In July of 1985, Thomas Porky McDonald arrived in Brooklyn to work for the New York City Transit Authority. For two decades, he surveyed the grounds, the air and the heartbeat of what he would come to consider his second home. More than anything though, he found the writer and poet within himself while navigating Brooklyn, and that translated into short stories, historical narratives and the poetry that defines the Irishman who showed up one day on the “G” train from nearby Queens.
Dem Poems: The Brooklyn Collection is a celebration of McDonald’s 20 years spent as a Brooklyn regular, where some of the most relevant pieces in the poet’s arsenal were born. Beginning with a nod to the many fabled icons of the Borough, like the Brooklyn Bridge (“Steel Ropes”), Ebbets Field (“Bedford Interlude”) and Coney Island (“Take a Message Back to Sundown”), as well as the area’s landscape itself (“Just a Walk On Flatbush Avenue,” “Trolley Tracks”), the volume then settles into more personal poems about those who first graced his life in Brooklyn. Pieces like “Notes On the Hallway Choir,” “Sister Theresa” and “A Ride On the I.N.T.” speak reverently of friendships shared and grown, while leading the reader toward the two most visceral sections in the collection.
Retirees (“Waltz into the Night”), escapees (“Southbound”) and others moving on (“Bittersweet Moments”) form a joyous prelude to a number of more somber homecoming pieces, such as “Sonic Whispers,” “One More” and “Where Pain Doth Cease.” In the final pages of the book, Brooklyn baseball, which was the original muse for McDonald during his earliest days in Kings County, is lauded in both the past (“The Kids From the Old Neighborhood,” “Dem, I and Eden,” “The Sentry”) and present (“At Brooklyn,” “Eternity Day”) forms.
In October of 2005, McDonald was amongst a large contingent from NYC Transit that was banished from Brooklyn, to their new base in Lower Manhattan (though he would still return across the river on a regular basis). Dem Poems presents the kid from Queens in his most comfortable role as the poet from Brooklyn. For anyone who has ever been to Brooklyn for a significant amount of time, this book is a keeper.