Meeting Dad Again by Donal Mahoney

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 weeks in advance.

My father emigrated from Ireland to the United States in the early 1920s. He had been released from Spike Island by the English who “occupied” Ireland at that time. Spike Island was the “Guantanamo” of that era, located just off the coast of Ireland. It was there the English warehoused prisoners of the Irish Republican Army (IRA).

My father had been imprisoned by the English at age 16 for running guns through the marshes of County Kerry to aid the rebels fighting to free Ireland from the rule of the English. Young Irish lads were recruited for duties like this because they would be less apt to be captured by the English–or so the IRA thought. My father was not coerced into doing this. He volunteered for the duty and would have done it again if the English had not insisted that he and other prisoners leave Ireland as a condition of their release.

On arrival in America, he found work as a grave digger in Brooklyn, NY. Later he boxed professionally and sang in night clubs that catered to Irish immigrants. After he got married, he moved with my mother to Chicago where he was hired by the Commonwealth Edison Company. There he spent almost four decades as a lineman, often working as a “troubleshooter” who was called out in the middle of the night whenever a storm knocked out the power. He liked this work and was very good at it or so I was told by his peers when I visited him in the hospital. They had gathered in the hall outside his room after he had survived an electrical accident that occurred high on a pole in an alley. He survived 12,000 volts, an incident that got his name in the Chicago Tribune.

In January 2012, decades after my father had died, my wife discovered a photo of him on the Internet. It showed him as a prisoner on Spike Island, circa 1920. He was a farm boy, poor as the chickens he fed as a child, but the English dressed him up nicely for the photo that accompanies this story. Perhaps they didn’t want his age to show and to a degree they succeeded in that. You would think they had treated him well but they broke both his legs with rifle butts and let him sit on an earthen cell floor for a long period of time.

In the photo, my father is in the first row, third from the left. He is identified as “J. O’Mahony,” which was the family name until he became a citizen of the United States. On that occasion, the judge suggested he change his name to “Mahoney,” which was “more common” in the United States. My father agreed to the change but it was a decision he would rue for the remainder of his life. More than once he told me, “I should never have done it but I was a greenhorn, what did I know?”

J. O'Mahony et al

My poem, “Meeting Dad Again,” was written many years later after my father and I reunited in Chicago briefly after he had been out of my life for awhile. His two years on Spike Island as an adolescent had taken a toll. He suffered from post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) before that ailment had been identified and named. Despite this problem, however, he was a sober Irishman who labored hard in Chicago for decades to save money to put me through college. His goal was to make certain I would never have to “work with my hands.” He didn’t have to worry. I can operate a hammer but have no manual skills beyond that.

My poem records our reunion when my father, back in town unexpectedly, phoned me at work and, to my surprise, asked that I meet him for lunch. He suggested a cafeteria that was then a Chicago landmark. No fancy restaurants for him, even though in retirement he could afford a touch of the posh. I can’t remember for certain but I doubt that he let me pay the check. He knew that I had bills as the father of five stair-step children.

The lunch went well. Conversation was light. I did not ask him where he had been or what he had been doing and he asked only pleasant questions about me and my children. He showed no mood swings to indicate that he had once been a guest of the English, a confinement that affected him far more, I believe, than absorbing 12,000 volts. The voltage crippled his hand and gnarled his arm but the English crippled and gnarled his nervous system. On this day, however, he was in fine fettle, as he liked to say. This time he was more interested in seeing me than my report card.

country music singer Hank Williams compares President Obama to Hitler

The Larger-than-Life Structure:

Did God create humans, or did humans create God? On a practical level –who created religion? It’s quite obvious that religion was created by humans. The need for a large framework, full of principles, laws, myths and restrictions has always been attractive to mankind. Anything that is greater than you may appear trustworthy, like a parent to a mindless child. Therefore, religion was invented, containing many social principles that mankind can live by. Being blind to the true essence of the divine, people look for answers outside. And so – out of respect and apprehension, the business with god was left in the hands of the clergy, to mediate between the almighty and the simple man.

The painting “The Creation of God” depicts a group of people cultivating a huge impressive structure which they consider as heavenly. They look at the external reflection of divinity, not understanding that they are an essential part of the divine. The truth exists in the immanency of things. To see more, visit The Magnificent Art of Orna Ben-Shoshan.

Wow, Litkicks posted some of my reviews!

SPAM by Ben Myers; reviewed by Aleathia Drehmer

What attracted me to Ben Myers’ book of email inspired poetry called SPAM was the curiosity to see if he could create something from vacuous spam emails. I heard him read a poem from this chapbook on the Blackheath Books Myspace page and it furthered my desire to dig into the rest of the collection.

As with all the other publications to come from Blackheath Books, I was delivered a well-made chap that feels great in the hand. These books are assembled and crafted by the editor, and all are printed on 100% recycled paper or largely made from post-consumer waste paper. It gives them a very down to earth texture while still feeling decadent.The lettering on the cover shows two beautifully flourished letters that sandwich two simpler ones as if this were a nod to the fact that Ben Myers will attempt to construct beauty from trash.

There are 41 poems in this collection and not all of them hit the nail on the head for me.  Some feel slightly contrived and forced, but that was expected to some degree given the subject of inspiration. However, in this book, I found half of the poems to be gems that dug deep and stretched beyond the layers of spam email. Such poems as The Widow Man and The Monkey and Mouthpiece Trimmings are sharp, crisp slices of life.  Ben tackles religious ideas in Cave Candles at Dawn and the effects of war in Our Boys Abroad.

Ben is at his sharpest when tackling the bitter and darker sides of love in the poems Cairo, All You Lovers Out There, Nice To See You Again, and Make Your Marriage Work.  I personally felt these were the strongest pieces and where he makes a statement about how the type of inspiration is less important than what it inspires in the end.  There were times when I was reading this collection that I could not tell what the spam email might have been about, and frankly, I didn’t care. The clever ones cut like cold knives in a killer’s hand.

Ben Myers is worth the purchase just to see what can be done when inspired in unusual ways.  He touches on religion, sex, greed, war, marriage, losses, and politics. There is a little bit of everything in here for each of us. I admire his willingness to open up to something different and step away from normal modes of operation and stretch. I think this is the only way a writer can truly grow.

Loners by Mark SaFranko reviewed by Joseph Ridgwell

I’ve always been a voracious reader, always on the look out for exceptional books that encourage you to look at the world in a different light, get you thinking and wondering, maybe even change your life. But let’s face it these books are incredibly rare, hard to track down, and once you have, read in the blinking of an eye.

You see, I’m not talking about the bloated bestsellers that clog up the turgid book charts, or alleged masterpieces we are bombarded with by an increasingly rudderless publishing industry, or chick-lit, misery-lit, druggie-lit, celebrity-lit or whatever cheesy moniker the bean counters want to label books that are lightweight, ephemeral, and instantly forgettable. I’m talking about books that dare to be different, defy any such lame marketing drone categorisation, and reach for the immortal skies.

And it is here in this rarefied literary air, that discerning and adventurous readers will locate a brand new collection of mind-expanding short stories by American author Mark SaFranko. The book is entitled Loners, and is the third SaFranko volume to be published by independent British publisher Murder Slim Press, following hot on the heels of popular cult favourites, Hating Olivia and Lounge Lizard.

But if fans were expecting more of the same from the brilliant New Yorker they will be in for a shock, for Loners is a huge departure from the first person narrative Max Zajack novels, and veers off into hitherto unknown territory for the majority of SaFranko readers.

However, do not let this put you off, for each and every tale contained within this slim volume is a minor classic, undeniable proof of the author’s mastery of the often neglected short story genre. The collection kicks off with an informative introduction by the renowned American crime writer Seymour Shubin, who hails Loners as “a collection of brilliant short stories that had me twisting inwardly as I read them…They are magnificent.”

And he’s not wrong. For from the very first story, ‘The Man in Unit 24,’ the author has the reader on tenterhooks, turning each page with their heart in their throat or mouth, but definitely not where it should normally be. And from here on in there is little respite, Alley Night, At the Hacienda, Alone, Life Change, and Acts of Revenge grab the reader’s attention from start to finish, leading them down chilling dead ends and false turnings, but ultimately to thrilling climaxes.

Unluckily for me I was reading Loners late at night in an isolated cottage on the East coast of England and by the time I reached the creepy seventh story, ‘Just Next Door, ‘ I was beginning to hear noises, see things, and feel decidedly spooked. Yes, these stories are bleak, dark, and downright scary, but ultimately the end result is an incredibly life-affirming and rewarding literary experience, a rarity in these troubled and culturally trashy times.

So there you have it, “Loners” by Mark SaFranko probably the best collection of short stories to be published this year. But don’t take my word for it, go out and purchase a copy and see for yourself. Just be warned, reading these stories alone at night is not for the faint-hearted or those of a nervous disposition, but nevertheless highly recommended.

Los Angeles Terminal (Poems 1971-1980) by Doug Draime reviewed by Jack Henry

Before reading Los Angeles Terminal, I couldn’t pick Doug Draime out of a poet line-up to save my sorry ass. Blame that on my lack of being a true reader of the underground press. Doug started out in the 60’s and has been a part of the underground arena since. I had no idea what I missed out on.

Covert Press has put out another great chapbook in Los Angeles Terminal. It does what a good chapbook is supposed to do: it makes you hunger for more. Doug Draime is a true poet, one of exquisite talent, insight and observation. He is the bridge between the last Beats, Bukowski and modern writers. He is the poet I want to be.

When I first read this book I got pissed off. There are poets that challenge me, poets that make me laugh and not in a good way, and poets that make me want to shove a sharpened pencil in my eye. Doug made me get my sharpener out.

Twenty-seven poems with acetylene focus outline a darker image of Los Angeles. For those that live here you already know it’s a shithole, after reading this book, others will find out. But the color and life put into each line make the visit worthwhile.

More than a few poems stick out.

From Steak & Eggs Special, a haunting look at the search and fear of companionship in the big city.

a girl in a leather dress
a stranger
sits down across from me in a booth

you havin’ the special? she asked
yeah i say
i am too she says but adds:
separate checks ok?
ok i agree

It ends w/a kicker.

then she takes her shoe off
& gently puts
a slender
black-nyloned foot
against my crotch

There is certain loneliness and longing in LA that Doug captures well.

From All I knew About Her…

I knew she
chanted at a
box she called
an altar,
words in Japanese,
she didn’t
know the
meaning of.
I knew she
feared the
darkness &
ran from the light.
I knew, I knew,
the sound of
her tears.

There’s also a great deal of insanity in Los Angeles, which might be true of most cities, but in my travels I have never seen as many crazy people as I do here in LA. In A Night On The Boards Doug discusses the insanity of trying to get a beer and a sandwich, how reality can explode and mix w/the lunacy of survival.

…Someone laughed as Mary spilled a
pitcher of beer
on her hot new satin dress.
oh, jesus, i thought, all this shit
for a couple of free beers
& a sandwich?

The last poem is perhaps the best, in my opinion. Los Angeles Terminal: After A Friend’s Suicide Attempt. It’s a piece that harbors a sense of despair, a sense of detachment that is so common here.

…What we thought were smoke singles
(or whatever they were) have stopped
and now there is only the smog.

Indeed.

If you are a slacker asshole like me that never read Doug Draime you need to change that right now. Go to http://www.covertpoetics.com and buy this book. It is well worth your money, and it will make you appreciate truly great writing.

~ Jack Henry deadbeatpress.com