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mary o'malley

is a cleveland-based poet. she knows a thing or two about twins.


Irish Washer Woman, 1915

A Poetic Drama in Two Acts

Act I Scene I - A Rich City Mansion macushla - a Gaelic
term meaning dear one

Her lobster hands plunge into a tub
of pain cold water. The stiff linen
napkins cleansed, French wine and sins - gone away
with washboard suds. She stands on swollen feet,
day dreaming in Gaelic. St. Joseph, worker
saint, looks down through a slate roof, and colored
stands of floor rugs, polished oak boards. Joseph;
with Rose of Lima, the servant saint, look
over her tub stained world; and do nothing
unable to give her consolation.
A gray halo shines around her black curly hair.

Lullaby notes float in my head.
Macushla, macushla, I hear my
grandmother- Nan's face rises with
clouded eyes, in front of me .Her smooth
ghost hands caress and knead my neck

I am in the dark basement And my husband
and I stuck in a dark place, afraid of
the streets of dangerous knives.

Act II Scene I - A One Room Tentament Apartment

At night my feet jerk from fear. One room,
packed together with me sisters and brother.
Annie, on the streets out at night tells me
not to worry; says she knows how to keep
safe. I don't believe her, I don't. Bad things
happen to those who test God and his mercy.
And she, another Mary Magdalene
walking the streets. You can't talk sense

to her. Let me live my own life, she says
I bring in more money. You with your red
hands, I would rather be dead, forget
your holy book and Jesus, he won't
work miracles for you

Every night It's the same words.
I canna change her mind.

Irish Washerwoman 1915

Catherine, cooking food she can't eat, comes home
late at night. Says there is no choice but to stay.
The misses expects us too,she whispers to me. She
doesn't keep girls long if they don't do well. And
the leftover food she has us throw out; tis an evil sin.

And then there is Aileen our saint pale and coughing blood day and night.

I have Jimbo and Annie to care for me. Jimbo leaves
for the bars but Annie stays tells me stories about life on the street;
the fancy carriages that stop and gather her in ,the rich man last night
dressed in white silk and black tails. And how nice he was, giving her a chance
to eat
something good. I canna make sense of it; this giving up of self. I am tired
of even thinkin' these days. But we don't talk of my dyin. They pray for me,
light candles bring
in bottles of holy water. My end will come soon enough.

Jimbo, the drinker, brings us nearer
to danger and debt. He steals
to get money, gambles and drinks.

I'll get the big one this time,
the big one that will save all
our lives.” But it never happen
I fear one day he will be punched blind
Tom and I sleep in the corner, hold
on to each other .He is tryin' out
for the police. If he makes it we will leave,
leave them all here - another time we
need to leave our home to save ourselves.

It is dark in a small airless room.
You hear coughing, hear gentle snoring.
The saints look down from
above wishing they could help.

macushla - dear one


In Tremont and the Open Air School

There are no family dinners here. A pot
is left boiling on the stove, mothers
and fathers who work or sick, too tired
for cooking a meal. The sounds of blasts
and work shifts pass through the dirty air.
At night you see fires burn, shoot up
from the deep clay crater to the night
black sky. And in a gray morning dawn
a supervisor brings an ingot home; last
of a husband who fell into liquid steel.

The brick settlement house on the narrow
street, before the cliffs in Tremont is filled
with children and shy parents who speak
foreign words. I play the piano after
a day at the Open Air school. Fifty
in a class with damaged children, bright
ones flaying in a room filled with my
limits. We wear fur coats and keep windows
open; eat our snack of graham crackers
and cream cheese. We have a doctor and
nurse who keep watch for signs of T.B.
Today we march, gather pennies for
the soldiers at war. I feel sorry taking steel
mill money from the families; the working poor.


My Mother was Irish and Lived Above the Stairway
at the Back of a Rich Person's House

It's only for our use, me and Mary
we cook and clean, dust the cabinets,
pick up and sew their clothes. They
cannot see us sleep in the two rooms
with the handsome bath. We do as our Irish
parents did, serve the rich, watch the winds
fly and rain blow from the lake that is not
our own. They sail in regattas, join the
Clifton Club near a whirl of tree lined streets.
The boyfriends are a different sort -we met
them at the St. Augustine dance; men
from Poland or Budapest; enslaved to hot
factories and pounding loud machines.
We go to church, learn their language,
mothers' recipes. Birdtown is clean
and neat but near the stacks and smells
of hated work. The bars are open every
day. My friend and I have no unions to join,
no help when things turn bad. Marriage
sounds like an easier life, yet we lose our
pasts to bake Easter bread and join their church.


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