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As usual, they're lost 

inside old overcoats,

their collars up, 

their scarves too long,

their yarmulkes,

as always,

in diffidence



                 from; Crackling Again by Donal Mahoney









Woman in the Day Room Crying

The Widow Murphy Sets Her Cap

Apple Fritter and a Single Rose

In Break Formation

An Irish Christening

Bag Lady

Lifts Her Like A Chalice

That Greyhound Station

The Man Who Lives in the Gym

Brisk Man from Jaipur

Crackling Again

Those Poems, That Fire



1 – BIOGRAPHY:  Donal Mahoney


Donal Mahoney was born to Irish immigrant parents in Chicago, Illinois. He used a couple of degrees in English to earn a living as an editor of magazines and books and as a fundraiser for a charity. Words and people are the two things in life that he’s been most interested in. He is the father of five children, four normal and the other a Rhodes Scholar. He had 100 poems or so published in print journals in the late ‘60s and early‘70s and then quit writing for 35 years to earn a living. He resumed writing in 2008 at his wife’s behest, after retirement and after she bought him a computer as a birthday gift. She also showed him where in the basement cardboard boxes of drafts of his old poems had sat undisturbed for decades. Some of the poems in this group are based on personal experience but others are fabrications arrived at without the benefit of drink, something the author hasn't tasted since the Sixties. In some ways that's good but at times it's a crying shame. 







Sleet on the turnpike

in the middle of the night 

but I keep driving,

both hands on the wheel,

nowhere to pull off,

and a yellow bus

comes over the line

and kisses my truck.

That's all I remember.

Now I'm in bed,

wired to things,

unable to move,

listening to a doctor 

telling my wife,

"It's been two weeks,

no improvement."

He asks her nicely

if we should let him go,

the dimwit bastard.

If I could, I'd scream 

but I can't even

wiggle my toes.






If one could store them

in the attic without stir

and turn to other things,


to picking fruit, perhaps,

or seeding it, one could afford

the dalliance of an hour


for one would have the years

one knows will not be those

whose paralytic youth has just begun,


the years whose summer plea

for laughter and for kiss

somersault the hair


and scimitar the smile: the years

the sun, the moon, the stars

can never order stop.






Woman in the Day Room Crying



Lightning bolts in childhood

can scar the soul forever.

They're a satanic baptism 

when the minister's your father,

mother, brother, sister,

anyone taller, screaming,

shooting flames from the sky

all day, all night.  


The years go by 

but the scars remain.

The pale moonlight of age 

makes them easier to see

and scratch until they burst

and bleed again,

another reason I wake up 

at night screaming.


When the daylight comes, 

I talk about the scars

when no one is around 

to say shut up! 

I draw the details in a mural

on the walls and ceilings so 

everyone can see the storms

that never left a rainbow.




The Widow Murphy Sets Her Cap



Mrs. Ryan keeps her cat inside at night 

but lets it out at dawn to go anywhere it likes

while she's at work. Every day the cat 


crosses the road to call on the Widow Murphy.

Mrs. Ryan doesn't know her cat calls on Mrs. Murphy

but she has told the widow twice her cat is on a diet: 


a little kibble in the morning and a little water at night.

Nothing else. When the cat arrives at Mrs. Murphy's, 

the widow lets him in and gives him warm milk 


and a dollop of salmon on a porcelain saucer.

Afterward the cat takes a long nap on a Persian rug till

the widow lets him out in the afternoon


to cross the road and wait for Mrs. Ryan 

to pull her Lincoln into the driveway. 

Mrs. Ryan's husband, Paddy, now retired, 


has never called on the Widow Murphy.

He doesn't know the widow's waiting.

Paddy likes his tea strong, his wife once said.



Apple Fritter and a Single Rose


After 30 years together,

Carol tells me late one evening

in the manner of a quiet wife

that I have yet to write a poem


about her, something she

will never understand in light

of all those other poems

she says I wrote


about those other women

before she drove North.

And so I tell her once again

I wrote those other poems


about no women I ever knew

the way I now know her

even if I saw them once or twice

for dinner, maybe,


and a little vodka

over lime and ice.

Near midnight, though,

she says again


in the manner of a quiet wife

it's been thirty years

and still no poem.

When morning comes


I motor off to town to buy

a paper and a poem

for Carol

but find instead


undulating in a big glass case

an apple fritter,

tanned and glistening,

lying there just waiting.


So I buy the lovely fritter

and a single long-stem rose

orphaned near the register,

roaring red, and still 


at full attention.

I bring them home but find

Carol still asleep

and so I put the fritter


on the breadboard

and the rose right next to it,

at the proper angle.

When she wakes I hope


the fritter and the rose

will buy me time until

somewhere in the attic

of my mind I find


a poem that says

more about us than

this apple fritter,

tanned and glistening,


lying there just waiting,

and a single long-stem rose,

roaring red, and still

at full attention.





In Break Formation



The indications used to come

like movie fighter planes in break

formation, one by one, the perfect

plummet, down and out. This time they’re

slower. But after supper, when I hear her 

in the kitchen hum again, hum higher, 

higher, till my ears are numb, 

I remember how it was

the last time: how she hummed

to Aramaic peaks, flung

supper plates across the kitchen

till I brought her by the shoulders

humming to the chair.

I remember how the final days

her eyelids, operating on their own,

rose and fell, how she strolled

among the children, winding tractors,

hugging dolls, how finally

I phoned and had them come again, 

how I walked behind them

as they took her by the shoulders,

house dress in the breeze, slowly

down the walk and to the curbing,

how I watched them bend her 

in the back seat of the squad again,

how I watched them pull away

and heard again the parliament

of neighbors talking.




An Irish Christening



Thomas said

you can’t go home again

but I did for my sister

and the christening of her first.

Everyone, on folding chairs, against

the whitewashed basement walls, was there

for ham and beef and beer, the better

bourbons, music, argument and talk.

Maura came; she hadn’t married. 

Paddy, fist around a beer, declared

I owed my family the sight

of me more often.

Hannah, thickset now,

gray and apronless,

rose beside the furnace,

wolverined me to the coal bin door

and asked me in the face,

with sibilance and spittle,  

who or what it was

that kept me anywhere,

everywhere, but there.




Bag Lady


    Chicago’s North Side


This senior citizen

whose face is Rushmore still

squats with pigeons on the steps

of the Rogers Park Masonic Temple.

She wears a shawl this snowy day

and is beneath the visor of a hunting cap

a woman who has paused along the way.

Her shopping bags, stuffed, frayed,

and each square feature of her face confess

she speaks at best a little English.

Rested, she will rise,

a penguin on a floe,

and navigate her day.




Lifts Her Like A Chalice



The weekday Mass at 6 a.m.

brings the old folks out 

from bungalows 

around the church.

They move like caterpillars  

down sidewalks, 

some with canes, 

some on walkers. 


Father Doyle says the Mass 

and then goes back to the rectory 

to care for his mother 

who cannot move or speak 

because of a stroke.


And every Sunday at noon 

when the church is full, 

Father Doyle, in full vestments, 

wheels his mother

in a lump

down the middle aisle

and lifts her like a chalice 

and places her in the front pew  

before he ascends to the altar.


Sometimes at night,

when his mother's asleep, 

Father Doyle comes back to the Church 

and rehearses in the dark 

three hymns she long ago 

asked him to sing at her funeral.


He practices the hymns 

because the doctor said  

she could go at any time.

When that time comes,

he doesn't want to miss a note.

The last thing she ever said was 

"Son, I'll be listening." 



That Greyhound Station



This woman

I am interviewing,

one of her front teeth

crosses over the other

and sticks out like a leg

crossed over the other.

Otherwise I would hire her;

I am certain of that.

But she reminds me too much

of that Greyhound station

at three in the morning.

There, alone on a bench,

across from me still,

her little dress up,

skulls of bare knees,

hillbilly child waiting.






The Man Who Lives in the Gym


                        St. Procopius College

                        Lisle, Illinois

                        after World War II


The man who lives in the gym

sleeps in a nook up the stairs

to the rear. Since Poland 

he's slept there, his tools

bright in a box locked 

under his bed. At noon bells

call him down to the stones

that weave under oaks 

to the abbey where he 


at long table takes 

meals with the others 

the monks have let in 

for a week, or a month, 

or a year or forever, 

whatever the need. 

The others all know

that in Poland his wife

had been skewered,


his children partitioned, 

that he had escaped

in a freight car of hams.

So when Brother brings in, 

on a gun metal tray, 

orange sherbet for all

in little green dishes,

they blink at his smile,

they join in his laughter. 




Brisk Man from Jaipur



Two men tall,

one from here

and one from there,


in raincoats

at a bus stop,

pace and stare.


One of them

is soaked in tea,

brisk man from Jaipur


who semaphores

an anthracitic glare.

To barter for a smile


an alien’s obeisance

he, no fawn,



The other man,

white cane and dog,

doesn’t seem to care.



Crackling Again



This brilliant winter morning finds

waves of snow on every lawn

and red graffiti dripping

from the walls

of Temple Mizpah

once again

as down the street 

stroll ancient men

who every morning

shuffle here for prayer.


As usual, they're lost 

inside old overcoats,

their collars up, 

their scarves too long,

their yarmulkes,

as always,

in diffidence



This morning, though,

they don't go in.

They shuffle near the curb

like quail.

They can't believe 

the goose-step scrawl

on every wall.

They know their world's

awry again, an encore

of the chaos left behind

when they were young.


The good thing is,

Chicago's better now 

than was Berlin back then 

even though the temple walls

make clear this morning that

someone's struck another match

and the ovens of Auschwitz

are crackling again.




Those Poems, That Fire


I stood in the alley, still

in pajamas, somebody’s shoes,

another man’s coat, my eyes

on the bronc of the hoses.

Squawed in the blankets of neighbors,

my wife and three children sipped

chocolate, stood orange and still.

Of the hundred or more I had stored

in a drawer, I could remember,

comma for comma, no more than four,

none of them final,

all of them fetal.




3 - Afterword

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