Family Story / So What Dad

John Hennessy

In the family story, Dad’s the first to college.                                                                                                        So what if your father
Five kids and nineteen years of three jobs later                                                                                                 doesn't call you back
he finishes a Ph.D. And shortly thereafter                                                                                                                if you don't tell him
goes solo. Our story starts in the New World                                                                                         about your raise, or the play
several times, most recently with the arrival                                                                                           your son wrote and directed,
of his grandmother, Margaret Kinnane, from Lisdoonvarna,                                                                       or even the high school
County Clare. That town’s heaven for singles,                                                                              stagehand who called him faggot
cash cow for matchmakers. Every September                                                                                               and offered to beat him
thousands of seekers cross the petrified Burren,                                                                   in the stairwell - your precious boy - 
coming from all over Europe, all over the world,                                                                        or the fury you stifled (your father's)
to consult with marriage brokers. (New days                                                                                                 to let him as he insisted
in the Old Country: recently The Outing,                                                                                        handle his own affairs (and has he
a gay weekend, was added). Beautiful in its rainwashed                                                                                   even had any yet?),
way, the sun sudden on Norman ruins, Georgian stone,                                                                                           how you didn't
but still my love teases: plaster Cupids aim                                                                      call the principal, or better park your car
arrows over pub doorways, neon hearts blink                                                                               and wait after school for the punk
in shop windows. No surprise we ended up                                                                       to walk by so you could threaten him - 
on the Jersey Shore. Margaret came as a domestic,                                                            remember that childhood truncheon,
fourteen years old; she took the family’s single                                                                                            your souvenir Mets bat?
boat ticket when her older sister lost her nerve                                                                                                  This is what you'll get
at the docks. We called her The Pit Bull – even I                                                                                                    if it happens again,
knew her, she lied about her age, but lived late                                                                                   in your quietest Jersey voice.
into the 20th century – and we called her last                                                                   So what if you kept and still keep shtum,
husband The Pussycat. My father refused                                                                                good for you, and your Jersey voice,
to go to her funeral, payback, decades after                                                                                which after all isn't a Brooklyn Irish
she jilted her first husband, the Hennessy,                                                                                                     waterfront naze like his
a bartender in Brooklyn, while he wasted in hospital,                                                                                    but your own hangover
dying slowly from an icepick in the eye.                                                                                        from those days of keeping it quiet
                                                                                                                                                                                    and mean and scared
But that’s only our most recent arrival story.                                                                                           in the liquor store parking lot
My father’s other grandmother was a Kettle,                                                                               behind your old building after he'd
and her folks immigrated earlier. Recently                                                                     shoved you back outside to fight yourown
her family came to us to fill in branches                                                                              damned fights, that milling of older kids
in their tree, and there were a few surprises.                                                                                   from Shotwell Park you insisted
Grandmother Kettle’s family owned farmland                                                                              on pitching to, so what if you lifted
in Artane, were thick with Parnell even after                                                                                           a chunk of the rotting tarmac
O’Shea’s betrayal, agitated in the Land War                                                                           and hit a kid older by a couple years
and suffered imprisonment at Naas                                                                                 in the neck with it, far as you could reach,
and again at Kilmainham, ran guns                                                                                                            so what if you came home
from Belgium to the Irish Volunteers in ’14.                                                                                        bleeding through your crewcut
In the middle of it all is Tom Kettle,                                                                                            and your father took you to Stewart's
the only person James Joyce would talk Aquinas                                                                                                 for a root beer float
with, from Clongowes Wood right through                                                                                                 to celebrate? So what if he
to UCD. An MP, professor, and poet. Statue                                                                                      doesn't call you back, so what?
in Stephen’s Green: he died in 1916. Not                                                                                                                      Just as the sun
in the Easter Rising, but at the Somme.                                                                                                 rises on your son he's proud
He fought the Germans in an Irish regiment                                                                                          of you, he's all orange neon
of the British Army and worried he’d be                                                                                                                 diamonds and soda
remembered as a traitor. In our family story                                                                                                   and sticky picnic tables,
he never went to school or to war, never wrote                                                                                                            and the hornets 
a book, held a gun. We would have saved him                                                                                                           buzzing for you.
from being remembered at all.                                                                                              Or text him. Uncork champagne emoji.

Page 74, Poetry Ireland Review Issue 119
Issue 119

Poetry Ireland Review Issue 119:

Edited by Vona Groarke

Poetry Ireland Review Issue 119 includes new poems by 48 poets including Frank Ormsby, John Kinsella, Rachel Coventry, Aifric Mac Aodha, Gerald Dawe, Alice Miller and Claire Potter. Also included are translations by Richard Begbie and Kirsten Lodge, an essay on Bishop, Lowell, Heaney and Grennan by David McLoghlin, and reviews of Paul Muldoon, Paul Durcan, Sarah Clancy, Medbh McGuckian, Kate Tempest, George the Poet, and many more. The issue also features photography by Hugh O'Conor, Dominic Turner, Sheila McSweeney, Fergus Bourke and John Minihan.