Friday, March 06, 2015

I Was King...

—Photo by Carol Bales
—Poems by Donal Mahoney, St. Louis, MO


Some days you think the cat will stay till summer comes,
this Prodigal Son you've fed for years, this feral cat
who comes and goes and comes again when hunger strikes.
But he just eats and leaves your porch,
despite the pillows plumped for a Sultan’s duff.

He disappears in falling snow
only to appear again outside your door at dawn,
his green eyes dancing when he sees you bring
his mound of kibble, topped with tuna,
and his bowl of milk. Some days he mounts 

the pillows for a nap. At noon, however,
he begins to yowl. He wants out again
to parade triumphant down the walk,
his tail an exclamation point. He romps
across the snow and fits beneath the fence.

He's gone again. Out of sight.
He plans to spend another evening 
where the feral cats hold services. 
They yowl and fight and copulate
till hunger strikes and then

this Prodigal Son comes back and sits
outside your door with tail wound round
and waits for you to bring his kibble,
topped with tuna, and his bowl of milk.
Then, he's gone again. Out of sight.



Never a man to dawdle,
Gramps got around,
he reminded his Emma,
until gout told his foot
to marry his ottoman.

So he paid for a cab
to visit Doc Morton,
a man he hated to see,
then stayed off his foot
for another two weeks.

Neighbors came over
and Sally next door
brought a big apple pie
and a case of the flu.
Gramps sampled both.

In a matter of days
he developed pneumonia,
went to the hospital,
faded away after
telling his widow-to-be

no reason at all to worry.
He just had a bit of the flu.
Come summer, he’d catch
a mess of big walleye
only his Emma could fry.



When I was eight
I jumped off a roof as if
I had a parachute
and broke a leg.
He was there when I landed,
told me to be careful,
said I was too young
and then disappeared.

In a high school game
I went up for a rebound,
came down on my head
and got a concussion.
When I landed
he was there again,
said I was still too young
and had better be careful.

In my late forties
I almost got hit by a truck
but jumped back in time
and landed on the curb.
This time he told me
I was no longer too young
and if I wasn’t careful
I might see him again.

Now decades later
I have been very careful
but I still watch for him
because the last time he said
every one of us has
a ticket to somewhere
with choices to make
and moments to decide.

 —Anonymous Photo


Opal the widow next door
shouts to Hilda over the fence
as they hang out their wash

on a sunny morning that
Walmart's having a big sale
on toilet paper and she's

stocked up now for the year
unless she gets diarrhea.
Then Hilda tells Opal she

would stock up on that too
but her doctor has told her
she could live for many years

so she has to save in case
she ever needs a cat scan.
Opal says not to worry since

she will give Hilda the ad
the next time Walmart
runs a sale on pet stuff.



Beautiful lady in the checkout lane
is spotted by Roscoe, a wealthy man
wandering in Walmart. He admires
her chocolate hair, bonbon eyes,
vanilla creme complexion, a walk
a runway model would envy.

This woman Roscoe thinks 
he would marry until she turns
a profile and he sees her nose
is not unlike the possum snout
he saw last night on his deck,
a possum with a ski-slope snout

snuffling around for cat-food cans
he puts out at night for the feral cats
he favors because feral cats are
entrepreneurs who pay no taxes.
Possums pay no taxes either but
Roscoe can’t abide a ski-slope snout.

 —Anonymous Photo


It was stupid of Walt
not to show it to Joan
before they got married
but he was too shy.
He had no idea
what to expect
but he never expected
her to laugh.
Not a laugh exactly,
more of a cackle
children might hear
from a witch on a broom
Saturday morning
in a cartoon.

Joan's laugh rang out
the first night
of their honeymoon.
Walt never got over it.
The marriage was over
even if it continued
for six kids in ten years.
Like many men, Walt
had no problem
copulating from afar
unencumbered by love.
It was dark in the bedroom.
Joan could have been
any woman.

Had he shown it to her
before they got married
and heard that laugh,
he would have left town,
embarrassed, you bet,
but there would have been
no wedding, no kids,
no divorce, no years
in a hotel room mailing
alimony and support. 

After the divorce
things didn't improve.
Walt heard the laugh
in his dreams, in cabs,
on elevators, in diners,
everywhere he went.
He heard it after the kids
earned degrees,
got married, did
well on their own,
escaping the pyre
of their childhood.

At Joan's funeral
Walt told the kids why
the marriage had failed.
He said he shouldn't
have shown her
the poem the night
they were married.
She laughed because
she thought it was funny.
She knew nothing
about poetry,
nothing of his
efforts to write it.
This was his first poem,
the first of more than 500
published after the laugh.

Who'd believe a laugh
could end a marriage
before it began?
Over the years Walt asked
critics and editors
for their opinions
about the poem.
None found it funny.
The consensus was
the piece was tragic
in theme and imagery.
The experts were right
in more ways than one.


You were a little older than three
the day your father taught you
how to pee, standing up.

Your father trumpeted your triumph
and your mother laughed in the kitchen.
You never heard her laugh again.

Now many decades later,
you remember that day your father
said "Well done."


Our thanks to Donal Mahoney for his poems today from the far reaches of St. Louis, and a note that tomorrow will be a busy poetry-&-music day in Sacramento: Women's History Month celebrations continue tomorrow evening with music and poetry Celebrating Women Singers & Songwriters at the Poetry House Theater on 14th Avenue, featuring Martha Ann Blackman singing her poems, followed by other women musician/songwriters. And the annual Jazz & Poetry benefit will take place in Carmichael that night, too. Scroll down to the blue box (under the green box) at the right of this column for all the details!


Today's LittleNip:

—Martha Ann Blackman, Sacramento

When you played your
instrument, it
was clear and sultry,
happy and sad.

And your fingers were
butterfly wings,
flitting and landing
and flitting again, lost
in mesmerizing tone.


—Anonymous Photo