Father’s Day: poems by Bonnie J. Toomey and Susan Mahan

Game Face Too

I didn’t realize
how long he’d been
wearing it
until it was too late.
Mom didn’t believe the oncologist.
She said Dad must have been poisoned.

Until he outgrew it,
I didn’t realize how long
he’d been wearing it –
for all of us.

Dad left his game face behind.
Sometimes, I try it on for size.
its the only thing that

Bonnie J. Toomey © 2015

Blogger, essayist, and columnist, Bonnie Toomey ruminates myriad issues facing families today. When she’s not delving into her graduate studies and teaching writing at Plymouth State University, she’s whispering poems into her grandson’s ears. Her limns are in The Penwood Review and The Bay State Echo. Her essays, op-eds, and feature articles have appeared in Parenting New Hampshire and Baystateparent Magazine, and are published weekly in the Fitchburg Sentinel & Enterprise. Here’s a link to her website.



Night and Day

My father wore pressed white shirts and bow ties.
He buffed his leather shoes to a high shine.
He was serious, thoughtful and polite,
drawing on his pipe to consider his words.
Dad wouldn’t say horseshit
if he was standing in a pile of it.

My grandfather had the deepest dimples and a twinkle in his eye.
He chewed tobacco and kept a spit jar in his pocket.
Sometimes Papa Matt wore his pajamas
the whole time we were there.
Nana was always mad at him and giving him a look.
Papa Matt had a raspy Irish brogue,
and he cackled at his own stories.
His speech was peppered with occasional curses
and words like hoodwink and malarky.

Dad bought my sisters and me valentines every year,
signing Love, Dad in his meticulous left-handed cursive.
He told us stories about World War II on our daytime walks
and Aesop’s fables at bedtime.
He taught me that life was tough sometimes,
but that you could get through it if you did the right thing.
My little sister said his stories were boring,
and she didn’t understand
what “slow and steady wins the race” meant.

Sometimes I forgot what Dad was talking about
if he paused too long in thought,
but I had decided that my father and I were tortoises.
My sister was a hare.

Papa Matt thought it was important to pay attention
and to keep the upper hand.
His standing advice was to
answer the door with a hat and coat on.
If it was someone you liked,
you could say you had just gotten home;
if not, you could say you were on your way out.

Papa Matt taught me to be skeptical.

Dad taught me to believe.

Susan Mahan © November 2001

Susan Mahan has been writing poetry since her husband died in 1997. She is a frequent reader at poetry venues, including the Boston Public Library and the Catbird Café in Weymouth. She has self-published four chap books, including, “Missing Mum” 2005, and “World View” 2009. She joined the editorial staff of The South Boston Literary Gazette in 2002. She has been published in a number of anthologies, including Kiss Me Goodnight, Solace in So Many Words, Living Lessons, Crave It: Writers and Artists Do Food, Cradle Songs: An Anthology About Motherhood, and more recently in The Widows’ Handbook and Shifts: An Anthology of Women’s Growth Through Change, She has also been included in poetry exhibits in Boston City Hall for the last 3 years.

Thanks to Bonnie and Susan for letting me share their poems — happy Father’s Day!


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  1. Beth BC says:

    What a moving statement in that poem by Bonnie Toomey. It says something about how we all approach life .

  2. Ellen Beals says:

    Thanks for reading. Yes, I think “Game Face” is moving too. Now I won’t come across the phrase without thinking of this poem.

  3. Bonnie J. Toomey says:

    Thank you, Ellen and Beth for your kind words.

  4. Heidi Yates says:

    Very nice poem Game Face, sure describes dad and how he dealt with things.

  5. Frances strayer says:

    I was moved by Bonnie Toomey’s poem. It makes me ponder the importance of having a “game face”. Thank you

  6. Bonnie J. Toomey says:

    Susan’s poem is a wonderful comparative narrative of how the ones we love shape us.
    Her father’s drawing on his pipe to consider a thought, and her grandfather’s tobacco spit jar in his pocket create strong images. Thank you, Susan.

  7. Ellen Beals says:

    Thanks for reading — I think lots of fathers have a “game face.”

  8. Ellen Beals says:

    Thanks for reading — Bonnie’s poem made me think of my own father and how we try to be stoic. Thanks again.

  9. Ellen Beals says:

    Yes, I agree! Great images here that we all can see and relate to — Susan painted a lovely, detailed portrait.

  10. Holly says:

    Wonderful poem, Bonnie! Reminds me of how we take on the characteristics of our parents at times..looking forward to reading more.

  11. Ellen Beals says:

    Thanks for reading. Bonnie’s poem made me think about that too.

  12. Susan Shapiro says:

    What a beautiful poem by Bonnie. Wow. Touches the edge and sits there and tells the reader where she is. That’s my experience. Thanks for posting.

  13. Ellen Beals says:

    Thanks for reading. Your description of Bonnie’s poem is right-on.

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