather ’round
with bowls of ice cream
and listen to the Grand Ole Opry.
It was beamed “all the way”
from Nashville I was told
more than once since
I was from Chicago
and sometimes wore a tie
so how could I know.

On my first visit,
I asked Carol Ann
if the Grand Ole Opry was
the Mormon Tabernacle Choir
of country music and she said
not to say that to her father.
She suggested I just tap
my foot to the music
and let him watch me.
Otherwise I’d best be
quiet and say “Yup,”
“Nope” or “Maybe”
if asked any questions
which she didn’t think
would happen.
No need to say
much more, she said,
and after a few visits,
I understood why.

Over time, I learned
to tap my foot pretty good
to the music because
when I’d come to visit,
her father would insist
I have a bowl of ice cream
with the family.
I liked the ice cream
but not so much
the Grand Ole Opry.
I’d been weaned
on Sinatra in the city.
Big difference,
let me tell you.

But back in 1957
kissing Carol Ann
behind the barn
was something special
since we couldn’t do
much more until
I found employment.
Only then, her father said,
could we get married.
I found no jobs
in town, however,
for a bespectacled man
with degrees in English.

Still, I always found
the weekend drives
from Chicago worth
the gas my Rambler drank
because kissing Carol Ann
brought a bit of heaven
down behind that barn,
especially on summer nights
when fireflies were
the only stars we saw
when our eyes
popped open.
It was like
the Fourth of July
with tiny sparklers
twinkling everywhere.

Now, 55 years later,
Carol Ann sometimes mentions
fireflies at dusk as we
dance behind the cows
to coax them into the barn
for the night.
I’m still not too good
with cows despite
my John Deere cap,
plaid shirt and overalls
which proves, she says,
that all that kissing
behind the barn in 1957
took the boy out of the city
but not the city out of the boy.

“Hee Haw” is all I ever
say in response because
I know why I’m there.
It’s to keep tapping
the cows on the rump
till we get them
back in the barn
so we can go back
in the house
and start with
a kiss and later on
come back downstairs
for two big bowls
of ice cream.

Copyright © 2012 Donal Mahoney

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Responses

  1. Such a joy reading you here on The Sound of Poetry Review. Thank you for this beautiful poetry reading and for submitting your feline photo and poetry to ‘Expressions’ Poetry Journal. You are now featured!!!

    Sincerely,
    Rhoda Galgiani


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