Kaleidoscope and Harpsichord: How A Story Came To Be

A Prose Piece by Donal Mahoney

There are only two things that are true in “Kaleidoscope and Harpsichord,” the story that appeared on this site yesterday. One is the encouragement my wife gave me to start writing again in 2008 after I had not done so for 35 years. Demanding jobs, mostly as an editor of other people’s copy, left me without energy to work on poems. My wife even bought me a computer when I retired and showed me where my cardboard boxes full of unfinished poems had been lying dusty in storage for so many years. But more importantly, the other true thing is that she said that reading a poem I gave her was like “looking through a kaleidoscope while listening to harpsichord.”

That phrase became embedded in my mind and would not leave so I had to write something to go with it. That is how I work. I hear a phrase or word I like and I have to write something before, around and after it. I have to give it a home. I cannot let it remain an orphan so I manufacture a poem or a story or an essay to use the phrase or word I like.

I was that way back in the 60s when I was a pup. I would jot the phrase or word on a napkin in some midnight diner and put it in my pocket. Weeks later I’d find it and I’d start writing a piece around the phrase or word. I doubt that many writers of fiction or poetry work this way. But it’s always been that way for me. I never know where the phrase will lead me and sometimes that’s fun and other times terribly difficult. Because once I get into a poem or story I forget about the phrase or word that inseminated it and I care only about finishing the piece.

Let me finish with an example. For at least 40 years I have loved the word “ukulele” because of the way it sounds and the way it’s spelled. Most people spell the word incorrectly–i.e., “ukelele.” Anyone who has labored on a copy desk loves to catch a word like that. But how often, since the death of Arthur Godfrey, does the work “ukulele” appear in print. Not often. So think of my predicament. What kind of poem would house “ukulele” well? And I am just too tired–so far–to think up a story about a “ukulele” but I suppose in the pantry of my mind I’m still looking for the right ingredients. Pray that I find them before I die and my wife takes me to the taxidermist because that’s where I told her I want to go instead of the local mortician. I told her that one day in semi-jest and it led to this poem.

Take Me to the Taxidermist

I told my wife the other night
when she came back to bed
my feet were cold so now’s
the time for me to tell her
not to bury me or burn me
or give my body to science.

Take me to the taxidermist
and have him dress me in
Cary Grant’s tuxedo, a pair
of paten leather shoes
from Fred Astaire and a
straw hat from Chevalier.

Once I’m a Hollywood star,
stand me in the garden with
that chorus line of blondes,
brunettes and redheads
I stationed there the day she
flew home to Mother in a snit.

Years later now, my dancers still
kick high enough to lance the sun.
I plan to hold a last rehearsal
once my wife motors into town
and finds a priest who’ll say
a thousand Masses for my soul.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s