Friday, June 19, 2015

If He Were To Come Today...

—Poems by Donal Mahoney, St. Louis, MO
—Photos by Robert Lee Haycock, Antioch, CA


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 months in advance.



Young monk
and old monk
in the orchard
picking peaches,
sunny and plump,
ready for canning.

Carrying bushels
to the wagon cart,
the young monk
asks the old monk
what to look out for
when growing old.

The old monk
pauses and says
not much.
Life stays the same
for the most part.
Monks work and pray
but an old monk
works slower and
prays faster.

But not to worry,
the old monk advises.
He admits he's
going deaf
but that's just
an inconvenience
since God uses
sign language.
Peaches like these
have no need to talk.


white hips a soft fist
for the wrist of your waist
black hair in a spill

on your shoulders
small whirlpools
your ankles

green streams ride
your calves
blue rivers your thighs

I finger the flute
on the back of your neck
rise and slip in

at that moment dawn
and new
life begins



In 1920 he came on a boat
from Ireland and found
his way through Ellis Island.

He found a room
in a boarding house
catering to his kind and

went looking for a job
but found instead signs
in windows saying

“No Irish Need Apply.”
A cemetery asked him to
dig graves and lower the dead.

In America today
there are no signs like that.
Black and brown

apply and whites
sometimes hire them.
My father was white.

But in 1920 his brogue
was a long rope that
almost lynched him. 


The father of the girl
I stare at now,
as we wait for our morning bus,
stands across the street,
tall and proper in his
chesterfield and spats.

He is waiting for a bus
that goes in the opposite direction.
He wears a derby,
swings a silver cane,
smokes a green panatela.
Suddenly he pirouettes

and smiles at my daughter.
She takes the same bus
to school every morning.
That night at supper,
I ask her about him.
"Dad, he's super!"

At 12, she knows.
"Dad, he rides the same bus
as me every morning.
He checks my homework
and I ask him questions.
Dad, he knows all the answers."



Who celebrates
the birthday of a tree?
Birds and squirrels, perhaps,
but not Michael Brown
and not Freddie Gray
and not Rufus Jackson, who was
hung from a weeping willow in 1863.

Rufus stole an apple pie
cooling on a window sill,
a farmer’s wife said.
She told her husband about it
when he came in from threshing.
An uncle found Rufus
and cut him from the tree.

His family buried him
behind a willow not too far
from a barn in Mississippi
where two men took Emmitt Till,
a boy from the city, in 1958.
Both men said Emmitt had
whistled at a white man’s wife.

The two men beat Emmitt,
gouged an eye out, shot him
in the head, tossed his body
in the Tallahatchie River, not far
from the grave of Rufus Jackson,
said to have stolen an apple pie, then
hung from a weeping willow in 1863.


When Bernie wakes at 6 a.m.
there's a piano on his chest
and Erroll Garner's playing "Misty."
Sinatra's on the headboard
improvising lyrics
and Krupa's in the corner
painting on the drums.
The music is magnificent.
Once the song is over

Bernie chants his morning prayers,
shaves and showers and limps to work
for another day at the gherkin factory.
The foreman, Mr. Simpkins, is an ogre
nonpareil, a sumbitch unsurpassed,
who stalks the catwalk all day long
with megaphone and stopwatch.
At 5 p.m. the factory spits Bernie
and his cohorts out the door

so Bernie limps to the Hot Wok Shack
and buys a carton of Egg Fu Yung
and heads back home to wait for dawn
so he can hear Erroll play "Night and Day" 
while Sinatra does the vocal and
Krupa punctuates the piece
softly on the drums.

Bernie spends each day in hell but dawn
is always a concert from heaven.


You would think you would
love a man who died
for you and for everyone else,
even those who will never
know that he did.
But you don't, not really.

The monks in the choir
you hear on Sunday
sing hymns from the heart.
They make fruitcake all week
stoked by the knowledge
he died for them.

They love him
in a way that you
can only imagine
despite much prayer.
You adore him, however,
as well you should.

You know he's infinite,
omnipotent, without
beginning or end.
You hold him in awe.
No one commands your
respect more than him.

You follow his will, mostly.
You tell others about him
but the love doesn't come,
gripped as you are
in tongs that have held you
since childhood

growing up in a house
where a man who worked
long hours, never drank,
put you through school
then went nuclear at dinner
with your mother 

when he discovered
"stumps in my cabbage,
lumps in my potatoes,"
a man whose roar rattled
the neighbors and sent
the dog under the bed.

You would think you would
love a man who died
for you and for everyone else.
But you don't, not really.
You keep trying to love him
and your father as well.


If he were to come today
I have no idea what I would say
except to admit I have been

expecting him, just not today.
Then I would join the sheep
and the goats and wait for him

to point the way I should go.
It would be too late, I know,
but, yes, I would pray.



It is easier for a camel to pass
through the eye of a needle
than for one who is rich

to enter the kingdom of God,
Jesus told his disciples.
Centuries later Warren

an investor in America
heard about this and
asked Fu a manufacturer

in China to make
millions of 12-foot needles.
Then he asked Ahmad

a bedouin in Oman
to breed smaller camels.
Look for the IPO on Wall Street.


Today's LittleNip:


Of her eyes
and of her hair
I have been
aware one year
but I have said
no more than
I’ll be gone
all afternoon,
take all calls,
all messages.


—Medusa, thanking today's fine chefs for today's contributions, and reminding you that photos in this, the daily diary section of the Kitchen, can be enlarged for your viewing pleasure with a single click.