Aug 16 – University Convocation

Wednesday, August 16  “the step

you don’t want to take”  David Whyte

Convocation gathers women and men who come to work at our 3 campuses, week in and week out, to take the thousands of small steps that make a university come to life again and again.  In our tradition, today marks the first of those small steps, a day in the August calendar dedicated to beginning again.

David Whyte writes about 1st steps.  reading this poem on this particular day,  gives me a taste of rebirth.  I hope for you too.   We live days of tedious bickering in the U.S. political world, days of alarming anger, days of fear.  Perhaps we can find grace in the poet’s words, some surprises, even joy.

Best to read out loud with pauses.

Have a blest day, and a blest year

john sj


Today’s Post:  “Start Close In”

Start close in,
don’t take the second step
or the third,
start with the first
close in,
the step
you don’t want to take.

Start with
the ground
you know,
the pale ground
beneath your feet,
your own
way to begin
the conversation.

Start with your own
give up on other
people’s questions,
don’t let them
smother something

To hear
another’s voice,
your own voice,
wait until
that voice

becomes an
private ear
that can
really listen
to another.

Start right now
take a small step
you can call your own
don’t follow
someone else’s
heroics, be humble
and focused,
start close in,
don’t mistake
that other
for your own.

Start close in,
don’t take
the second step
or the third,
start with the first
close in,
the step
you don’t want to take.

River Flow: New & Selected Poems
Many Rivers Press

David Whyte b. 1955

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Aug 14 – Kenji Miyazawa 宮沢 賢治 “Be Not Defeated by the Rain”

Monday, August 14, 2017    “Never angry
Always smiling quietly
Dining daily on four cups of brown rice
Some miso and a few vegetables”

In late August 2015,  Japanese poet Kenji Miyazawa met me for the first time when I first posted this poem; it was found in his trunk after he died young in 1933.    His poem stops me —  as the middle of Lake Michigan can under its stars at 2:00 am,  or 18 men this weekend,  still and leaning in on our chairs to hear each other telling stories from our lives across 60 years.   Some of us are Jesuits, some former Jesuits; we gathered in Oshkosh, Wisconsin where we first met to risk Jesuit life 60 years ago this month in August 1957.  Mostly we were teenagers with our lives waiting for us. So we told stories — falling in love, engaging with our children, burying our loves, taking deep wounds and sometimes inflicting them, going to work and coming home — paying the prices that adults do.  60 years gave us many stories —  “good times and bad, in sickness and in health.”  So we listened to stories, laughing and crying and breathing.  We were sad when we left that place of grace Sunday afternoon.

Kenji Miyawa’s voice was schooled by the 1920s and 1930s, hard times on the Pacific rim.    Even more than most poems, “Be Not Defeated” should reward reading aloud with pauses.

Have a blest work week.  Breathe sometimes today.

john sj


Today’s Post  —  “Do not be defeated by the rain”

Unbeaten by the rain
Unbeaten by the wind
Bested by neither snow nor summer heat
Strong of body
Free of desire
Never angry
Always smiling quietly
Dining daily on four cups of brown rice
Some miso and a few vegetables
Observing all things
With dispassion
But remembering well
Living in a small, thatched-roof house
In the meadow beneath a canopy of pines
Going east to nurse the sick child
Going west to bear sheaves of rice for the weary mother
Going south to tell the dying man there is no cause for fear
Going north to tell those who fight to put aside their trifles
Shedding tears in time of drought
Wandering at a loss during the cold summer
Called useless by all
Neither praised
Nor a bother
Such is the person
I wish to be

Kenji Miyazawa, 27 August 1896 – 21 September 1933, was a Japanese poet and author of children’s literature from Hanamaki, Iwate in the late Taishō and early Shōwa periods. He was also known as an agricultural science teacher, a vegetarian, cellist, devout Buddhist, and utopian social activist.[1]}  “Be Not Defeated by the Rain”  translated from the original Japanese by Hart Larrabee. Text as posted on Tomo (08/05/2012).

Curator’s note: After the poet’s death, a black notebook containing this text was found in his trunk. The poem appears in bold strokes amidst his repetitious copying of a Buddhist mantra. According to its date (November 3, 1931), he had composed it while on his deathbed. He was only in his thirties. Visit this link to view a photograph of the poem in the notebook, the original Japanese text, two very different translations (including Larrabee’s, which I prefer), and interviews with the interpreters.

Posted by Phyllis Cole-Dai on Aug 19, 2015 12:00 am

Art credit: “Girl in the rain,” Giclée print by Pavlo Tereshin.

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Aug 11– a poem of courage and beauty written in 1921

Friday, August 11   “Young as she is, the stuff
Of her life is a great cargo, and some of it heavy:
I wish her a lucky passage.”

Richard Wilbur wrote this poem about his young daughter, as she labored to write important words,  in 1921.  The date matters.  1921 falls early in one of the meanest short stretches of fear and anger in U.S. history.  House to house raids by the federal government in violation of citizen constitutional rights (wiki “Palmer raids”),  anti-immigration undoing of the promise that had come to define The Statue of Liberty, tear gas training for police forces trying to contain street riots, 1924 the high water mark of the Ku Klux Klan’s numbers and power, and of the number of lynchings of black people.  Fear and anger and more fear.  For cause:  World War I’s chemical weapons did not kill all the wounded; lovely young people who went off to war with innocent energy returned maimed, stumbling through the streets of their home towns.

This 90 year old historical context helps me read Richard Wilbur’s lyrical love poem to his daughter with some awareness of courage in a hard time:  her courage as she labors to write something that matters and her dad’s courage to write her story.  Would these two writers, one generation apart, imagine some of us 2017 citizens finding stillness and a moment to read what he wrote about her?  Probably yes, they both show strong imaginations.

Friday in the 2nd week of August on a university campus.  Lots of courage here too as women and men work to prepare for this year’s students who are coming soon.   Best to read the poem out loud,  with pauses.


Have a blest weekend.


john sj


Today’s Post  “the writer”

In her room at the prow of the house
Where light breaks, and the windows are tossed with linden,
My daughter is writing a story.

I pause in the stairwell, hearing
From her shut door a commotion of typewriter-keys
Like a chain hauled over a gunwale.

Young as she is, the stuff
Of her life is a great cargo, and some of it heavy:
I wish her a lucky passage.

But now it is she who pauses,
As if to reject my thought and its easy figure.
A stillness greatens, in which

The whole house seems to be thinking,
And then she is at it again with a bunched clamor
Of strokes, and again is silent.

I remember the dazed starling
Which was trapped in that very room, two years ago;
How we stole in, lifted a sash

And retreated, not to affright it;
And how for a helpless hour, through the crack of the door,
We watched the sleek, wild, dark

And iridescent creature
Batter against the brilliance, drop like a glove
To the hard floor, or the desk-top,

And wait then, humped and bloody,
For the wits to try it again; and how our spirits
Rose when, suddenly sure,

It lifted off from a chair-back,
Beating a smooth course for the right window
And clearing the sill of the world.

It is always a matter, my darling,
Of life or death, as I had forgotten. I wish
What I wished you before, but harder.

     richard wilbur  March 1, 1921  –


About Wilbur’s poems, one reviewer for The Washington Post said, “Throughout his career Wilbur has shown, within the compass of his classicism, enviable variety. His poems describe fountains and fire trucks, grasshoppers and toads, European cities and country pleasures. All of them are easy to read, while being suffused with an astonishing verbal music and a compacted thoughtfulness that invite sustained reflection.”  {}

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Aug 9 — “your graceful, confident shrug and twist . . . “

Wednesday,  August 9, 2017 —  “then it is that the miracle walks in, on his swift feet . . .”

Is it harder to stand still in a place of grief or a place of joy?   Last evening, on the phone, a friend was finding words to describe a liberating moment of joy that took her/his breath away and promised to require weeks or months of revisiting the joy, learning not to be afraid of such a depth of hope.   My friend and I agreed, as it turned out, that learning to be still with grief, hard as that is,  can come more readily than learning to be still with joy.

St. Ignatius has a teaching about contemplation that suggests that both are equally important. “Attention should be paid to some more important places (i.e., in my memory of already lived experience) in which I have experienced understanding, consolation or desolation.” (Sp. Exercises par # 118).    Ignatius suggests that when I notice any of these three memories wanting my attention, I try to experience the specific memory with as much sensual recollection as possible (e.g., what time of day was it?  who was there? what were you saying to each other? what was the weather like?  what did the place smell like? . . . etc.” ) The teaching is that finding my way into a memory that wants my attention is best understood as a sensual journey that helps me get there, and stay there for a while.

Both of us were surprised that we had encountered this invitation to deep presence in a moment of shocking joy.   The memory will take some living into, perhaps for months and years.

All of which reminded me of one of Denise Levertov’s deepest poems.   Try it out,  reading aloud with pauses.  N.B., the poem’s core metaphor is a Houdini-like supple risk-taker on a high wire above a deep pit.

Have a blest work week,

john st sj

Today’s Post

The Poem Rising By Its Own Weight
The poet is at the disposal of his own night.
Jean Cocteau

The singing robes fly onto your body and cling there silkily,
You step out on the rope and move unfalteringly across it,

And seize the fiery knives unscathed and
Keep them spinning above you, a fountain
Of rhythmic rising, falling, rising

And proudly let the chains
Be wound about you, ready
To shed them, link by steel link,
padlock by padlock–

but when your graceful
confident shrug and twist drives the metal
into your flesh and the python grip of it tightens
and you see rust on the chains and blood in your pores
and you roll
over and down a steepness into a dark hole
and there is not even the sound of mockery in the distant air
somewhere above you where the sky was,
no sound but your own breath panting:
then it is that the miracle
walks in, on his swift feet,
down the precipice straight into the cave,
opens the locks,
knots of chain fall open,
twists of chain unwind themselves,
links fall asunder,
in seconds there is a heap of scrap-
metal at your ankles, you step free and at once
he turns to go —
but as you catch at him with a cry,
clasping his knees, sobbing your gratitude,
with what radiant joy he turns to you,
and raises you to your feet,
and strokes your disheveled hair,
and holds you,
holds you,
holds you
close and tenderly before he vanishes.

Denise Levertov in The Freeing of the Dust

Denise Levertov
b. October 1923  d. December 1997

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Aug 7 – Keep me from going to sleep too soon

Monday,  August 7, 2017

These early August work days feel like beginnings to me.  Summer break memories still feel recent.  Perhaps that’s why I turned to this Robert Francis poem a friend sent me early in July.  Line by line hustles with jump-start language — wake me up,  stomp on the porch, make me,  show me,  tell me,  persuade me.   Hints all through of a playful voice looking for my attention.

Have a blest work week, this first 7 day week in August.

john sj


Today’s Post  –  Robert Francis

Keep me from going to sleep too soon
Or if I go to sleep too soon
Come wake me up. Come any hour
Of night. Come whistling up the road.
Stomp on the porch. Bang on the door.
Make me get out of bed and come
And let you in and light a light.
Tell me the northern lights are on
And make me look. Or tell me clouds
Are doing something to the moon
They never did before, and show me.
See that I see. Talk to me till
I’m half as wide awake as you
And start to dress wondering why
I ever went to bed at all.
Tell me the walking is superb.
Not only tell me but persuade me.
You know I’m not too hard persuaded.

Robert Francis  August 12, 1901 – July 13, 1987

Robert Francis was born in Upland, Pennsylvania, and studied at Harvard. Although he taught at workshops and lectured at universities across the United States, he lived for over sixty years in the same house near Amherst, Massachusetts. His poems are often charmingly whimsical, presenting conundrums and mysteries with a light, lyrical touch, as in these lines from “The Black Hood”: “Thus do I praise duplicity and damn it. / I hate equivocation and I am it.” Robert Frost, an important influence on the poet, said that Francis was “of all the great neglected poets, the greatest.”

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Aug 4 — “Grandmother loans out guardian angels”

Friday, August 4, 2017

Last night my sibs and I all called each other.   Mary called to tell me that Bill’s intimate friend of 60 + years had died on the golf course, a loss for all of us, deeper for Bill, and deeper still because Chuck’s Sue is now left without him.   I tried to reach Bill 3 times with no luck; one or another of his six children were with their dad.  So I called Midge out in Nevada and we talked a while.  Then Midge & Jim’s daughter Terri came walking over from her house next door.  While we talked, I got to thinking of one of Terri’s poems; “flint hard” one poet critic described them.  For me, she’s in the same company with Denise Levertov or W. H. Auden or Joy Harjo.

Finally, I slipped a call in to Bill between his childrens’.  We talked about loss and love.  These conversations were followed by phone time with another soul friend while she drove home after a day with her husband during a long hip surgery.   Such strong family time with loves in my life.  These last days, too, I have listened to four or five deep demanding stories from other close friends whose kinship has been woven into my life for years.  Takes my breath away this Friday morning.

Yes, the wider world requires attention beyond our close joys and griefs and vigils.   The world offers us baseball games, mean violence, grinding poverty and political turmoil.   Worrisome news too of relentless, physically dangerous heat in this country, and places across the planet.    The wide world.

In my work world, this Friday marks the end of the first week after summer time.   During my morning prayer,  while I looked for a strong poem, one from my niece caught my attention.   Perhaps it will catch yours too.

Best to read the poem out loud, with pauses.   Have a blest weekend.


john st sj


Prayers That Mean Something

Grandmother loans out guardian angels.
She is generous with them, always
has an extra.  I suppose she’s been
collecting them, maybe inheriting them,
one every five years or so,
from loved ones gone.

If my need is truly great, she sends two or three, or
one of her best, my grandfather’s
or her own.  She
grips my hand, without
fragility, tells me,
“You are good” and
it means just that.

When Grandmother says she’ll pray for something,
it is wise to have faith. For her,
even wishbone wishes come true.

Her prayers are long,
include every grandchild by name.
She prays, “Dear Lord, for what is best…”
and it is not less to be one
of so many grandchildren, for
her prayers have strength.

And she prays,
“Dear God, thank you that I still am able,” as
she hangs wet clothing between
two trees older than she, but
less gnarled.

And I, without any gods, pray too, pray,  dear god dear
god, dear

that she still is able.


North west shore of Lake Michigan with whitecaps –   July 27, 2011

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Aug 1 — The Badger Ferry across the big lake — summer ending beneath a million stars

Tuesday August 1  — “here come the stars”

Yesterday, I wrote the account of my travel home from vacation for two soul friends who live in Detroit.   It turned into a card honoring St. Ignatius whose feast day was yesterday.  I sent it to 4 or 5 other friends.  This morning, it has become a journal entry for the first day of my work year, a good way to frame Robert Frost’s wonderful celebration of stars in today’s poem.

The Badger Ferry 4 hours — mid-summer heavens

Just home yesterday from 7 days on the Waupaca Chain of Lakes, a place of stillness and beauty for sjs, dedicated to play and rest, and beauty, built by a couple of smart Jesuit lay brothers c. 1896.  That’s normal late July fare for me.  But this year!  I came home to Detroit by way of a bucket-list-perfect surprise.   I took the Badger Lake Michigan Ferry  (4 hours across, from Manitowoc to Ludington) on the 1:30 am run.  Almost no sleep,  because I sat on the top deck in the wind and cold that the middle of the big lake offers,  wind and cold and stars, millions with v little ground light, maybe 6 shooting stars. I just let myself be mesmerized and very gradually began to taste the dawn out in the east.   Under those stars, I thanked the summer break for nourishing me and, using the Lakota Prayer of the Six Directions, turned toward the new work year.

Waupaca, Sunset Lake seen from the 1896 veranda porch c. 50 ft above the water.

Best to read the poem out loud, with pauses.  Welcome to 2017-18.

john sj


Today’s Post   Robert Frost

“The Literate Farmers and the Planet Venus”

Here come the stars to character the skies,
And they in the estimation of the wise
Are more divine than any bulb or arc,
Because their purpose is to flash and spark,
But not to take away the precious dark.
We need the interruption of the night
To ease attention off when overtight,
To break our logic in too long a flight,
And ask us if our premises are right

Robert Frost, 1874 – 1963

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Poetry List taking a break from being on summer break

June 26, 2017

Almost mid-summer. Feels to me like time for a break in the routine of summer break.

W H Auden came to mind while I prayed this morning.

Have a blest day as this work week begins.


john sj

Today’s Post

The chimney sweepers
Wash their faces and forget to wash the neck;
The lighthouse keepers
Let the lamps go out and leave the ships to wreck;
The prosperous baker
Leaves the rolls in hundreds in the oven to burn;
The undertaker
Pins a small note on the coffin saying “Wait till I return,
“I’ve got a date with Love.”

And deep-sea divers
Cut their boots off and come bubbling to the top,
And engine-drivers
Bring expresses in the tunnel to a stop;
The village rector
Dashes down the side-aisle half-way through a psalm;
The sanitary inspector
Runs off with the cover of the cesspool on his arm —
To keep his date with Love.

w h auden (February 1908 – September 1973)

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Celebrating Detroit’s process of rebirth

Wednesday, May 31

I hadn’t begun to look for a poem this morning for today’s post, technically at least, the final post before Work Day/Hard Time’s summer break (back again August 1).  I was only browsing Crain’s Detroit Business before turning to a poem.   This Crain’s piece caught my eye and, distracted from a poem search, I read an article with this headline:  “Orchestras conference to return to Detroit after 31 years.”  For this 35+ year Detroit homey, the piece is delicious.  It does not ignore my city’s wounds and the slow process of rebirth in more and more places within our 140 square miles.  For me, rebirth articles turn my head, often.  Like yesterday’s news that The Ford Foundation just announced that it will be opening an office in the City, a follow up on its startling $125M investment in our bankruptcy’s “Grand Bargain.”  Homeys here know that although Henry and his son Edsel founded the Ford Foundation in 1936, a fight with Henry the Deuce c. 1955 shut down the Foundation’s presence in Southeast Michigan until, c. 2 years ago.  Then, they backed our Architecture School’s process for a fifty year Detroit Future City plan.  From that start several years ago, and the Foundation’s lead role in the Grand Bargain, comes yesterday’s news about an office in the city (  Homey’s delight.

Even so, today’s piece about the Orchestras Conference coming to Motown to talk about the DSO’s pretty amazing rebirth, turns my head today.   I remember my first time at Orchestra Hall, c. 1982. The Hall’s rescue from the wrecking ball was just “in progress.” That evening, I learned during my first live performance there, why it is counted one of the acoustical wonders of the country.  Today, Orchestra Hall lives at the center of some billions of investment dollars all around it.   Next week, the DSP will  host c. 1000 orchestra people, coming to talk about how this rebirth came to be (

Yes, I’m a little giddy.  That’s partly because my week on Pine Ridge leaves me alive with beauty and a history of kinship there.  Maybe partly too because I was looking for a good send-off to the list before summer break.  I hope you check out both Crain’s articles.

Let me conclude, though, with a wonderful poem written by Rashani Rea.  The poet’s evocation of rebirth, was not explicitly written for Detroit, but . . . .   Best to read the poem out loud, with pauses.

See you c. August 1.   Have a blest summer, our beauty and turmoil and all.


john sj

Today’s Post:  “The Unbroken”

There is a brokenness
out of which comes the unbroken,
a shatteredness
out of which blooms the unshatterable.

There is a sorrow
beyond all grief which leads to joy
and a fragility
out of whose depths emerges strength.

There is a hollow space
too vast for words
through which we pass with each loss,
out of whose darkness
we are sanctioned into being.

There is a cry deeper than all sound
whose serrated edges cut the heart
as we break open to the place inside
which is unbreakable and whole,
while learning to sing.

Rashani Réa

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May 26 — goodbyes over a half century in Pine Ridge Rez

Friday, May 26, 2017
Most of this year’s time on the Rez I’ve already lived;  I begin to ease into the kind of sadness that tells me that the beauty of these long friendships and the long love of this land have found their way into my distractible imagination once again.  St Ignatius teaches that sadness during goodbyes is a good sign,  opens the beauty of the people and the place who have once again worked down into me and changed me.  So it is with most of us when our love for where we are in the world catches our attention.

Here’s the post I wrote one year ago,  David Whyte makes good company for the 2nd last of these 8 days.

Have a blest weekend.    next post on Mem Day from Motown.


john sj


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