Friday, May 19, 2017

Teaching Moments

—Poetry by Donal Mahoney, Belleville, IL
—AMGEN Photos by Katy Brown, Davis, CA


Little Nora and Grandpa Bill
sit on swings in Grandma’s garden. 
A hummingbird arrives to sample

the brilliant flowers at this buffet.
Grandpa Bill sees a teaching moment
and asks little Nora with a smile

if hummingbirds have beaks or bills.
Little Nora has a teaching moment,
says, “Grandpa, they have straws."



Redbud and dogwood have blossomed
above the tulips and jonquils where
Alice's house used to be.

A possum and raccoon nose around
where the garage was before the tornado.
An armadillo has joined them.

Someone has hung a red feeder from
the old clothesline. No hummingbirds yet.
Spring has brought new life over there.



A gathering of elders
from the local rest home
is out for a walk after dusk

on canes and walkers
admiring roses and lilies
and a pond of rainbow koi

except for Alice trailing
without cane or walker
whose head is bent over  

at the neck so she sees
nothing but ants
scurrying around her.

Alice is the letter “L”
upside down forever.
She will never see the sun

light up the sky or the stars
glow in the night or the halo
of moonlight falling around her.


No one goes to the patio now
except at night when Ann
goes out to spread old bread
and sunflower seed
on the small table for birds
to eat at dawn.

The next morning
she gets up early and
watches the birds from
the breakfast nook
where she and Ted
would sit and marvel
at the pecking order.

First the sparrows arrive
and eat as fast as possible
before the cardinals and jays
come and take command.
Then the starlings land
and raise a ruckus
even when the table
is theirs alone.

The starlings leave
like jets on a mission and
in just a few minutes
two doves drop down.
One walks behind the other
and they eat whatever
is left behind.

It’s no wonder Ann’s partial
to one of the doves.
He reminds her of Ted
and lets the other dove
walk ahead and eat
the best of what is left.
His feathers are always
perfectly in place, same
color as Ted’s hair.



Three times a day
a train roars through
a field a farm away

booming like an Angus bull
looking for companionship.
Nearby in Henson's field

Guernsey cows eat their grass
behind a redwood fence
and moo in blissful peace.

They’ve heard this bull before.
No need to raise their heads.
He can’t come through that fence.


Young Tim goes to Zaire
to write his dissertation
in African Studies.

While there he meets and
marries a beautiful librarian
darker than he is, flies her

home to meet the family.
Tim's father asks his mother
if she knew about Margot.

Mother says she didn’t
but she’s not surprised.
On Thanksgiving Day

Tim likes the dark meat,
the biggest and meatiest
drumstick and thigh.



Black lives matter
in different ways
to different people
in the American rainbow
especially bus companies
that bounce over potholes
in the big cities of America.
For them money matters.

If blacks stop riding buses
the buses will be empty
except for other poor folk
white, red, yellow, brown
who don’t drive cars
but are too few to keep
the buses bouncing.

Everyone will understand
that black lives matter when 
everyone understands
that black money matters
not to blacks alone but
to all stripes in the
American rainbow. 


Three sisters
single in their 40s
gather 'round the fire

on a night of thunder
to figure out which sister
should marry Mr. Fenster,

a widower in his 90s now.
He proposed last week to
all three of them and said

he would marry one
and provide a nice home
for the other two.

Mr. Fenster owns a farm
down the road a mile or so.
Worth a lot of money

he buried a wife a year ago.
He's mourned enough, he says,
and wants to marry a nice lady

who will make him happy.
Mabel and Maude say Millie
should be the bride.

After all, she's the youngest
of the three, can cook and clean
and is young enough

and strong enough to lift
Mr. Fenster on and off.
Millie says no way.



It’s a very busy drug store
with seats along the wall
where folks who wait for refills
sit and sometimes chat
but as I discover you can
leave the store worse off 
than when you walk in.

The fellow next to me's
a biker as his attire says,
a red bandana around his head
a black leather jacket with
zippers dashing everywhere.

I’ve never met a biker
but everything is fine until
he presses something in his neck
and says his vocal chords
were harvested by cancer.

I lie and say I understand
but then he adds he's been told
he now has liver cancer.
He’s picking up some meds
he hopes will let him live.
The doctor says six months.
Again I lie and say I understand
but who am I to understand.
I’ve never had cancer.

I tell my wife later, next to
marrying her, the smartest thing
I’ve ever done was quit two packs  
a day and vodka straight
no chaser on the weekends.
That was 50 years ago.
She says marrying her was
nowhere near the smartest thing.
Quitting all that stuff was better.
I suspect my biker friend
if he had another chance
at life would join me.


Homer's a chair arranger who
works in meeting rooms
on 30 floors in a building
tall as Trump Tower.
At least it looks that tall to him
getting off the subway
half asleep at 4 a.m.

Setting up a banquet is
the toughest job for Homer.
Long tables and many chairs
take all morning to set up
all afternoon to take down.
He works alone by choice.
Doing so is job security.

But no one wants his job,
not even young Jason,
who steps in for Homer when
he has to take a vacation.
That’s when Homer warns Jason
chair arranging is like life.
What goes up must come down.
And both can happen quickly.



It’s midnight in New York
and in this tall building
Herb and Molly are
in bed making love.
Molly is a virgin
and it hurts.
Olga’s upstairs
in bed with cancer
terminal and it hurts.
Melvin’s downstairs
in bed snoring.
Nothing hurts because
he doesn’t know yet
he has multiple sclerosis.
In the hallway a thief
goes floor to floor
trying door knobs
hoping one will open.
All the doors are locked,
chained and bolted.
Everyone is safe.
No one can get in.



Time’s a jet plane
when you’re young.
You go to school
get a good job
marry someone nice
and have a family
if that’s your calling.

Then the kids grow up
and move out and
things start falling
apart even if you
have a pension and
many now won’t.

Poor health sneaks in
like a submarine
and in time you forget
to take your pills
so the kids find a place
where folks give folks
like you your pills
every day on time.

Then one day you die
and find out if you had
the right goals in life
all those years you tried
so hard to do things right.
Mother Teresa found out.
Donald Trump will too.


Today’s LittleNip:

—Donal Mahoney

A sense of shame is
missing in the world today.
If you find it, burp.


—Medusa, thanking Donal Mahoney and Katy Brown for today’s fine fare!

Celebrate poetry and the slow and the swift!

Photos in this column can be enlarged by clicking on them once,
then click on the X in the top right corner to come back
to Medusa.