Paddy Murphy's Wake
The priest had been here earlier and the rosary was said
and relatives and friends in single file were offering condolences.
'Sorry for your troubles, ' one by one they said,
bending over Maggie Murphy, silent in her rocker,
a foot or so from Paddy, resplendent in his casket,
the two of them much closer now than they had ever been.
A silent guest of honor, Paddy now had nothing more to say,
waked in aspic, if you will, in front of his gothic fireplace.
But the hour was getting late and still the widow hadn't wept.
Her eyes were swept Saharas and the mourners wanted tears.
They had fields to plow come morning and they needed sleep
but the custom in County Kerry was
no one leaves a wake until the widow weeps.
Fair Maggie could have married any man in Kerry,
according to her mother, who almost every day reminded her of that.
'Maggie, ' she would say, 'you should have married Mickey.
His limp was not that bad, ' but Maggie wouldn't listen.
Instead, she married Paddy, 'that pestilence out walking'
as her mother often called him
even on a Sunday but only after Mass.
Maggie married Paddy the day he scored the only goal
the year that Kerry took the trophy back from Galway.
That goal was no small thing, Paddy would remind us all forever
until one of us would gag and buy him another drink.
That goal, he'd shout, was something historians would one day note,
even if they hadn't yet, and every time he'd mention it,
which was almost daily, Maggie's mother would remind her daughter
that she should have married Mickey and had a better life.
The final time her mother praised poor Mickey,
a screaming match ensued, so loud it woke the rooster
the day before her mother, feverish in bed,
gurgled like a frog and died.
This evening, though, as the wake wore on,
the mourners grew more weary
waiting for the tears the widow hadn't shed.
Restless in his folding chair, Mickey put his bottle down
and rose to give the eulogy it had taken days to memorize.
'Folks, ' he said, 'if all of us would holler down to Paddy now,
he'd holler back, I'm sure, and tell us,
despite the flames and all that smoke, that Kerry
winning over Galway is all that ever mattered, even now.
We'll always have cold Paddy over there to thank for that.'
The Widow Murphy hadn't moved all evening,
but after hearing Mickey speak, she began to rock with fury
as she raised a purple fist, shook it to the heavens
and then began to hum her favorite dirge.
The mourners all joined in and hummed along until
midnight pealed on the mantel clock and then,
as if released by God Himself, the mourners one by one
rose from folding chairs and left in single file, freed
by a hurricane of the Widow Murphy's tears.
Donal Mahoney's Other Poems
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