At eve, old melodies unwomb,
old ragings wake
stringy hair unbunned,
to supper on a loin.
As they feed,
and so they gravitate
or, better, crawl
toward the dawn,
for in the din
that eddies in each ear,
they can hear
one stark trumpet peal
as they creep
toward the sun
a final time,
TSTmpj: I'm reminded, somehow, of Macbeth. At the risk of opening up a not easily succinctly answered line of questioning, what are your views on Shakespeare's play, and do you see, in fact, any echoes of it in your poem?
Donal Mahoney: It is possible that Macbeth, which I studied in college, had some influence in the writing of this poem. I cannot say that for certain since the first draft was written in the Sixties and has been revised many times, never to my final satisfaction. When I wrote the first draft, I was unaware of any influences. At that time, I'd simply "hear" lines for poems and jot them down on scraps of paper that I hoped later to complete. And "one stark trumpet peals" was one of those lines, although "sennet" was in the line only to be replaced later by "trumpet." "Sennet" may come from Shakespeare since a Google search defines "sennet" as "a call on a trumpet or cornet signaling the ceremonial exits and entrances of actors in Elizabethan drama." I removed "sennet," even though I still love the word, because few people would know the meaning of "sennet." I think, however, that you may have come closer to the "reason" I wrote this poem in your second and third questions.
TSTmpj: Your poem also alludes to me to haunting beginnings and endings in life. How would you describe the rhythms of hauntedness in life as we live it?
Donal Mahoney: I certainly have long contemplated the meaning of life, its beginning, end and everything that happens in between. I spent 19 consecutive years in Roman Catholic schools without ever being tempted to be a priest. Nevertheless, my uninterrupted belief in God as outlined in orthodox Catholicism proved to have little effect on my behavior throughout most of my life. In fact, I was the antithesis of a "holy roller." Yet despite my behavior I always believed in God and always accepted the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church even if they were no governor on my behavior (my choice).
What I marvel at today, at a remove of so many years from my time in school, is that a rapscallion like me, despite a life largely misspent, has always had the "gift" of faith whereas others of my acquaintance who seem to have led more normal lives are sometimes lapsed Catholics, even agnostics. I don't know why I have always believed. I did nothing to earn that "gift," bestowed, according to Catholicism, in infant Baptism. My closest friend from youth, also baptized Catholic as an infant, is today an agnostic. He has led a good life by any standard and by virtue of his wit and industry moved from being lower class to possibly being a millionaire today. I am dumbfounded by the fact that I still believe and he does not. For me, belief in God or a lack thereof is one of the great mysteries of life--my life, at least. I am not talking here about belief in God as seen through the prism of Catholicism. I mean simply belief in God with or without the benefit of any organized religion. For me, as you might tell, if there was a "Big Bang" it didn't just happen. There had to be a cause and for me that cause has always been God.
TSTmpj: Is there "one stark trumpet" pealing for all of us?
Donal Mahoney: I do believe that "one stark trumpet peals" for all of us. The question is, does the trumpet peal louder for some than others and if so why? I have always heard the trumpet and for decades ignored it only to respond to it in my dotage. One might think that because of age I came to fear going to hell more than I did when I was young and constantly on a romp. Age is no doubt a factor in my changing behavior but I have always viewed the possibility of hell as real as the sun and the moon and the stars. God doesn't send people to hell, according to my Catholic belief, but if I choose to go to Hell, God might not stand in my way, assuming I made the decisions that would send me there with my mind intact.
I cannot explain why suddenly I returned to the Catholic Church after a 40-year odyssey on the dark side that might have made Augustine blush before his conversion. I am not a babbling fool or preacher with the world as my congregation when it comes to faith and God and the meaning of life. I simply don't believe that birth and death are bookends. I don't believe in reincarnation but I do believe in the traditional Catholic view of the afterlife, however unfashionable that may be in 2012. I believe that I was born for a reason other than to work, father children, decay slowly and die. But I don't know why I believe in God and others do not.
I don't go around hounding those who do not believe (except for my agnostic classmate). But if someone raises the question about the existence of God, my response, I'm afraid, is an avalanche if the inquirer is educated, less so if not educated. I can't help my response even though I don't drink. From my point of view, too much is at stake. I would understand completely if the Richard Dawkins of the world chose to stone me or if my agnostic classmate cut off our email correspondence. I would argue with Dawkins and his ilk for the intellectual exercise. I hector my agnostic classmate because I hope that I might inadvertently say something that might begin to bring him back to the faith we both were reared in. I owe it to him. Arguing with the Dawkinses of the world would be simply help to keep Alzheimer's Disease at bay.
If I were to cite one factor that brought me back to the Catholic Church, other than the mercy of God, it would be the incessant study of Thomas Aquinas during the years that I was in school. Aquinas "ruled" in U.S. Catholic schools during the 50s in the United States, not as a saint but as a philosopher. He had a major effect in how I saw and how I still see life as a foyer for what is to come. "The Dumb Ox," as he was called, had a greater effect on me than Shakespeare, James Wright or Seamus Heaney. His five proofs for the existence of God still strike me as irrefutable. But then I have the gift of faith so no wonder Aquinas, for me, makes sense.
I thank you for asking me these questions. Otherwise I might never have thought about why I wrote this poem as a callow youth some 50 years ago. Maybe I'm better off today but the poem still makes sense for me--back then as well as today.
Donal Mahoney has appeared once before in The South Townsville micro poetry journal. Some of his early work can be found at http://booksonblog12.blogspot.com/.