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.

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Poetry of Immense Grief: An Interview with Kamla Kapur by Dr. Nilanshu Kumar Agarwal

Kamla Kapur is a sensitive poetic voice, who lives half the year in a remote Kullu Valley in the Himalayas and the other half in California. Her poetry and short stories have been published in the original English and in Hindi and Punjabi translation in several journals and magazines. In 1977, she won the prestigious The Sultan Padamsee Award for Playwriting in English. Her full length play, The Curlew’s Cry, was produced by Yatrik, New Delhi. A Punjabi translation of her play, Clytemnestra was produced by The Company in Chandigarh. Her award-winning Zanana, was produced at the National School of Drama, New Delhi. Seven of her plays were published in Enact, New Delhi.

Since 1985, Ms Kapur has been commuting between the USA and India. Her full length plays, Hamlet’s Father, Kepler Dreams, and Clytemnestra were showcased at the Marin Shakespeare Festival in San Francisco, Gas Lamp Quarter Theatre in San Diego, and Dramatic Risks Theatre Group in New York, respectively. She was selected by the New Mexico Arts Division as the Playwright in Residence for two years. She has recently completed her first novel, The Autobiography of Saint Padma the Whore, a chapter of which was published by in Our Feet Walk The Sky (Aunt Lute Press, Berkeley, California, USA), and a fantasy novel, Malini in Whirlwood.

Ms. Kapur has published two books of poetry: the critically acclaimed, As A Fountain In A Garden (Tarang Press.Del Mar,CA,USA-Hemkunt Publishers Private, Ltd., India, 2005) and Radha Sings (Rolling Drum and Dark Child Press, USA, 1987).

Ms. Kapur was also on the faculty of Grossmont College in San Diego, California for 18 years and taught creative writing courses in play writing, poetry, creative non-fiction, fiction, and courses in mythology, Shakespeare, and Women’s Literature. Kamla Kapur was also a freelance writer for The Times of India, The Hindustan Times and The Tribune; she had taught English Literature at Delhi University too. This multi-faceted literary genius talks to Dr.Nilanshu Kumar Agarwal in an illuminating email interview.

NKA: Pain is of paramount importance in As A Fountain In A Garden. For example, the expression “and left me/ here, / with this absence, this gift/ of grief” emotionally presents a glimpse of the seething volcano of grief inside. Has the production of the just-mentioned poetry collection helped you in the release of your emotions of grief, anxiety and pain? I suppose, by the creation of this collection, you must have found some release, as literature is cathartic and therapeutic. What do you say?

KK: I don’t know how I would have survived the experience of my husband’s suicide without processing it through poetry. It’s not to say that people who don’t write poetry don’t survive, or survive well, but without the outlet of poetry I might have fossilized in my grief, or developed a chronic habit of sorrow or even bitterness, and certainly a debilitating regret and guilt. Poetry that is not merely release – crying is also that – is an adventure of the soul in its journey towards itself. It demands an utter honesty of experience and expression without which writing remains only cathartic and does not touch the depth at which it becomes art. The discipline of crafting a poem with patience and honesty gave me the perspective and the detachment to pursue a subject that was very painful for me. Making art in this sense is the highest spiritual activity of humans, for it takes one through suffering beyond it. Continue reading

Camping In England by Steve Wheeler

I was driving around England on sulphate. Everyone was doing it. Housewives, carpenters, people who worked in the London Zoo and the parks. Everyone I knew. Everyone was into it. My other major concern was the horses. Yes, I was hooked on the ponies.

One Scottish woman made a pointed remark about her friend, “the bookie’s boy” when she obliquely criticized my obvious weakness for gambling on the races. To me there was nothing like going down to Ladbroke’s on Saturday mornings and placing a few small wagers on combinations and parlays then walking home to eat breakfast while watching the races on tv. Leisurely gratification. Not many winners but many hangovers were nursed that way. I know it happened in England and Scotland and I suspect it’s still the same in Ireland and Wales.

To be able to afford the life I was living on my two weeks onshore and in preparation for the upcoming two weeks offshore on a drilling rig, I started sleeping in the white Ford van I bought. Not a big van, a small one. An Escort I think. With Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA and Bruce Cockburn’s Stealing Fire on my tape deck, I drove around to different races.

The sound of horse’s hooves on cobblestones as I parked and the sight of the sleek hind end of a thoroughbred disappearing around a corner as I ducked into a pub in Newmarket or Cheltenham stuck in my subconscious. Those memories didn’t help much with the feelings of disappointment as I tore up the last of my losing bets at the end of another day, but as I followed the happy bookies into the parking lot while they carried their signs and platforms and bulging briefcases, I realized that I was certainly doing something different. If I was at home I wouldn’t be doing this.

Sulphate was called “poor man’s coke”. It had an energetic buzz and, like coke, it enabled you to drink all night without getting sleepy. It was probably crushed up speed of some kind. It came in aluminum paper and everyone was doing it.

Two guys in Aberdeen, a Dutchman and a South African, quit their roustabout jobs on a drilling rig because they could make much more money selling sulphate to the welders who worked long shifts for big money on pipe laying barges. They had a connection in Amsterdam and captive customers.

For North Americans in England learning how to drive on the opposite side of the road than the side you’re used to is easy once you’ve negotiated the first stop sign and then the first stoplight then the first roundabout. After that it’s easy. Once you begin to drive in England or Scotland, you are convinced that Monty Python is alive and well and exists every day, all around you. It is like a weight lifted off your shoulders. There is less pressure to be perfect.

It was probably a race which drew me to the south of England but it could have been an escape from the urge to spend uncontrollably when I got to London from Aberdeen and the North Sea. Robert, a Swedish derrickman I had worked with, lived somewhere in the south. He wasn’t home when I called so I gave the tip I had for him to the woman I talked to and he later got a job out of it.

I was savvy enough by this time to find a campground near the Newton Abbott track and set up my one man tent before I found the nearest pub. I had entered Scrumpyland. That part of the country was known for its Scrumpy cider and I vaguely remember one pub which had seatbelts on the barstools for the customers’ safety. Naturally I overindulged in the Scrumpy and when I was too drunk to care, asked a few of the shadier looking characters if they knew where I could score some sulphate even though I still had some. I was lucky: everyone ignored me.

I later heard the saying “Beer on cider makes a good rider but cider on beer will make you feel queer’. It’s true. Queer meaning ill. Somehow I drove to the campsite when the pub closed and prepared to read Aleister Crowley’s Moonchild by the light of several candles in my pup tent.

I woke up with a headache and burped up the smell of Scrumpy cider. It had defeated the sulphate in my system and knocked me out. When I opened my eyes I was looking at the sky. Then the bent aluminum tent pole appeared. I looked upward down by my feet. Another tent pole arching over me. The skeleton of my tent.

I sat up when I realized that only charred pieces of fabric hung from the poles. The candles were pools of wax. Somehow the candles had lighted the tent around me, burnt it up and died out as I slept. There was not even a burn on my sleeping bag. Just wisps of smoke around me in the grey dawn.

I staggered to the Escort and drove away feeling a little embarrassed and ashamed. To stay and try to explain seemed impossible. I drove North, glad of a hangover for a change. If I hadn’t seen it for myself, I wouldn’t believe it. This wasn’t what camping in England was supposed to be like. Fuck the races. I knew a sign when I saw one.

The image of the tent skeleton and the perfect pile of ashes circling the spot where my sleeping bag had lain kept recurring as Dancing in the Dark and If I Had A Rocket Launcher played on my tape deck and I headed for Scotland.

Dirty White Collar by David LaBounty

Tire salesman. That’s what I am. A tire salesman store manager writer novelist poet husband father American dreamer.And no, when I was a kid, I didn’t want to grow up and sell tires. I was a bright-eyed boy with good grades who asked a lot of questions and read a lot (okay, I was really a know-it-all but that doesn’t matter). I wanted to be a lawyer or a stuntman. In fifth grade I decided I was going to go to Harvard and go to law school just like this TV show called the Paper Chase that I watched with devotion every week.

I made it to Harvard once, when I was in my mid-twenties, I walked through the campus with no money in my pockets and the dream long extinguished.

Anyway, my parents divorced and there were second marriages and the family moved. Michigan, Illinois and small-town Minnesota. In Minnesota I decided to become a writer, a journalist maybe and I had a path set but that path changed when I left my mom and step-dad and moved back to Michigan to live with my father in suburban Detroit before my junior year in high school. I had to make a new set of friends and adjust to big city living. In Minnesota I was the kid with a big mouth who played basketball and argued with the teachers and got elected to student council. In Detroit I was just a kid with messy hair and thick glasses who was too shy to try out for the basketball team and became nothing special at all. I had to make a new set of friends. I discovered beer and pot and rock and roll and MTV. My grades went in the shitter, college wasn’t an option, not with a 1.9 GPA and my father didn’t offer to pay for any further education.

I still wanted to be a writer, so I joined the navy, you know, for the travel and experience and then I was going to go to college on the G.I. Bill and become a journalist and then a novelist and then I would become rich and famous and bang beautiful women.

And the navy did give me experience. I made a few road trips across the eastern seaboard because of the navy and wound up being stationed in Scotland for about half of my enlistment. I lived off base in a seaside village called Montrose. I had a Fiat. I drank in pubs and lifted weights and read Anna Karenina and The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Life was fun and I had a plan. I left the navy after four years and moved back to Detroit with my father and step-mother and got a job at a car wash and enrolled in the local community college and the plan was in action. Continue reading

Never Cross a Picket Line by Zack Wilson

I found myself manning a picket line this week. Not a picket line outside a mine or crumbling mill, but outside one of the many office buildings of Sheffield City Council.

My comrades weren’t donkey jacketed steel workers, clustered round a burning brazier, seeking warmth under rain soaked flat caps. They were administration clerks and social workers. At other sites they were librarians and street cleaners, teaching assistants and care home workers, those of us who work in the unfashionable and generally poorly rewarded jobs in the public sector. ‘Municipal’ workers is probably the American term. In other words, the people who help to make the streets safer and cleaner, who look after children, care for the elderly, cut the grass in the park, provide counselling and guidance for the desperate or marginalised, who help to keep things running smoothly in the community. The people who you don’t notice until they’re not there.

Not violent, militant or dangerous extremists then, but decent working people whose reward for helping local councils in England and Wales make £1 billion of so called ‘efficiency savings’ last year is an offer of a 2.45% pay increase.

When you take into account the fact that the rate of inflation in the UK currently stands at 4.3% then you can see it’s a pathetically inadequate offer. When you also take into account that food prices are up 9%, energy bills 15% and petrol (gasoline) up 22% then you can see it’s not merely inadequate but actually insulting. The insult becomes unbearable when you realise that these workers are some of the lowest paid people in the United Kingdom, many earning under £15,000 per year.

Which is why picket lines sprang up all over the UK. From Belfast to Norwich, Newcastle-on-Tyne to Portsmouth, Unison members were making their voices heard. Continue reading

…we asked our friends Mira and AJ to tell us something about Poland…

One day in Po(et)land by Mira Horvich and AJ Kaufman

MH 09.00 am (office poet)

‘Welcome to Floo Net Travel. Please, choose the extension or wait for the next available consultant’

I wait for the beep and then dial 1-4-5-2, targeting the glowing keypads with an index finger. There is a certain Miss Anna working in Floo Net Travel, and each time I call her to book some flight for my boss, my thoughts line up in the same way. First, I wonder whether the name of the company is related somehow to our scar-marked, bespectacled hero of the recent years. Judging by the year the company was established it very probably is. Then I wonder whether Miss Anna knows that she has an extension that is the date of the great geographic discoveries. These two thoughts together usually take up the space of one long beep. The receiver still pressed to my ear, my musings turn to the world of great discoverers and ships with scarlet sails and wizards in black robes and pointed hats – do they have discoverers in the wizarding world? – and all that. The last image I reach before Miss Anna picks up the phone is usually that of a towering old wizard, standing erect on the deck of a ghost ship, long streaks of his gray hair and beard dancing madly on the breeze.

‘Good Morning, Floo Net Travel, Anna Lys, how can I help you?’

I shake the image and introduce myself, shifting to the brisk business matter which is supposed to show how confident and competent I feel in my little office environment. From the ghost ship of my imagination, the tall wizard shoots me a disdainful look. Well, fuck off, sugar. Business is business.

I write down the connections Miss Anna has found for me, thank her and put the receiver down. My fingers lingering on the smooth curvaceous shape, as if it were a fucking portkey, my only link with the outside world. Now it’s only office and me. How long can you NOT look at something you should be doing when it’s right before your eyes? I last three minutes. Right then. The mail. The mail would go first, then the coffee for the boss, then the current matters, then the report from yesterday’s meeting. The barren plane of my desk fills up with papers, the ship and the sails and tall pointed hat sinking inexorably beneath the white mess.

On the little shelf to my right, a small destapler sits quietly, its metallic jaws parted slightly in a grin. To be a good office worker, you have to really hate your work. Only sheer fury can take one through the day. Or is the source of my anger really in the fact that I am constantly hurled from one world to another? Taking turns between an evening rambling poet and a morning office girl, I have lost my soul somewhere in between. I take the destapler from the shelf and press it to my mouth. When the metal jaws close on the lower lip, it hurts, and I love the feeling. Continue reading

three reviews by Aleathia Drehmer

The Mambo Kings Sing Songs of Love by Oscar Hijuelos

This book is about two Cuban brothers who come to America in the time before Castro took over. When they came over it was not about “a better life”, but about new adventure and music and opportunity. These brothers were great musicians playing mambo, cha-cha-cha, boleros and any other form of Latin music of its time. We are talking 1940’s NYC Latin music scene. One brother is a macho….a man’s man, a ladies man and full of life and excitement. The other is a gallego which is reference to a man that would come from Spain, but also one with a great melancholy about him. So they were opposites.

This book is about the journey of Cuban music in NYC through the 1940’s to the 1960’s. It is about love and loss and great, heartbreaking longing. This story is filled with images of pastoral Cuba, of rich foods, and thick with Cuban terms and language that surprisingly does not take away from the book, because the author explains it all to you without detracting from the story. It is as if the brothers were telling you a tale of their lives. It is sensual with many scenes of lovemaking and the pure passion men and women have for each other without it being a trashy romance novel.

I found it to be enriching in Latin culture and I desired listening to the Afro-Cuban All Stars a lot while reading this book, because it felt good. I found myself wanting to eat rice and beans and thick pork chops and fried plantains. I wanted to dance about the room. I wanted to make passionate love to someone. I wanted to play the congas and sing at the top of my lungs. I wanted feel the sunshine on my face, but mostly, it made me long for my family. I want that feeling of having my clan together while eating and laughing and remembering the tales of our lives.

Sometimes it is hard to find a book with all of these things that is masterfully written so that the pages fly by until you have come to the end, weeping and clutching the book to your chest, wanting just a little bit more. This book takes you to another place and the joyousness of music and of life. Continue reading