The insight arrived in the middle of my Six Weeks, Six Poems class at Grub Street Writers in spring 2015. Responding to an exercise in which we were told to write a poem about a map to somewhere, I imagined a map that would depict part of my daughter’s cultural heritage—the Vietnamese side. I had begun to explore my husband’s family in verse, but had completely neglected my own Irish-American roots. In my poem, The Mandarin’s Robe, I imagined the silk robe’s journey through time with the Hy Nguyen family. Why did I start there? For one, my husband’s family seemed proud of their heritage. Were the Donahues? Further, because they are Vietnamese, my husband’s family was expected to keep track of their achievements, which are documented in a giant book with a red cover (of which I am now part, as the second Caucasian to marry into the family). The Donahues have no such documents. But they did have me. It was time to explore just who the Donahues are—and were. I began with a photocopy of an article my mother gave me from a nineteenth-century Boston newspaper. My great grandfather, John Thomas Donahue, worked in the bird house at the Franklin Park Zoo for 33 years—from the 1920s through part of the 1940s. I headed to The Connolly Branch Library in Jamaica Plain.
The world turned again,
when each eyeball, hoof
and fetlock was painted,
each neigh carved and preserved,
Built to migrate from city to city
followed the outstretched dollar,
with carnies riding herd.
Now children clamor
to choose their steed
to face the present:
grass, trees, buildings, pond.
Once around is never enough.
Children are born knowing this.
About the Frog Pond Carousel:
The Frog Pond Carousel was built in 1947 by the Allan Herschell Company of North Tonawanda, New York, which specialized in producing portable machines which could be used by traveling carnival operators. A museum exists in the original manufacturing facility in North Tonawanda. For information about riding the Frog Pond Carousel, visit: www.bostonfrogpond.com.