4 poems by Beth Mulcahy

Punk Noir Magazine

Our Father

He can’t breathe anymore

he survived that war

but now he can’t breathe

The war that put itself in him

the one that found its way into each of us

and into all of us

like osmosis

which we hoped was real for studying

when we’d sleep with history books under our pillows

the night before a test

but not real for trauma from a war we didn’t fight

His war wasn’t in our history books

it wasn’t history yet

it wasn’t talked about

not at dinner and not

in our Collier’s 1950s encyclopedias

the war was in a basement chest

medals, combat fatigues, boot polish and a hand grenade-

hidden away, dusty, not forgotten

We knew better than to ask

where did the scars on daddy’s legs come from?

why does he shake at night?

and the anger-

we knew to just keep soldering through

that’s what soldiers do

But the war found its way out of hiding

and infused in us anyway

its fears became our fears

its paralysis, our own

Its paranoia drained our joy

It nearly took him away

Then one day it was ok to talk about

and the purple heart came out of hiding

and a documentary was made

showing all the ways that all the presidents

could have not ruined all those lives

but it didn’t erase the years of not talking about it

it didn’t change the ending

or the aftermath

I know we were the lucky ones

I know we are the lucky ones

and our father-

he can talk about it now

about what they did

and what he saw

and we can try to make sense of the torment

that found its way into our rearing

But he can’t breathe anymore

our father can’t breathe anymore

so the war stories

live in the spaces


gasps of air

that war

will never be done

and I can’t make it go away

not for me

not for him

every path I take leads back to it

But he needs air now

he only needs air

and oxygen comes in a can

Our father can’t breath and

I’m still trying to save him

A Door That Won’t Open

Like talking through a closed door that doesn’t open, I ask, are you ok over there? I come everyday to this door to listen, to knock—sometimes loudly, to get something from you, and sometimes softly just so you know I’m here, listening. Sometimes I try to look through the keyhole. Sometimes I spend hours trying to find a key that fits or a way to pick the lock. I don’t know what I hope to find. I think maybe it’s better this way. We are less likely to disappoint each other if we stay on our own sides of a door that won’t open. But how are you really doing today? What’s happening? The door is a filter through which seeps only what you want me to have. Who are you really? I can’t see what’s behind your words. I only believe you because I need to and the truth doesn’t matter. Truth is not why I’m here, only tethering. I only need you to keep coming back too. I only need us to sit here, our ears pressed against the wood, in a tenuously tight tethering.

Timber Tower

What is it with me and the logs? Why this obsession with the carcass of the beheading I ordered? You appear as though you were once an innocent tree. But we both know better. You went too far in your encroachment and now you are reduced to a mere pile of logs, a dead heap of garden ornament and I like you so much better this way.

I couldn’t take it anymore so I gave my blessing for your demise. No, no more, I said. I can’t take it anymore, I said. The black berry blemishes you left everywhere infected the whole yard with a pox, rendering it unusable. I couldn’t even look at it, let alone set foot. I was over it. I was done cleaning up your messes. Make it disappear, I said, I don’t care anymore, I said. But you didn’t disappear, you reincarnated, transformed into a shrine to yourself by which I am transfixed. A shrine I worship.

I come to you every day to see your colors from the inside out. The neat circles, fixed now. You’ve stopped aging as you weather the seasons in pieces. I watch each day take its toll on you. I see how you shine in the sun wet with dew and how you stand stoic under layers of snow and ice. Look at you now, saturated with rain. Unmoving through it all, you amount to an unflappable heap of lumber, to which I am drawn, haunted by your inevitable eventuality- a split and burn in the name of fire.


That’s what it looks like


no one can find you

no one knows where to look

no one’s even trying

That’s what it tastes like


chemicals that don’t work

bile in the back of your throat

That’s what it smells like


blood on concrete

That’s what it feels like


But the way we learned to cry—it doesn’t make a sound

Beth Mulcahy (she/her) is a Pushcart Prize-nominated poet and writer whose work has appeared in various journals, including Full House Literary and Roi Faineant Press. Her writing bridges the gaps between generations and self, hurt and healing. Beth lives in Ohio with her husband and two children and works for a company that provides technology to people without natural speech. Her latest publications can be found here: https://linktr.ee/mulcahea.