Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Poems About Ireland By Donal Mahoney

Donal Mahoney, the son of irish immigrants, grew up in an Irish neighborhood in Chicago—almost an Irish ghetto, if you will—in the Forties and Fifties. His father had been expelled from Ireland circa 1920 for running guns as a teenager for the Irish Republican Army. His mother left Ireland around the same time, tired of living with 9 siblings in a thatched roof cottage in the middle of an English landlord’s farm, harvesting cabbages and rutabaga. His parents brought to America hope for a better future and the neuroses of their past, both of which affect the author even to this day. He is thankful, though, that his parents emigrated. He prefers loving Ireland, still a very strange if lovely place, from the shores of the United States.  

Signs in Windows

In 1920 he came on a boat 
from Ireland and found
his way through Ellis Island.

He found a room 
in a boarding house
catering to his kind and

went looking for a job
but found instead signs
in windows saying 

“No Irish Need Apply.”
A cemetery asked him to
dig graves and lower the dead.

In America today
there are no signs like that.
Black and brown 

apply and whites 
sometimes hire them.
My father was white.

But in 1920 his brogue
was a long rope that
almost lynched him. 

Donal Mahoney

An Irish Enclave, 1956
         South Side of Chicago,
        long before Barack Obama
On bungalow porches 
and out in backyards,
on hot summer evenings 
old men lower themselves
into green canvas chairs,
smoke and sip beer,
laugh and relive 
Easter, 1916
and plot what they’ll do
when the n?#@ers pour in
and eddy all over
the dregs of their city.

Donal Mahoney

Donal Mahoney

This Mick on the Next Stool

in a pub in Ireland

So this Mick on the next stool,
who's as serious as Yeats
but looks like Wilde,
stares at me, 
with eyes crossed,
sipping Guinness through the foam.
Finally he burps and says, 
"I'll bet that growth is cystic.
If it were on my nose, 
I'd light this match,
hold a straight pin over it,
then prick it. 
Poof! There'd be 
a belch of goat cheese, sure.
But what of it? 
You'd need a Q-Tip,
maybe a drop of p'roxide.
But in two weeks 
new skin would bloom
smoother than a baby's bum.
With your luck, Yank, 
it would freckle."

Donal Mahoney

Meeting Dad Again
Thirty years later, Dad came back
and we met for Ham and Yams at Toffenetti’s.
Pouring his tea, he told me he had
to restore power once
at a newspaper warehouse
and the storm broke again
and the lightning cracked his ladder.
He spent the whole day, he said,
sitting in that dark warehouse,
waiting for the lightning to stop
and for the truck to bring a new ladder.
He had a great time, he said,
sitting next to a flickering lantern
and reading for hours the Sunday comics
printed and stacked
six months in advance.
Donal Mahoney

Stumps in His Cabbage

You would think you would 
love a man who died 
for you and for everyone else, 
even those who will never 
know that he did.
But you don't, not really.  

The monks in the choir
you hear on Sunday 
sing hymns from the heart.
They make fruitcake all week
stoked by the knowledge 
he died for them. 

They love him 
in a way that you 
can only imagine
despite much prayer. 
You adore him, however, 
as well you should. 

You know he's infinite,
omnipotent, without 
beginning or end. 
You hold him in awe. 
No one commands your
respect more than him. 

You follow his will, mostly. 
You tell others about him 
but the love doesn't come, 
gripped as you are 
in tongs that have held you 
since childhood

growing up in a house 
where a man who worked 
long hours, never drank, 
put you through school 
then went nuclear at dinner 
with your mother  

when he discovered 
"stumps in my cabbage, 
lumps in my potatoes," 
a man whose roar rattled
the neighbors and sent 
the dog under the bed.

You would think you would 
love a man who died 
for you and for everyone else. 
But you don't, not really. 
You keep trying to love him 
and your father as well.

Donal Mahoney

Donal Mahoney, an expatriate from Chicago, lives in St. Louis, Missouri. Some of his earliest work can be found at and some of his newer work at

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