March 4, 2016

Three Poems By Donal Mahoney: "Marimba in the Afternoon", "Songwriter's Nightmare", "Marcia and the Locusts"

Donal Mahoney, a native of Chicago, lives in St. Louis, Missouri. His fiction and poetry have appeared in various publications, including The Wisconsin Review, The Kansas Quarterly, The South Carolina Review, The Christian Science Monitor, The Chicago Tribune and  Commonweal.  Some of his work can be found at


Marimba in the Afternoon

Raul is a kind man
who plays marimba
in a salsa band at LA clubs
late into the night.

Some afternoons he plays 
at a nursing home in Cucamonga 
where he was born, grew up
and dashed home from school.

He’s paid with a taco,
maybe an enchilada,
a burrito now and then. 
On Sunday a fresh tamale

almost as good as his mother
used to make after being in  
the fields all day, long ago.
Old-timers in the day room 

bounce in their chairs, some 
on wheels, to Raul's music.
Long ago they were young 
and danced all night in

tiny clubs after being paid 
a few dollars a basket for 
picking grapes and plums 
under pounding sun.

 Songwriter's Nightmare

Where did it go?
I really don't know.
I lost it weeks ago
in the middle of the night.
Too tired to get up.
Said I'd take care of it
first thing in the morning.
Didn't want to wake the wife.
Now it's lost in the ether
with some others, gone forever.
They never come back.

I feel like the blind man
in the yard next door
trying to find the red ball 
his guide dog failed to fetch.
How does he know it was red?
Or the lothario memorialized
in the paper this morning
for crawling out the window
when his lover's husband 
caught an early plane home.
Left his pants and wallet behind.

Some things never come back,
sometimes for the better
but not this time.
The next time I wake up
in the middle of the night
and hear the band playing
a new song in my head
I'll get up, believe me,
and write everything down.
It might be another 
"Moonlight in Vermont."

Marcia and the Locusts

Marcia was 17 the first time 

thousands of locusts rose 
from the fields of her father's farm 
and filled the air, sounding 
like zithers unable to stop.
Her father was angry 
but Marcia loved the music 
the locusts made. 
She was in high school then 
and chose to make 
locusts the focus 
of her senior paper. 

At the town library 
she learned locusts 
spend 17 years 
deep in the soil, 
feeding on fluids 
from roots of trees 
that make them 
strong enough 
to emerge  
at the proper time
to court and reproduce. 
Courtship requires 
the males to gather 
in a circle and sing until 
the females agree
to make them fathers.

Courtship and mating 
and laying of eggs 
takes almost two months 
and then the locusts fall 
from the air and die.
Marcia remembers 
the iridescent shells 
on the ground shining,
She was always careful 
not to step on them.
She cried when
the rain and the wind 
took them away. 

Now 17 years later Marcia is 34 
and the locusts are back again.  
Her dead father can't hear them
and Marcia no longer loves the music 
the way she did in high school.
Now she stays in the house 
and keeps the windows closed 
and relies on the air-conditioner   
to drown out the locusts.
Marcia has patience, however.
She knows what will happen.
She reads her Bible 
and sucks on lemon drops,
knowing the locusts will die.

In the seventh week,
the locusts fall from the air
in raindrops, then torrents.
"It is finished," Marcia says.
She pulls on her father's boots
and goes out in the fields
and stomps on the shells 
covering the ground
but she stomps carefully.

At 34 Marcia's in no hurry.
Before each stomp, 
she names each shell 
Billy, John, Chuck,
Terrence or Lester, 
the names of men 
who have courted her
during the 17 years 
since high school. 
They all made promises 
Marcia loved to hear, 
promises she can recite 
like a favorite prayer.
She made each man happy
as best she could.
They would grunt
like swine the first night,
some of them for many nights. 
But then like locusts 
they would disappear.

~Donal Mahoney

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