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Water Of Soul And Thoughts That Breathe

I am a thirsty traveler
cupping my hands into
mind’s stream, sipping
metaphors, slaking an
ego, satiating desire.

An offering to thee I give,
Palliative, rendered to quell,
I drink of ancient id to live,
Always quenching from deeper well.

Tactile thoughts are my oxygen,
breathing deeply, I can transcend,
verse now circulates through my cells,
synapses fire, and fingers twitch.

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The Lady With the Red Armband

Early September held fast to summer’s green
but not so tight that autumn could not whisper
a reminder of its coming, between snaking
rays of sunshine.

Dublin is a magical city, from the brightly
painted doors, to the wrought iron fences
with cobblestone streets here and there, Celtic
pride floating heavy in the air.

I found a park next to a canal, storybook beautiful
with swans gliding, on water gleaming
like Connemara crystal. I sat in near silence
save for rustling leaves and an
occasional car horn, distant.

I looked up to a sky, of deep cobalt blue
splashed with mare’s tail clouds, and I sighed
glad to be right where I was, and wishing
to remain.

When I lowered my head, there she was
a raven haired young woman, with
armband blood red, draped in black shawl,
across the canal, staring into
my soul.

Copyright Michael J. Donnelly 2016

The Night Angels Carried Me Home

“When the most important things in our life happen we quite often do not know, at the moment, what is going on. A man does not always say to himself, “hullo! I’m growing up.” It is only when he looks back that he realizes what has happened and recognizes it as what people call “growing up.” ― C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Council Bluffs Iowa, summer of 1976, it was a hot rocking, whirlwind of a time for me. Figuratively speaking, I was a corralled stallion dreaming of life on the other side of the fence, but literally, a very dazed and confused nineteen-year-old high school graduate standing at the intersection of, ‘Stairway to Heaven’ and ‘Highway to Hell.’

I didn’t have a lot of choices before me at the time as the oldest of eight children in a dysfunctional family. I was the stand-in man of the house because of my alcoholic father’s frequent absences, a maternal figure as well, when mother had one of her nervous breakdowns, which were frequent. College was out of the question as I was a marginal student, and besides, my family’s financial situation was weak like a soup sandwich. I had trouble holding a job too, so yeah, there weren’t many options. My spirit was screaming, “It’s time to go!” The pain of remaining the same had finally become greater than the pain of change.

I enlisted in the army under the delayed entry program one day after my mother’s nineteenth nervous breakdown, and of course, dad was nowhere around. It was a muggy June day and I walked all the way, down town, to an Army recruiting office. Dripping wet with sweat, I signed my life away, hoping for a new one.

I had a few months before I was to leave, but my father and uncle decided to get me drunk the very next night; their idea of a right of passage I suppose. I accepted, mostly because I wanted to connect with my father on a deeper level. I knew he was proud, but deep inside, I was screaming out loud, “Now you care, now you want to be a father?”

I remember just about every detail of that night. Voices, tastes, smells, laughter, tears, the slowing of time, all of which were parts of the equation I suppose. The only thing I don’t remember is, the name of the tavern, but I do recall that it was at one end of a long, ashen gray viaduct that ran down the center of town. It was your typical beer-joint that smelled of dirty ashtrays and stale beer. There was a jukebox that didn’t play anything harder than ‘Jerry Lee Lewis’ I’m sure. It was the kind of place that drew a particular crowd, mostly rednecks, hard labor types, truck drivers and elderly couples reminiscing about the good old days. Old military veterans hunched at the bar sprinkling salt in their beer. Unfiltered Pall Malls hanging from their thin lips contributed to the thick haze of cigarette smoke that permanently occupied the air space from the ceiling, down to just a few inches above my head. Hell, I even recall those pale pickled eggs in a big jar on the bar. I can still see the patrons gawking at me as I walked in with dad and uncle Glen.

Uncle Glen, towering over me with his slicked back, bright red hair, grabbed me with his big hands by the head, and gave me a quick, affectionate knuckle rub and said, “You little shit, we’re gonna get you drunk tonight! Huh Mick?” looking at my dad, who stood proud, at only five feet eight inches at the most, with his slicked back, jet-black hair. ‘Mick’ was dad’s nickname, short for ‘Mike’ of course; it’s an Irish thing. Dad just looked at me smiling, with tears in his eyes. The bar crowd grimaced at my mane of shoulder-length dark brown hair, pimpled face, paisley shirt and bellbottom blue jeans.

I imagined they were thinking, “What’s this long haired hippy freak doing here?” until dad whispered to the bartender, that I was joining the army soon. So the word got around to the patrons, who sporadically cheered something like, “Hell, get the boy anything he wants!” I don’t think dad and uncle spent a dime on drinks that night, at least while I was still there. I’m pretty sure it was their plan to begin with. They were quite clever like that.

The conversation was focused on me, and my choice of ‘Army Infantry.’ Uncle Glen had enlisted in the Marine Corps some ten years earlier, bragged about it, but didn’t make it out of boot camp, for medical reasons he said, but he never elaborated. But he and dad supplied the drinks, and firm shoulder pats the rest of the night. Dad didn’t say much; he just sat there, teary-eyed, with his best proud father smile. It was beer after beer cheer after cheer as the room slowly began to spin. I sat there glassy-eyed, staring at a blinking Budweiser sign in the dirty window. I vividly recall the moment hot bile started moving up my throat.

I stood up, staggered back, and projectile vomited Hamm’s beer mixed with chunks of undigested, quick baked, cheap bar pizza all over the table, and then collapsed back into the chair, passing out. I remember floating out the door of that bar, as if I was in a dream as dad and uncle carried me to the car, a 49’ Chevy with a dusty back seat. I woke up a few hours later to the sound of loud motorcycles and cars racing up the street. I really had to piss, it was dark, and so I did, after stumbling out the door wavering between parked cars, under the stars.

I felt a need to go home, like I was being called by something. I don’t know how I got my bearings, I didn’t care that dad and uncle would miss me; I just walked. It was like I was on a slow turning merry-go-round as I started. I felt beads of sweat pouring down my back, and as a matter of fact, I never looked up much, only down at my feet. Step after step, block after block, through town past large windows, where I would occasionally catch my reflection in the periphery. Past other bars with pounding, muffled music within. The sounds of car horns and ridiculing jeers reverberated in my head, as I walked like the living dead, instinctively, without concern, more than three miles home. Along oak tree lined streets, through neighborhoods almost quiet except for the sporadic bark of a dog and the whine of Cicadas in the trees. The last few hundred feet, up that cobblestone street to our house was introspective.

Memories of my mother flashed in my mind, profoundly somber moments as she cried bitter tears at the kitchen table, late on payday nights, waiting for my drunk father to return and hopefully surrender what was left of his meager earnings. I also envisioned happier times like, Saturday nights at the drive-in movies with my younger siblings and cousins.

Moths fluttered around the front porch light as I crept up those worn stone steps, weary and gaunt, like a ghost who no longer wanted to haunt. The glow of the TV in our living room was a welcome sight, as if I had been gone for years…it just felt right. Mom was sitting on the couch watching, ’The Tonight show with Johnny Carson,’ laughing and sharing popcorn with my youngest sister, as I stood serenaded by crickets that warm Iowa night
peering in at the happy, peaceful scene…silently shedding tears.

Copyright Michael J. Donnelly. 2016

 

 

 

 

The Old Poet In The Park

 

In a city park, an elderly man in a navy blue worsted wool coat and scarf, breathed a warm breath into winter air as he sat motionless on a bench. With silvery hair and thick eyebrows, he looked distinguished as a judge. There was a muffled symphony of ravens mixed with distant traffic filtering through gunmetal bare birches and hoar-frosted firs.

He let out another breath and fixed his gaze on a group of energetic chickadees darting and chattering in low evergreen branches, he admired their energy and smiled. He loved the solitude of winter and recalled as a child when he would daydream about silence, especially when his drunken father would thunder at his mother with maniacal screams. Placing his fingers in his ears helped a bit, but his beating heart refused to be quiet. Words became his escape, and eventually his indulgence. Sometimes they were placatory and at other times, they screamed like his red-eyed alcoholic father. He could see words floating and teeming where others saw nothing.

He learned to pick them out in the margins of life; in dimpled smiles of children, in the eyes of the heartbroken, in cryptic glances between lovers, in the unfolding of springtime’s first buds, in the sultry waving heat of summer, in the solemn and naked autumn trees, in ghosted hoar frosted winter landscapes. He took-in another deep-breath as if he had forgotten to breathe as another vision was returning, vivid and serene, like a painting come to life. He saw a little house deep in a glen. There was a garden with fragrant flowers and his beloved wife, dancing and smelling sweet yellow honeysuckle, singing an ethereal melody that still haunts him. They sat and sipped wine, musing for hours until day’s end when they would happily serenade a pastel sunset. At night, in this beautiful bucolic place, they would drift-off to cricket song with accompanying whippoorwill tune.

He liked to reminisce about his life, about his high school sweetheart who became his wife, about their only child, a son, who grew to love writing as well. He was proud and liked to think that he made an impression. The old man had been a grade school English teacher for twenty-five years, doing his best to mold young minds. He also taught creative writing at the local university, until his health started to wane. He missed it and enjoyed seeing excitement in young eyes as he coaxed imaginations to create. He had written several books of poetry in his life, none of which made him much money, but it was never about the money. He just wanted to share his thoughts, “To impart what God had put in his heart,” as he would so often say.

Brushing the slats of the bench with trembling a hand, he remembered life’s seasons, he proposed to his wife here, there was a sentient aura hovering over the painted boards, in black wrought iron back and legs. This bench knew his deepest secrets; it had listened to his tear-filled prayers and praises. When he was not seated here, he entrusted the bench comforted others as well. He knew of its burdens such as dirty shoes and malicious birds, children with popsicles melting in relentless summer sun, the homeless man stretched-out along its sleek frame, whispering unintelligible words and drifting-off to sleep with shoes respectfully and neatly placed underneath.

A poem came to mind, entitled, “When My Days Are Done.” When my days are done and God calls me home, I truly hope I have loved much and shared, but God, please won’t you let my spirit roam, near the ones dearest, who had truly cared, I could be the wind that blows through the trees, closer than the sunshine on their faces, as warm and gentle as a summer breeze, with memories of loving embraces. So shed a few tears for me my loved ones, but rest assured I will always live on, in the bright smiles of your daughters and sons, and I will greet you every day at dawn. And we’ll all meet again one day I’m told, dancing and laughing on those streets of gold.

That poem, and thousands of others he had written over his ninety-one years of life were gathered by unappreciative family members and placed in boxes. He remembered the family’s hurried pace, how they talked of finally being able to rid the place of all the clutter and ‘close the deal.’ That was a dozen or so years ago. The old man sat up straight as a single ray of mid-winter sun, burst through grey clouds. With a bit of boyish wonder, talking aloud,  he said, “If you write a poem on a seashore, and the words dissolve in salty surf and spray, where  on earth do the words go, do they simply fade away?”

The world has changed so much these past dozen or so years,” the old man quipped with a slightly irritated tone as he released yet another breath into crisp pre-dusk air. A man jogging up the path passed him as if he was not there, bringing with him a short blast of winter wind. “I miss you my love,” the old man sighed, as his visage disappeared in a swirl of powdery snow.

Shadows of bare birch trees crept across landscape as the sun started to set. A young man and woman scurried up the path approaching the bench, as they passed, they noticed an elderly woman seated there. She was bundled in a navy blue worsted wool coat, which appeared much too large for her slight frame, she was also wearing a scarf to match and a gray knitted woolen cap, pulled down over her ears, with tufts of silvery locks protruding. She sat there nearly motionless with a walking cane, like a regal queen upon a throne with scepter. Tears flowed down her face, following wrinkles, formed by a smile.

 

©Michael J. Donnelly 2016

Autumn’s Whispered Canticle

Wet leaves form a multicolored collage,
On black pavement the hues are astounding,
Squirrels in trees launch a chattered barrage,
Their neighborly babble is resounding.

Swishing vortices craft an ambiance,
A deep sighing melancholy pervades
And it all draws a certain audience,
As the flora magically cascades.

I breathe deep on a gray misty morning,
With a sage maturity I relish
The subtle changing seasonal warning,
That my soul has oddly come to cherish.

I hear the tickle of piano keys,
As I am caressed by the falling leaves.

©Michael J. Donnelly 2016

Al•bu•men

You request that I repeat it
again and again, “Soft…
and enunciate each syllable,”
you say, “With eyes closed.”
I sense you inching
closer and closer
to catch my pouting lips
forming a precise
‘bu,’ before you
kiss me.

 

 

Michael J. Donnelly©2013

I Have Only My Love and Not Much More

No dowry have I, no riches, no gold,
No mansion in the midst of verdant hills,
But only desire to stay and grow old,
And lovingly warm you when winter chills.

There are many things money cannot buy,
Like passionate kisses that bring a tear,
And priceless is a lover’s sated sigh,
Yes, this and much more I offer you dear.

All I have is undying devotion,
My promise to love and always be there,
To cherish and listen with emotion,
I give you my heart and soul to bare.

Any wealth imagined cannot compare,
To my love for you, that I vow foursquare.

Copyright Michael J. Donnelly 2016