May 3, 2011

5.1. Donal Mahoney: 3 poems


In the waiting room, I squeeze
this old rosary a nun gave me
the day I got back from Iraq.

I was still in a daze on a gurney
and I still had sand in my hair.
Some of it remains, no matter

how many showers I take.
Sand from Iraq lingers, I'm told,
until you go bald, and then

you are able to concentrate
on other things.
What might they be, I wonder.

But today, in this waiting room,
I squeeze the rosary tighter
when I hear, louder than

the gunshots crackling in my dreams,
the real screams of that little boy
right over there, the one who's

rapped his elbow off the radiator.
Lord, listen to him scream!
Each week he comes with his mother

for her follow-up appointment.
He sounds like the jet
that takes me back at night

to that little village in Iraq
where the sand puffs up
in mushroom clouds

above the bullets
as the children scream
in their hovels louder

than that little boy
screaming over there.
Maybe everyone

in this waiting room
listening to him scream
can come with me now

to that village in Iraq.
Sitting here, I know
that boy's pain so well

that in my fist
this rosary no longer
knows my prayers.

It's All in the Wrists, Said Ted Bundy

The others, of course, are more rabid than I
but less apt to show it.

Whenever I strike, I never romp off.
I stand with the wrist that I've snatched

from the lady locked in my teeth
as I wait with a smile for the wagon.

As one of the few wrist-snatchers
still on the streets of Chicago,

I make all of my rounds in old tennies.
I dive for the purse hand, give it a whack,

and sever the wrist without slobber,
then stand like a Vatican Guard

with her wrist in my teeth until
I am certain I have no pursuers.

In my dreams every night I can see
all of those women whose wrists

I have had in my teeth.
They stand at their bus stops

like Statues of Liberty,
shrieking and waving their stumps like flares

as I wait for their screams
to bring to a frieze

the patrol cars glowing
in the middle of the street.

Paddy Murphy's Wake

The priest had been here earlier and the rosary was said
and relatives and friends in single file were offering condolences.
"Sorry for your troubles," one by one they said,
bending over Maggie Murphy, silent in her rocker,
a foot or so from Paddy, resplendent in his casket,
the two of them much closer now than they had ever been.
A silent guest of honor, Paddy now had nothing more to say,
waked in aspic, if you will, in front of his gothic fireplace.

But the hour was getting late and still the widow hadn't wept.
Her eyes were swept Saharas and the mourners wanted tears.
They had fields to plow come morning and they needed sleep
but the custom in County Kerry was
no one leaves a wake until the widow weeps.

Fair Maggie could have married any man in Kerry,
according to her mother, who almost every day reminded her of that.
"Maggie," she would say, "you should have married Mickey.
His limp was not that bad," but Maggie wouldn't listen.
Instead, she married Paddy, "that pestilence out walking"
as her mother often called him
even on a Sunday but only after Mass.

Maggie married Paddy the day he scored the only goal
the year that Kerry took the trophy back from Galway.
That goal was no small thing, Paddy would remind us all forever
until one of us would gag and buy him another drink.
That goal, he'd shout, was something historians would one day note,
even if they hadn't yet, and every time he'd mention it,
which was almost daily, Maggie's mother would remind her daughter
that she should have married Mickey and had a better life.
The final time her mother praised poor Mickey,
a screaming match ensued, so loud it woke the rooster
the day before her mother, feverish in bed,
gurgled like a frog and died.

This evening, though, as the wake wore on,
the mourners grew more weary
waiting for the tears the widow hadn't shed.
Restless in his folding chair, Mickey put his bottle down
and rose to give the eulogy it had taken days to memorize.
"Folks," he said, "if all of us would holler down to Paddy now,
he'd holler back, I'm sure, and tell us,
despite the flames and all that smoke, that Kerry
winning over Galway is all that ever mattered, even now.
We'll always have cold Paddy over there to thank for that."

The Widow Murphy hadn't moved all evening,
but after hearing Mickey speak, she began to rock with fury
as she raised a purple fist, shook it to the heavens
and then began to hum her favorite dirge.
The mourners all joined in and hummed along until
midnight pealed on the mantel clock and then,
as if released by God Himself, the mourners one by one
rose from folding chairs and left in single file, let loose
by a hurricane of the Widow Murphy's tears.

Donal Mahoney has had poems published in Matt McGee's Falling Star Magazine and other publications in the United States, Europe, Asia and Africa.

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