Friday, March 17, 2017

Sail Every Sea

—Poems by Donal Mahoney, Belleville, IL
—Assorted Vintage Greeting Cards


Cold Coffee they call him
and only a few people know
his real name, this odd fellow

who raises pigs off the coast
of Ireland and comes to town
bouncing in his horse and wagon

to buy supplies but not food
because he eats from the harvest
of his fields and a piglet now and then

that he can't fatten up for market
to take with his sows and boars
that always bring a good price.

He's been called Cold Coffee
for decades now because as a lad
he wanted to be as rich as Trump

and sailed in steerage to America
to make a wonderful fortune but
then sailed home in just a month.

Everybody would ask Cold Coffee
why he didn’t stay and all he would
ever say with his toothless smile was

he missed his sows and boars and
the only thing he got in America was
a demitasse of cold coffee.



Some folks have a problem with authority,
legitimate and otherwise, and I have spent
a lifetime festering in that group.

An event in youth convinced me that
big people are no different than little people
despite their titles and the homage paid them.

The event that changed me was in third grade
when a nun asked me if I was cousin to a cardinal
in the Catholic Church. She had heard my father,

an immigrant blue collar worker, was first cousin
to Cardinal Stritch. Little as I was I had no idea but
I said I’d ask my father and I did that night at supper.

He kept eating his cabbage and potatoes
then finally said we were cousins to the cardinal
whose people also took a boat from Ireland to America.

So I blinked and said to him, “Pa, Sister wants to know
why don’t we call Cardinal Stritch and tell him we’re here.”
Looking up from his cabbage and potatoes,

my father took a sip of tea, shot a laser in my eye,
sniffed a bit and said, “Ask the good sister
why the good cardinal doesn’t call us.”


Memories never go away.
They’re visitors from yesterday
arriving unannounced

often to a mixed reception.
Faces aren’t clear but
we know who they are.

We don’t remember every name
but it’s enough to see the faces
and remember how we felt.

They hide and then come back
to show another movie of the past.
We were young and knew so little.



A wound like that
doesn't leave a scar
because it never heals.

Fifty years ago
the doctors didn't
have a name for it

but that's no help
to Jimmy now.
Ginny's dead

and their six kids
have children of their own,
some of them in college.

The doctors know
how to treat it now.
They tell mothers

what to watch for
after giving birth.
They tell fathers, too,

but that's no help
to Jimmy
in his wheel chair

sitting in the lobby
of the nursing home
watching silent

movies of his life
flicker through his mind.
A rerun every day.

He can't even
speak about it
since the stroke.

A wound like that
doesn't leave a scar
because it never heals.


He’s a citizen who has
a problem with people

walking toward him
walking behind him
walking next to him

not so much when
he has protection



It’s time to stop
the killing by order
of the courts.

Time to stop
the injections

hanging people
if we still do that
in America.

Time to stop
pulling people
from the womb.

Innocents now die
every day by order
of the courts.


Smitty isn't Schulte.
He doesn't drive a Cadillac
and doesn't hit his wife
often any more.
Schulte, on the other hand,
drives a Cadillac
and hits his wife
usually on weekends
for no good reason.
He's been doing that for
more than 40 years
ever since the boys
came home from Viet Nam

not knowing they had been
touched by Agent Orange,
Monsanto's gift to war.
They had a double wedding with
girls they liked in high school.
Smitty says therapy
has helped a little.
He hasn't struck his
second wife in years.
But Schulte hasn't changed.
The police have come again
tonight, sirens blaring,
gumball lights swirling.

Two big officers,
matched like bookends,
march Schulte out in cuffs.
He's cursing at his wife
who's in a nightgown
bawling on the porch
as if Schulte's going
back to Nam again.
Smitty swears Schulte
never left the paddies, that
he's still knee-deep in water
bright with Agent Orange,
Monsanto's gift to war.



He tries again to situate his grosbeak
nose beneath his spectacles.
He twists the silver toothpick in his teeth
and hunches now a little more toward her,
saying “Listen, dear, I’ve said all this before,
and now I'll say it all again.
Perhaps this time you'll listen:

“You’re slovenly and gross. Your jowls
swing beneath your jaws like testicles.
Your mammoth breasts need tweezing.
Your freckled calves are carved of lard.
These things are true, my dear.
They’re not some crazed
vision of conjecture.”

The lady belches as she reaches for
a pickle spear, a slice of cervelat,
and begins to comb her yellow hair.
She hunches now a little more toward him,
saying “Listen, dear, I’ve heard all this before.
What’s happened here is eminently clear.
You no longer love me.”


In a very crowded bar
Fred decides he must
tell this fellow
something important
so he whispers

“Don’t be an ass
and go home tonight
and raise hell over
a matter like that.

“She did nothing wrong
except hurt your feelings
without knowing it.
She meant no harm.

“Be happy you married
a good woman like that.
Let’s pay the bill and you
go home and hug her.”

But Fred shuts up
when the barkeep
brings the tab with a smile
and says, "Fred, you
talkin' to yourself?"



Otis was once a monk
who took no vows, was
free to leave the abbey
and eventually he did. 
I met him over chicken wings
at Sadie's Soul Food Grill.

For almost 20 years
every spring and summer
Otis labored in the fields
raising vegetables
and crops of every kind.

In fall and winter he
would gather leaves and
plow the snow, wheel
ancient monks up and down
the endless silent halls.
He loved his work
because he liked to help
anyone in need.

I asked Otis why he left.
He said because at first  
he thought life was a burp
somewhere in eternity.
He still believes that but
wants to hear the burp
before he’s in eternity.

Otis likes the chicken wings
at Sadie’s Soul Food Grill,
especially the real hot ones.
He ate chicken at the abbey
but nothing like the wings 
at Sadie's Soul Food Grill.
A real treat before eternity.


He asked and so I told him.
The “cancer” poems stem
from cancer in the family.
Daughter’s terminal.
Son's a five-year survivor.
Mother died at 59.
I had 13 polyps, all benign,
snipped a year ago.
I go back next month
for another roto-rooter.

As one grows older,
neighbors, friends and folks
one doesn’t know
die from it.
That’s life, isn’t it.

One never knows
but the question’s not
“Why me?”
The question is
“Why not me?"

Think about it.
We’ll all pop something
now or when, won’t we.



It’s an old clock
hanging on a wall
in a small room
on the third floor.

We go up there
four times a year
exchanging clothes
to mark the arrival

of another season.
Not much else in there
except my wife’s vases
and our yearbooks from

the Fifties and some
good novels we hope
to read some day
if there’s time.

Once a year
the clock stops
and I bring up
a new battery.

But not this year.
I told the clock don't move.
Stay right there
and we’ll stay with you.

Today’s LittleNip:

—Donal Mahoney

Dive under any
skirt that floats
your way, Amish
or otherwise,
metaphorically speaking.
Be an explorer.

Sail every sea until
you find the eddy
you want to swirl in
the rest of your life.
Then stake your claim.
Make it your own.


Thanks, Donal, for today’s fine poems! Tonight, JoAnn Anglin and Katy Brown will be reading at “Sharin’ o’ the Green” at The Other Voice in Davis, 7:30pm! Scroll down to the blue column (under the green column at the right) for info about this and other upcoming poetry events in our area—and note that more may be added at the last minute.


 —Photo of Donal Mahoney with his wife, Carol, 
taken by son Brian Mahoney “too many years ago”

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