by Don Hynes

The MissionIreland, 1919

Shaking him from sleep
they came in the night,
rain falling off their wet clothes
like the sky he’d soon be under.

“We want you to go with old man Heaney
to cut down young Martin.
The Tans have hung him from a pole
in Kilbeggan. His brothers can’t go,
they’re already drinking
and be shot on sight.
Even the Tans won’t shoot a boy
with an old man coming for his son.”

”Kilbeggan, Jesus, that’s a day in a trap,
even with Heaney’s stout horse,” he thought,
but no one was asking him, they never did,
just telling him, and he’d go.
“Good boy, Mickey” all they said;
they needed a boy who could work like a man.

Though he hated obeying them
feeling wanted was reward
and relief from his grandfather
snoring to wake the dead
and his grandmother groaning
before the awful cough began again.

All the way to Kilbeggan
not five words between him and the old man;
when they got there it was full light
though rain dim and empty in the Square.
The damned horse wouldn’t hold,
the death smell frightening it,
the body already stiff
with gaping holes in the chest
where they’d shot him.


Mickey grabbed the corpse
as the old man cut the rope
with the knife he used on pigs.
Mickey could hardly hold his breath and the horse
but when they got the body down he turned the trap,
the old man sitting there with the knife in his lap
and his dead son in the back.

Two Tans smoked in a doorway
under dripping slate: “Let them have the body,
take it back to them all for a sign.”
It was dark by the time they got back to Heaney’s,
the dooryard full of smoking men,
the two brothers drunk and swearing,
crying as they took their brother in the house.

“You can’t wake him,” the priest said, “he’s been dead too long,”
but the brothers said, “We’ll do as we goddamn please Father,”
and they did. Put that stiff corpse on the kitchen table
then closed the door so the women could clean him
and lay him out in the parlor.

The men were roughing his hair, clapping his shoulder,
saying, “Good boy, Mickey,” but he didn’t care.
He wanted to stand by the stove but not with that smell
so he stood out in the dark with the men
while the brothers swore and fired their rifles,
cursing at the sky, the Brits
and the rain that wouldn’t stop.

The Irish GirlNew York, 1930’s

The Irish girl and her drunken father,
the chamber maid, her long suffering mother,
through depression years how she’d hoped.
Patrick punished them all,
dying in Belleview misery.
Julia endured, her children flourished
but the Irish girl closed the door
on her dead father.

While her mother fingered her beads
the girl carved runes on the door
and buried the knife in her breast.
The Irish man was yet to arrive
with the fair-haired boy
and his dark-eyed sister,
more that would be told
but the runes were cast.

CigaretteOregon, 1988

We stood on the porch,
night sounds around us,
the darkness comfortable,
letting us be together
without the impulse to talk
electric light would bring.

He held a cigarette in one hand
as if holding it was a pleasure.
After a while he asked me to find a match.
I brought one from the wood stove
and again he just stood there,
cigarette in one hand, match in the other,
as if they were old friends with no reason to hurry.

One of my daughters came out on the porch,
then the other, like moths to his flame.
The younger noticed the cigarette
like everything within her range.
“Grandpa, you shouldn’t smoke.”


For a while he didn’t say anything
though the irony was sharp,
the cancer having eaten so much of his body
but there was no mocking in his eyes.
He didn’t seem to be thinking, just waiting.
Then he said, “Why not?”
“Because they’re not good for you,”
the older one now, so direct,
with no prejudice for his age or condition.

He stood there a while longer,
the cigarette and the match,
holding them fondly,
as if the moment mattered,
as if something would arrive if he’d wait.
After a while he said, “Well, you’re probably right,”
and put the match in his pocket,
still holding the cigarette as they nuzzled up to him,
that rough hand drawing them both in,
brushing the hair back across their foreheads,
the crickets scratching and spring frogs croaking
in the warm darkness.