Friday, April 08, 2016

A Matter of Beans

Silver Grapevine
—Poems by Donal Mahoney, St. Louis, MO
—Photos by Stacey Jaclyn Morgan, Fair Oaks, CA


Inseparable they are,
landing one after another
on the ground
under the bird feeder

two mourning doves
that refuse to land until
the raucous starlings
creating a ruckus above
have spilled enough seed
to make a landing worth it.

The doves wander around
as if in a trance and vacuum
seed until one's had its fill
and flies away and the other
follows seconds later.

But this time the neighbor’s cat,
a senior citizen no longer able
to pluck a junco out of the air,
hunkers in the rock garden.

He’s as gray as the rocks
and sits as still as the rocks.
He makes certain this time
one dove rises in the air.



Granny watches nature in the city
from her window after the nurse
takes her tray away.

She likes to watch the bird feeder
grandson Ahmad hung for cardinals,
chickadees and jays.

It’s an everyday buffet, she says,
until a squirrel leaps from a tree
and lands on the feeder for

a balanced snack and then
a cat scrambles over the fence
hungry for squirrel but finds

the squirrel's back in the tree.
So the cat decides to wait
behind an ancient oak

for the birds to come back
once they see the squirrel's
no longer on the feeder.

Granny says nature in the city
is sometimes like her childhood home
now in chaos in the Middle East.

 Ancestral Beads


The late Justice Scalia,
a strict conservative
on the Supreme Court,
would have voted

in favor of prayer
in public schools,
many folks believe,
which is anathema

in the eyes of many
good and decent people.
But now he’s dead
and some folks believe

the Court may rule
in public schoolyards
during recess praying
mantises aren't allowed.



It’s a matter of beans,
says Rosie, 79, legally blind,
her fingers dancing across
a Bible in Braille, when a
reporter asks her about

politicians who haven't passed
a budget and Meals on Wheels has
has been suspended so Rosie
no longer gets one hot meal a day
delivered by a volunteer who chats
before driving off to serve another

worse off than I am, says Rosie.
It’s a matter of beans, she says,
dried beans I keep in a drawer
and cook up in a pot and will eat
today, tomorrow and the next day

with hot sauce if I have some.
Then I'll cook up another pot
and make them stretch, she says,
until they pass that budget.
They always do, she says.
They want to go on vacation.



This was the first Christmas
Billy was old enough to speak
when he saw his gifts
under the sparkling tree.
His parents were waiting
to hear what he’d say.
Billy laughed and jumped
and clapped his hands.
With a big smile, he shouted
“Santa brought me these!”
Then Daddy picked Billy up,
bounced him on his knee
and whispered softly,
“There is no Santa, son.
There was a Big Bang
while you were asleep.
And all your gifts landed
under the tree.”



Elmo has spent 40 years
cutting hair in a little shop
in a country town
along the Mississippi.
Vegetables and meat
were currency when
he first came to town.
Now Elmo wants money.

Farmers wait in chairs
along the wall
and look at magazines
with girls in them
and talk about the drought
sometimes quietly
until Elmo beckons
and it’s their turn.

Elmo takes his time
with every noggin,
never in a rush,
claims to be an artist
trained in the city, tells
whoever complains
Picasso took his time.

No address on the door,
no phone in the shop,
yet plenty of business.
Farmers bring their sons
and later their grandsons.
Elmo cuts no ladies’ hair.
He’s a married man
and Paula brings his lunch,
sandwiches and thermos,
every day and goes back home
but she always looks around.

Asked why no address
and no phone, Elmo says
after 40 years if they
don’t know where he is
they can take their heads
somewhere else.
He has a brother cutting
hair in another town
fifty miles up the river
and they can go see him.
He can use the business.
Remember, Elmo’s an artist
and a very busy man.

 Ginkgo Biloba, San Juan Rapids


My mother always said my father
was a little odd and she lived with him
all those years and should have known.
When we were small my sister and I
knew he was different. No other father
answered questions in double talk
hidden in a brogue.

My sister and I finally agreed decades later
that all the neighbors who said he was odd
were right, too, and who can blame them.
When Mr. Bittle over the fence told my father 
Mr. Murphy from down the block had died, my
father told Mr. Bittle that people were dying now
who had never before died. It’s no wonder
Mr. Bittle went back in the house.

My mother said she often forgot how odd
my father was until he came home from work.
Once when he was removing the thermos
from his lunch bucket she told him someone
had stolen the Brickles’ truck and he yelled,
“What would Mary Supple say to that?”
My mother asked who Mary Supple was
and my father said she was John Godley’s
cousin who had married Paddy Supple.

My mother said she had never heard
of John Godley or Paddy Supple and
my father said that's because she came
from the wrong side of Ireland and not
the side he came from where everyone
knew the Godleys and Supples farmed
the land next to the cliff that dropped
into the sea and if you were courting
after visiting Ryan’s pub you had to be
careful dancing close to the edge.

As a grandfather myself now I know
when I double talk with grandson Jack
and ask him whether kids walk to school
or carry their lunch and he says they ride
the bus, I’m not surprised when he asks me
what’s the difference between an orange.

That’s when I tell Jack it wouldn’t be fair
if Grumpa told him the answer because
he’s too smart and can look it up
in the encyclopedia on my desk.
And then Jack says he’ll Google it
on the iPad when his dad gets home.
He wants an iPad for his birthday, Jack says.
And that’s when I hear my father yelling,
"What would Mary Supple say to that?”



America has two kinds
of migrants, those with money
and those with hope,
a farmer’s wife told me the day
I stopped to buy some eggs.
She was surprised I had driven
all the way out from the city.
Not many strangers do.

She knew the suburb I lived in,
one of those small inner-ring suburbs,
she called it, one of the old ones between
the city and the new suburbs farther out,
the ones that have better schools,
a nicer life, more opportunity.
She had a married son rearing
a family in one of the new suburbs.
He used to live where I do, she said,
but took his wife and kids and moved.

I said many of my neighbors
had moved out there too and
claim I should join them but
I’m partial to old brownstones,
cobbled streets and alleys.
I played ball in an alley as a child
and I still miss the fun.
I guess I’m not practical.

She said she hoped I’d take no insult
but asked if I didn’t realize those
who leave the old suburbs
think of them as Death Valley?
And those who escape the city
and move to the old suburbs
think they’ve gone to paradise.
Did I get her point, she asked?
I said I certainly did.

Some city folks, I mentioned,
had moved to my block
and they really take care
of their house and property.
It can be embarrassing, I said.

Moving on to another cow,
she paused to say that if
I liked urban life, that’s fine
but even if the old suburbs are
half way to heaven for the migrants
moving in, they’re close to hell for
the migrants moving out.
Did I get her drift, she asked?
How could I miss it, I said?

She said that out in the country,
farmers have a saying that
might apply to folks like me.
To each his own is what they say.
Finished now with her milking,
she kissed her cow, and headed for
the hen house to get my eggs.



Universal salvation claims
everyone goes to Heaven
and no one goes Hell.
Highly controversial.

The auditorium was packed
the night three professors
debated universal salvation.
Questions from the audience
revealed some folks were happy
to hear everyone goes to heaven.
Others groaned in disbelief.

A man in the back row
asked if universal salvation
meant some day he might
have to share a schnitzel  
in the clouds with Adolph.
Some folks applauded
that remark and others
stood up and booed.

A man in a white coat
and stethoscope necklace
asked what happens if a
doctor has a heart attack
and dies during an abortion.
Does he go to heaven or
must he be vetted by Peter.
More applause and more boos.

A college student stood up
and said he thought people
should believe in something,
then added he meant they
should believe in someone.
Another young man asked if
universal salvation means
murderers and rapists spend
eternity with the angels.

The gathering finally adjourned
to the cafeteria downstairs as
questions and answers
continued over coffee and rolls.
It was the kind of thing one finds
after a church service on Sunday
except the fellowship was missing.
People were still arguing as they
drifted out in groups, sparklers
sizzling in the night.


Today’s LittleNip:


Autumn and the leaves
are crisp in the swirling air.
Pheasant wings, everywhere.


—Medusa, with thanks to Donal Mahoney from St. Louis for his fine poems today, and to local-photographer-who-no-longer-chooses-to-remain-anonymous, Stacey Jaclyn Morgan, for her intriguing photos!