Friday, August 28, 2015

The Glow of Grace and Age

—Poems by Donal Mahoney, St. Louis, MO
—Photos by Katy Brown, Davis, CA


The Downy is the smallest flicker
but his arrival is uninvited and
disturbs the hummingbirds
circling in fury
while he with bravado
takes over the red feeder
dangling from the arbor.

The hummers at times
dive close to the Downy,
then retreat and watch him
swig what they need to sip,
their babies circling
slowly behind them.

The Downy stays on,
takes swigs between laughs
at the unarmed squadron,
dipping his beak
where it doesn’t belong,
another Putin in
a different Ukraine.



Father had a law
when it came to leaves
gathering on our lawn in fall.
On a Saturday each fall,
almost as predictable
as the swallows coming
back to Capistrano,
neighbors would pour
out of their bungalows
and rake with good cheer,
chat and drink cider.
On those Saturdays Father
would remind Mother again
of the law he proclaimed years ago.
He would remind her the leaves
on our lawn were not our leaves.
He would remind her that we
had no trees and never would.
He would say neighbors with trees
should come get their leaves.
By dusk the leaves on our lawn
would begin to blow over on
the clean lawns of neighbors
canopied with sycamore and oak.
Mother would have another year
to memorize Father’s Law.



Autumn arrives
and the local high school
has a good football team.
They take the field every afternoon
and practice to a chorus of grunts.
The team has always won championships.
The track team can’t use the field
so they run laps silently in single file
around the neighborhood and dash
past the old man in the wheelchair.
Sixty years ago he set a state record
running the mile for the same school.
The runners have no idea who he is.
They don’t look at him now when
he salutes like a champion.



José and Esmeralda are old.
Their music isn’t salsa anymore.

It's the chant they hear at church
on Sunday morning.

Back home José watches Esmeralda
roll her nylons down.

The fires of youth flicker
in the glow of grace and age.


The Second Commandment
is pretty specific: Thou shalt not take
the Name of the Lord Thy God in vain.
It’s one of the few commandments
I seldom break but the other night
I was reading Seamus Heaney
and was torn by the beauty
ringing in my ears and “Jesus Christ!”
slipped out of my mouth but I
don’t think I said His Name in vain.
I spoke in high praise of a poet who
has left behind a body of work that
leaves me gasping for a respirator.

But the Second Commandment
is pretty specific so I plan to ask
Father Kelly if my "Jesus Christ!”
while reading Seamus Heaney
was a mortal sin, and if he says yes,
I’ll be careful reading Heaney again
because if I find better poems
and "Jesus Christ!" slips out again
I might have a heart attack and die
pajama-clad in my old recliner.
I could wake up ablaze in Hell.
I'll have to be careful reading
Seamus Heaney again.



Why not go over and see Aunt Maude.
She was told yesterday she’s dying
of cancer, and drop in her afghan

lap a big box of pecan fudge
made by monks in Kentucky,
silent monks who make

fudge and fruitcake and pray
all day and rise again
all hours of the night

and pray some more, and then
drop in her lap as well a box
of her other passion,

a jigsaw puzzle, not 
500 pieces, the kind she buys
at Walmart, but a lollapalooza

of a thousand pieces and help her
laugh today and live tomorrow
because your aunt won’t die

if she has fudge to eat
and a puzzle to bring to life
on her dining room table.


Feeding feral cats at dawn
is easier when the cats are calm.
This can happen when the
mix of cats remains the same
but a new cat can create
commotion for a sleepy man.

But feeding cats is easier
for a man with grown children
who have moved around the nation
and communicate by Skype 
and bicker as they did when
the four of them were
a year apart in school.

Today the problem isn’t
who’s the better athlete or
gets the highest grades
or will become a millionaire.
Today the problem is the one
terminal with cancer.



We’re not the Trumps
my wife and I
but we have enough
and can’t complain
except when I shop
every month for groceries,
essentials we call them,

and spend $300 or more.
It’s in the carts near mine
that I see why others
who don’t have enough
and will never have enough
might classify much of what
I buy as unnecessary.

Not having enough resides
between appetite and need
as defined by one’s wallet.
Our need is not great and
our appetite not ravenous.
The kids are grown

and have lives of their own.
They too have enough
but enough is different
for them than for us
and different as well
for the poor who shop
in the aisles that I do.

Shopping for food
confirms that the poor
will always be with us,
but rising prices confirm
the poor will get poorer
unless something changes.

In the checkout lane
I muse about changes
that might work as the hover
of an election makes me listen
for prophets with solutions
but no prophet emerges for me
with more than a nostrum.

But the older I get
and the more carts I inspect
the more convinced I become
something must change
because in the carts are the lives
of more and more people,
old and young, for whom
promises and food stamps
aren’t the answer.
Every month I see
more and more why
poor lives matter.


This megastore is a paradise of food.
It’s open all night, its parking lot lit
like a stadium in Texas on a football
Friday night but now at midnight
the lot is almost free of cars but
shopping carts are everywhere
like sheep waiting for a shepherd

who arrives at dawn, a young man
in a store jacket and store cap,
white shirt, store logo on his tie.
His badge says “Darius 3 Years."
He begins to gather his carts
in a long train to push them,
as the caboose, back to the store.
His energy surpasses any clerk
I’ve seen work inside at any hour.

Soon more customers arrive
and more carts are rolling around
and Cart Boy, as Darius is called
by coworkers, doesn't stop
going after them until a staffer
taps him on the arm for lunch.

One day I see the manager
in the lot watching Darius
with admiration and I ask him
why he doesn’t train him for
stocking shelves or cutting meat.
The manager offers a wan smile
and gives me another lesson in life.
“Darius,” he says, “is Special Needs.”


Today’s LittleNip(s):


Bluejay pounds a black
sunflower seed against a branch.
Tiny beaks to fill.

          * * *


Beneath a full moon
this silent symphony
fireflies in the night


—Medusa, with thanks to today's fine contributors!