Friday, 9 August 2013

Donal Mahoney

Take Me to the Taxidermist

I told my wife the other night
when she came back to bed
my feet were cold so now's
the time for me to tell her
not to bury me or burn me
or give my body to science.

Take me to the taxidermist
and have him dress me in
Cary Grant's tuxedo, a pair
of paten leather shoes
from Fred Astaire and a
straw hat from Chevalier.
Once I'm a Hollywood star,
stand me in the garden with
that chorus line of blondes,
brunettes and redheads
I stationed there the day she
flew home to Mother in a snit. 

Years later now, my dancers still 
kick high enough to lance the sun. 
I plan to hold a last rehearsal 
once my wife motors into town 
and finds a priest who'll say 
a thousand Masses for my soul.


TSTmpj:  What's your favourite old movie, and has it influenced your poetry?

Donal Mahoney:  This is a tough question to answer since I have only recently begun to watch old movies on a cable channel here in the States called TCM or Turner Classic Movies. Perhaps it's available internationally but I'm not certain about that. Rather than select a specific movie I'd pick the genre called "film noir," but also adding pretty much any movie that Fred Astaire dances in. As a competitive Irish step-dancer in my teens and early adulthood, I have an appreciation for Astaire that grows every time I watch him dance. There are other fine dancers, Gene Kelly among them, but for me no one tops Astaire. From the top of his head to the soles of his feet, everything moves as one, the way one hopes a poem will move but seldom does unless maybe T.S. Eliot wrote a few. Odd that I would say that inasmuch as I admire Seamus Heaney so much. But my memory of reading Eliot as a youth when I was just starting out in poetry is that often an Eliot poem left me with the feeling that each word was a brick perfectly aligned with the other bricks caulked perfectly by the spaces in between the words and between the lines. Not an easy achievement whether Eliot accomplished it or not.


TSTmpj:  When was the last time you had the stuffing taken out of you as a poet?

Donal Mahoney:  I'm not certain I understand the question precisely, Michael, perhaps because there may be an Aussie idiom involved here that a Yank would not understand. But I will take it to mean that when is the last time an editor got my "Irish up" through some faux pas that I perceived, rightly or wrongly. And that took place perhaps two years ago when an editor took it upon herself to rewrite a few words in a poem she had accepted and posted it online over my name. She thought perhaps I wouldn't notice. Prior to the moment of reading the edited poem, it had been quite some time since I had been angry the way I used to get angry as a young man back in Chicago where fights were numerous but always fair fights with fists only. No knives or guns back then. In any event the editor has a name that I and others perceived to be a masculine name so I took out after her (or him as I thought at the time). I told her what would have happened to her if she did that to a poem of any writer back in Chicago in the Fifties and if she were in town at the same time. Basically, she would have been lucky to live once the writer found her. Prose an editor might make changes to with the author's permission but literary etiquette involving a poem required acceptance or rejection as is. That was a time before workshops. Writers, to my knowledge, didn't gather around a table and critique words and lines in one another's poems. Perhaps they did and I never knew about it. But it's not something I had ever encountered prior to this instance. And I still get angry when I think about it. I can't recall if I thought her changes improved the poem or not. But I probably should have sent her a poem I once wrote about a similar situation, copy below:

A Little Like Rape

This sylph came forward
from the second row
the second day of class
and asked if
I would edit her poem
so it would read
the way it should.

I told her straightaway
that even though
this was writing class
and I was the instructor,
I couldn’t edit her poem
and still have the poem be hers.

Editing her poem, I said,
would be a little like rape,
just painful in a different way
whether she understood that
yet or not. 

Donal Mahoney


TSTmpj:  Have you thought of getting a Chicago bluesman to put music to this, and thereby make a million dollars?

Donal Mahoney:  Never once have I thought of having a poem put to music, never mind this poem, perhaps because I was raised without the benefit of music in the house other than Irish reels, jigs and hornpipes played on old phonograph records. I never came to love classical music the way I often now wished I had. It's true that over time I acquired a neophyte's love of jazz but didn't know why I liked it. In the process I came to admire a jazz/blues singer by the name of Dakota Staton, whose album The Late, Late Show was a big hit in the Sixties. She may still be alive today but bad times interrupted her career. Nevertheless, I enjoyed her voice more than Ella Fitzgerald's or Billie Holiday's. I think Ms Staton was very good but maybe not as good as I thought she was. The only other singer who left a permanent mark on me the way Astaire did as a dancer was Frank Sinatra. I thought that he, too, had no competition. Similarly, I thought Muhammad Ali had no peer as a heavyweight champion, much to the distress of my Irish immigrant father who thought Jack Dempsey or Gene Tunney would have cleaned Ali's clock. Not a chance, I thought, but I kept that too myself since my father was a man of strong opinions.

Here's a link to Dakota Staton's The Late, Late Show. Maybe the acoustics are off or maybe my taste wasn't so good as a young man-- 

Thanks for taking this poem and for asking these very thoughtful questions. 

Bio Note

Donal Mahoney, in St. Louis, Missouri, left his heart in Chicago, Illinois. Other poems can be found at:

No comments:

Post a Comment