Thursday, April 23, 2009

Poet Dan Tobin: Writes of the West of Ireland and the New World of Brooklyn.

Poet Dan Tobin: Writes of the West of Ireland and the New World of Brooklyn.

By Doug Holder

In a blurb on the back of Dan Tobin’s brilliant poetry collection “The Narrows” (Four Way Books-2005) it reads: ”…Dan Tobin recounts the many-sided history of his family. Conceived around the oldest theme in Irish literature, the dinnseanchas or ‘lore of place’ poem, the poems in this collection range back and forth between the West of Ireland and New World Brooklyn.”

What I found most compelling about this book was the poems about his father. My late father was a World War ll vet, a hardscrabble kid from the Bronx, and later became a Madison Ave. advertising executive. Tobin’s poem about drinking with his old man brought a tear to this poet’s eyes. My late father always asked me to join him for a few drinks at a pub he frequented in Manhattan, and talk to his pals…you know meet the kid from Somerville who writes poetry. Somehow I never found the time. Too self-absorbed I guess. Tobin, who is the director of the MFA program in Boston, Mass., and a recent recipient of a Guggenheim Award, read in my poetry series at the Newton Free Library this spring, and I took the opportunity to purchase his book. He graciously let me use his poem: “Drinking with my Father at Muse’s Bar.”


Butcher, green grocer, luncheonette, altar rail,
once a week bingo at the Young at Heart,
coffee at Pegasus, The Green Tea Room;
then it's off to the garage to warm up the car
he can't drive anymore. But everyday
my widowed father's rounds end at Muse's
where he settles in, one of the regulars,
giving the sign for his afternoon drink.

This could be any dim watering hole
glimpsed into walking past, but this is here.
No need to order since everyone knows
what everyone wants, and everyone is named
but me--Turk the Tender, John the Bookie,
Big Fat Roger who bounces on weekends,
Jameson Jimmy, Jose the Gambler,
Killer Bill, Budweiser Bill, Bill the Suit.

And bellied up beside them: my father,
Dewar's Jerry, life-long exile to haunts
like this, where he would come into his own
outside his family's overweening eyes.
Connolly's, Spiro's, Hannigan's--now all gone.
Hours-long chin-fests, palaver thick as smoke
that drifted from my mother's cigarette
where she brooded alone in our kitchen.

Time moves in closed circuits of memory,
pools in the half-light of the TV's glow
where the horses rehearse each coming race
in races run before, an endless replay
like my father's story the day he found
my mother dead in bed beside him, or those
he told for months after, his life with her
unreeled into after-lives at one remove.

I nurse my beer and listen to the talk
of Aqueduct, Belmont, the betting pools--
such ease, as if a life without regrets
blessed each of these cronies, my father, me.
And soon, surprised, I find myself at rest
among this motley crew, sharing their jibes
till Turk says, "Hey Jerry, your son's alright."
"Yeh, I know--he's a first class ballbuster."

Outside the bar he takes my arm, unsteady,
as we walk to the same apartment house
he's lived in fifty years. "I'm glad you're home,"
and "I miss your mother." Then, up the stairs:
"I need to rest--go on ahead of me."
I make my way myself up the last flight
while he sits beside the landing window,
his blunt face shining in the low evening light.

--- Daniel Tobin

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