April 22 – days that look like Spring should feel – Gerard Manley Hopkins, s.j. “The Windhover”

A glimpse of spring from three years ago   —- >  leaves and flowers waking up

Posted Monday, April 18, 2016:
“Must be spring.  I checked Weather.com’s allergy tracker this morning, a respiratory spring ritual for me and for many others.  Worth it, though.  Today’s dawn might be the seventh glorious morning in a row.  Campus trees and flowers begin to show their stuff.  Adults and children skip and laugh.    Yesterday, two girls (8 years old?) played among older people who have come to watch Detroit Mercy’s women’s softball team play Green Bay’s.  The girls, one African American, one Caucasian, ran and laughed with reckless abandon and filled our urban space with . . . . with Spring.”

A year ago on a similar morning the season’s sheer beauty led me to Gerard Manley Hopkins, s.j.   “The Windhover” helps the reader come alive as its beauty of word and sound match these days.  Even if it takes two or three readings to adapt your ear to his word play, it’s worth it.   Hopkins is  [in]famous for the packed meaning of his vocabulary.   His life-long friend Robert Bridges often ground his aesthetic teeth at what seemed to him to be GMH’s unnecessary complexity.   On November 6, 1887, Hopkins wrote Bridges, attempting to explain the density of his language.   Did GMH tease his frustrated Poet Laureate friend by creating a single sentence that never seems to run out of breath?

“Plainly if it is possible to express a subtle and recondite thought on a subtle and recondite subject in a subtle and recondite way and with great felicity and perfection in the end,  something must be sacrificed, with so trying a task, in the process, and this may be the being at once, nay perhaps even the being without explanation at all, intelligible.”   

Which is more wild and crazy challenging?  Hopkin’s masterpiece “Dapple dawn drawn falcon” or his tease to his friend?   If you find the time during this spring-sunshine 2019 Monday, test it out by trying to read both out loud, with pauses.

More sun than clouds or rain this week.   Have a blest Monday.

john sj

 

Today’s Post:   “The Windhover: To Christ our Lord”

I caught this morning morning’s minion, king-
dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in
his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy!  then off, off forth on swing,
As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl
and gliding
Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird,–the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!

Brute beauty and valor and act, oh, air, pride, plume here
Buckle!  And the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!

No wonder of it:  shéer plốd makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, a my dear,
Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion.

Gerard Manley Hopkins
28 July 1844 – 8 June, 1889

https://owlcation.com/humanities/Analysis-of-Poem-The-Windhover-by-Gerard-Manley-Hopkins

Unusual Words in Windhover

Line 1 : minion – darling
Line 2 : dauphin – french for eldest son of the king
Line 4 : rung upon – to lead a horse in a circle on a long rein wimpling: rippling
Line 10 : buckle – either to fasten into one, or to collapse/crumble away.
Line 11 : chevalier – french for knight, champion
Line 12 : sillion – ridge between two furrows
Line 14 : gall – break the surface of.

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Good Friday and Refugees

Good Friday, 2019

Pope Francis, July 2013 on the island of Lampedusa spoke these words to a world just getting used to him as a new world figure. Francis chose this place of horrors at sea to call attention to the violence where refugees live.. Among other things, he said:

“Immigrants who died at sea, from that boat that, instead of being a way of hope was a way of death

. . . . . I felt that I ought to come here today to pray, (n.b., a few months since his election)

to make a gesture of closeness, but also to reawaken our consciences so that what happened would not be repeated.  Not repeated, please!”

The Jesuit Gesu parish just north of our campus, entrances me each year as the rhythm of Holy Week invites us into this Thursday, Friday, and Saturday before exploding into Easter beauty. Tonight in church I looked around at friends with whom I have shared so much living. We welcomed each other again into our Holy Week rituals, alive with children and singing and stillness. We become, for a time and more than usual, a listening church. I read among us the commitments and the losses we have lived. Good Friday, tomorrow, asks that we stay close to the violent wounds, and violent wounding, which wear on us all. Good Friday is a day to “reawaken our consciences.”

What might make a poem that can compel us to pay attention to the violent places in this world? This year for me Warsan Shire’s refugee poem helps me not to lose focus, the way strong poems do. One estimate sets the number of refugees who have had to leave home and walk the roads of the world at c. 60,000,000. I am proud of my brother Jesuit, Pope Francis, for bringing his gift of hospitality, and bring us who hear him speak, into very hard places. Warsan Shire’s poems, flint hard, unrelenting, reminds me of Francis and Francis reminds me of Warsan Shire.

Best to read her poem out loud, with pauses. An inner place of listening to restore our kindness with courage so we can continue to pay attention.

Have a blest day,
john sj

Text # 3: – Warsan Shire, “Home”

no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark.
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well.

your neighbours running faster
than you, the boy you went to school with who kissed you dizzy behind
the old tin factory is
holding a gun bigger than his body,

you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.

no one would leave home unless home chased you, fire under feet,
hot blood in your belly.

it’s not something you ever thought about doing, and so when you did –
you carried the anthem under your breath, waiting until the airport toilet

to tear up the passport and swallow,
each mouthful of paper making it clear that you would not be going back.

you have to understand,
no one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land.

who would choose to spend days
and nights in the stomach of a truck
unless the miles traveled
meant something more than journey.

no one would choose to crawl under fences,
be beaten until your shadow leaves you,
raped, then drowned, forced to the bottom of
the boat because you are darker, be sold,
starved, shot at the border like a sick animal,
be pitied, lose your name, lose your family,
make a refugee camp a home for a year or two or ten,
stripped and searched, find prison everywhere
and if you survive and you are greeted on the other side
with go home blacks, refugees

dirty immigrants, asylum seekers
sucking our country dry of milk,
dark, with their hands out
smell strange, savage –
look what they’ve done to their own countries,
what will they do to ours?

the dirty looks in the street
softer than a limb torn off,
the indignity of everyday life
more tender than fourteen men who
look like your father, between
your legs, easier to swallow
than rubble, than your child’s body
in pieces – for now, forget about pride
your survival is more important.

i want to go home, but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home tells you to
leave what you could not behind, even if it was human.

no one leaves home until home
is a damp voice in your ear saying
leave, run now, i don’t know what
i’ve become.

Warsan Shire b. 1 August 1988
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Warsan_Shire

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April 17 mid-day in Holy Week – – Rumi, Sufi mystic 1207 – 1273

Wednesday,  April 17, 2019

“Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows . . . ”

In traditional Catholic faith practice, Holy Week can take a lot of living up to.  The intimate closeness of the Christian teaching that points to Jesus as human and divine, rubs closely with playful human tenderness together with work-a-day violence that wears the world all year long.   But, this week pays particular attention to the collision of Christ and violence.  I incline to treat the impulse for “living up to” this week as a distraction.  Better, perhaps, to let the texts and music of these seven days knock on the door of my awareness now and then, surprising me in the middle of the plans and deadlines and the joys of kinship that make up a lot of daily life.  And remind me that there lives beneath the ordinary stuff depths that open me to stark and delicate graces.

Rumi’s poem, “The Guest House,” explores this mystery of living a reality both ordinary and vast.    Best to read the poem out loud.  From a person still growing in this faith tradition, still learning to allow what runs deep to mingle with what hustles along on ordinary daily paths . . . .  Have a blest week.

 

john sj

Today’s Post:   “The Guest House”

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī  (جلال‌الدین محمد رومی‎)
Persian poet, jurist, Islamic scholar, theologian, and Sufi mystic 1207-1273

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April 15 – Monday of Holy week – remembering Connie de Biase, sj ( † Feb 10, 2017, c. 6:15 pm)

Monday April 15, 2019 – “a mutual commitment to noticing”

Over 4 decades of kinship, Connie de Biase and I shared a mutual commitment to noticing.   Now that she’s left us,  I miss her most on Saturday mornings when driving into center city to buy Avalon Bakery fresh bread for my Jesuit community.    As I drove home, we would tell stories  about our inner lives.  Through Connie’s last year, our talk became more brave and sad as she recognized her growing diminishment and her grief at losing the life in Madison, CT that she loved and lived so gracefully.  Ignatius calls this kind of story-telling, paying attention to our “inner disturbances” (i.e., both  consolations and desolation), a commitment to noticing.

N.B., what follows was originally posted January 23, 2017 (c, 2 weeks before Connie died)

“Perhaps this Denise Levertov poem came to mind because this last Saturday I flew into JFK, braved Long Island’s expressways with their too tight turns and  too-narrow lanes, to spend time with my dying soul friend, Sr. Consuela de Biase, csj.   Connie has become frail.  She misses nothing, I gradually realized, but you have to lean in close to hear.  Worn with fatigue, she whispers, with long pauses to breathe.  We visited three times  (c. 90 minutes,  25 minutes, and 5 minutes when we said goodbye before I headed back to JFK early Sunday).  She let me know that she heard every word even as her life’s energy slipped away. The 40 mile drive on the parkway immersed me in sadness from one of my life’s deepest goodbyes, tender and still.  The miles and our 3 whispered conversations are of a piece with decades of mutual listening, the fabric of Connie’s life.

Monday of Holy Week, 2019

In today’s poem Denise Levertov writes of an ancient poet whose frail strengths remind me of my friend.   This Monday of Holy Week in Detroit, even with its soft morning rain,  invites me to open a window to read “In Love” out loud, with pauses.  No matter where you are as you read today’s post, the Levertov’s language holds a promise of surprise.  For Christians these days are called “Holy Week.”  Wherever your soul and imagination locates you in the world, I wish you the poet’s story telling and its sacred place for listening.

johns sj

Today’s Post   “In Love”

Over gin and tonic (an unusual treat) the ancient poet
haltingly —not because mind and memory
falter, but because language, now,
weary from so many years
of intense partnership,
comes stiffly to her summons,
with unsure footing —
recounts, for the first time in my hearing, each step
of that graceful sarabande, her husband’s
last days, last minutes, fifteen years ago.

She files her belongings freestyle, jumbled
in plastic bags — poems, old letters, ribbons,
old socks, an empty picture frame;
but keeps her fifty years of marriage wrapped, flawless,
in something we sense and almost see —
diaphanous as those saris one can pass through a wedding ring.

Denise Levertov  1923 – 1997

 

Connie laughing,  smiling,  contemplative  August 2006

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April 12 – “is it harder to stand still in a place of grief or a place of joy”

Friday, April 12, 2019

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

Is it harder to stand still in a place of grief or a place of joy?   About two years ago, a friend described a moment of  liberating joy that took her/his breath away that would s/he thought require weeks of revisiting the joy, learning not to be afraid of its depth and inner resonance.  My friend and I agreed, as it turned out, that learning to be still with grief, hard as that is,  usually comes more readily than learning to be still with joy.  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 strongest poems.   Try it out,  reading aloud with pauses.  N.B., the poem’s core metaphor is a supple, Houdini-like risk-taker on a high wire above a deep pit.

rain this morning in the mid-U.S., a monster storm gradually following a typical West to East pattern;   lots of troubles in Denver, and Western South Dakota, both places dear to me, especially my Lakota soul friends on Pine Ridge, some had to take refuge in motels.

Have a blest weekend,

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
Flames,

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

b. October 1923  d. December 1997
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Denise_Levertov

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April 10 – three voices for a time of high tension, fear, and anger — a prophet, a pope, a poet

Posted on February 6, 2017 by mission-and-identity

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

“If you remove from your midst oppression,
false accusation and malicious speech” . . . Isaiah 58

Pre-note: today’s post is longer than ordinary, and quotes 3 authors, the prophet Isaiah, Pope Francis, and the muslim poet Warsan Shire. I think you will find them worth the time they require.

Have a blest day.

John st sj

********    ********    ********

When I first encountered these three texts, they seemed at first glance somewhat unrelated. The Warsan Shire poem, “Home,” was new to me, sent by a friend in our English Department. The second is familiar, Isaiah’s eloquent prophecy from Chapter 58.   “Unrelated”?  What was I thinking?  Unrelated only on the surface.  The tensions roiling the world  – –  fear of, and anger at,  the millions of women, men and child immigrants on the roads of the world today,  so like the little family of Mary, Joseph, and their child Jesus,  torn from their sleep to flee in terror from soldiers trying to find and kill them – –  fear and anger about “the stranger” confronts every reader of the “Work day in a Hard Time” poetry list.  Our fear wears on us all. It can remind us that violence toward immigrants has erupted in this country before, (e.g. 1844, 1877, 1920-24). Such troubles aren’t limited to the 2+ centuries of the U.S. either.  Isaiah addressed them centuries ago.

Text # 1: Isaiah 58:7-10

Thus says the LORD:
Share your bread with the hungry,
shelter the oppressed and the homeless;
clothe the naked when you see them,
and do not turn your back on your own.
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your wound shall quickly be healed;
your vindication shall go before you,
and the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer,
you shall cry for help, and he will say: Here I am!
If you remove from your midst
oppression, false accusation and malicious speech;
if you bestow your bread on the hungry
and satisfy the afflicted;
then light shall rise for you in the darkness,
and the gloom shall become for you like midday.

Text # 2: Pope Francis:

In July, 2013, for his first trip as Pope, Francis chose the tiny island of Lampedusa, just off Sicily, a place home to the dangers and deaths of immigrants trying to enter Europe. That day Francis spoke to the whole world to “reawaken our consciences.”   Here is a short clip.   “Immigrants who died at sea, from a boat that, instead of being a way of hope was a way of death. . .   I felt that I ought to come here today to pray, to make a gesture of closeness, but also to reawaken our consciences so that what happened would not be repeated. Not repeated, please!”

Text # 3: – Warsan Shire, “Home”

This is the second Warsan Shire poem for the Work Day/Hard Time list. Her words remind me of Isaiah 58.  As always, it’s best to read the poet out loud, with pauses.  However, I find it a lot harder than with most Work Day posts, to read these next words out loud.

no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well

your neighbors running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.

no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
your neck
and even then you carried the anthem under
your breath
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilet
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.

you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
under trains
beneath carriages
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
means something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten
pitied

no one chooses refugee camps
or strip searches where your
body is left aching
or prison,
because prison is safer
than a city of fire
and one prison guard
in the night
is better than a truckload
of men who look like your father
no one could take it
no one could stomach it
no one skin would be tough enough

the
go home blacks
refugees
dirty immigrants
asylum seekers
sucking our country dry
niggers with their hands out
they smell strange
savage
messed up their country and now they want
to mess ours up
how do the words
the dirty looks
roll off your backs
maybe because the blow is softer
than a limb torn off

or the words are more tender
than fourteen men between
your legs
or the insults are easier
to swallow
than rubble
than bone
than your child body
in pieces.
i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
drown
save
be hunger
beg
forget pride
your survival is more important

no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
saying-
leave,
run away from me now
i dont know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here

Warsan Shire

(SomaliWarsan ShireArabic: ورسان شرى‎‎, born 1 August 1988)
is a London–based- Somali writer, poet, editor and teacher.[1]  (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Warsan_Shire)

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April 8 – David Grubin introduced Jane Kenyon in a morning email Feb 22, 2017

Monday, April 8, 2019 “There’s just no accounting for happiness”  

I’d not met Jane Kenyon until David Grubin caught my attention with her “Happiness” in an email this morning.   Kenyon gets it about understated and playful joy emerging from tough work-a-day realities.  She reminds me of Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem” and W H Auden’s “Song”.  It happens that during these past days of angry news, I’ve been looking for subtle poems that show readers playful delight that has paid its dues in grief but are not locked down there.

In severe and dangerous times, strong poetry is more important than in easier times. J K makes space for both in “happiness.”

Best to read out loud, with pauses.   —->  Have a blest week.

john sj

 

Today’s Post:   “HAPPINESS”

There’s just no accounting for happiness,
or the way it turns up like a prodigal
who comes back to the dust at your feet
having squandered a fortune far away.

And how can you not forgive?
You make a feast in honor of what
was lost, and take from its place the finest
garment, which you saved for an occasion
you could not imagine, and you weep night and day
to know that you were not abandoned,
that happiness saved its most extreme form
for you alone.

No, happiness is the uncle you never
knew about, who flies a single-engine plane
onto the grassy landing strip, hitchhikes
into town, and inquires at every door
until he finds you asleep midafternoon
as you so often are during the unmerciful
hours of your despair.

It comes to the monk in his cell.
It comes to the woman sweeping the street
with a birch broom, to the child
whose mother has passed out from drink.
It comes to the lover, to the dog chewing
a sock, to the pusher, to the basketmaker,
and to the clerk stacking cans of carrots
in the night.
It even comes to the boulder
in the perpetual shade of pine barrens,
to rain falling on the open sea,
to the wineglass, weary of holding wine.

Jane Kenyon (b. 1947 – d. 1995  {leukemia} )

 

Note # 1)

In Today’s AJCU Conversations, Ron Bernas’ “Living the Mission at the University of  Detroit Mercy” is a great read;  makes me proud to work here.

(http://www.ajcunet.edu/february-2017-connections-mission-identity-programs-on-jesuit-campuses/2017/2/14/university-of-detroit-mercy-thematic)

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Friday, April 5, Tigers’ home opening day – – – plus 1

Friday morning Pre-note:   We sent this post yesterday at 11:21 a.m. as you will see it just below.  It didn’t go through despite multiple tries.  We could not engineer a fix until late last night.  In the meantime, the Tigers, especially a crew of very young players, won again, another strong pitching effort . . . and a few even hit the ball to good effect.   So we are being treated to an improbable early start (https://www.freep.com/story/sports/mlb/tigers/2019/04/04/detroit-tigers-opening-day-win/3370714002/).

Hope springs eternal.    Have a blest weekend.   Gray today,  some sun + high of 64° tomorrow.   Sweet!    Have a blest weekend.

john sj

Thursday, April 4

Opening Day in Motown = Ernie Harwell and The Song of Solomon.

For me, Opening Day in Detroit brings the turn from winter to spring into focus.   Better even, perhaps, than a 20 inch blizzard,  well . . .  maybe they are even sources of beauty and joy for me.     Can’t say how good it feels to listen to Ernie Harwell.  Here he is on a YouTube clip and in print from The Song of Solomon.

http://sites.udmercy.edu/mission-and-identity/2017/04/07/april-7-opening-day-at-the-ball-park-ernie-harwell/

For, lo, the winter is past,
The rain is over and gone;
The flowers appear on the earth;
The time of the singing of birds is come,
And the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.

Song of Solomon

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GGbwTyK-OIs
Read on Tigers Opening Day for decades by Ernie Harwell

January 25, 1918 – May 4, 2010

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ernie_Harwell

Ernie, lots of us miss you.  jstsj

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April 1st Edna St. Vincent Millay – “Spring”

Monday,  April 1, 2019

“To what purpose, April, do you return again?”

Several years ago, The New York Times ran a piece on the 1924 Democratic National Convention.  When teaching US history, I found it helpful to single out 1924 as the meanest of the mean years that roamed the land in the wake of World War I, that brutal, demoralizing war.   Clumsy reconstructive surgery for veterans who had not died from their their wounds, marked their bodies life-long.  None worse, perhaps, than damage from the new chemistry, poison gas.  And for a young nation alive with fresh new art forms and  industrial achievement, exultant with liberating moral codes (e.g., U.S. women won the right to vote in 1920), the post-war years woke anger and fear on many fronts.  Racism in the US reached one of its most intense boiling points.  The Ku Klux Klan peaked in numbers and influence in 1924; lynchings of African Americans peaked that year as well.  The Democratic National Convention played all this out in a way that makes current Partisan nastiness look tame; 103 votes to name a candidate, two evenly matched caucuses (Irish Catholic Tammany Hall vs the Klan).  Violence was strategic and colorful:  fist fights, live roosters released in the galleries, thrown chairs on the convention floor (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/16/nyregion/gop-path-recalls-democrats-convention-disaster-in-1924.html?_r=0)  —>  Read it; guaranteed to blow your mind.)

Such was the world in which Nobel Laureate Edna St. Vincent Millay, 31 at the time, wrote this hard poem. She lifts a line from Shakespeare’s Macbeth who understood that beauty in words can carry hard edges and liberate the imagination (“Life in itself/ Is nothing,/An empty cup, a flight of uncarpeted stairs.”).  The poem can invite the reader to recognize human kinship with the mean and violent as well as the tender and brave.  “Out loud with pauses?”  Give it a try.  Edna might hear our efforts to pay attention and be smiling.

Have a blest week.

john sj

p.s. Hard news from today notwithstanding,  opening day for Tigers baseball is just around the corner; trees begin to bud; I hear rumors of daffodil sightings and I saw my first robin 20 feet outside my West-facing window.

Today’s Post   “Spring”   1921

To what purpose, April, do you return again?
Beauty is not enough.
You can no longer quiet me with the redness
Of little leaves opening stickily.
I know what I know.
The sun is hot on my neck as I observe
The spikes of the crocus.
The smell of the earth is good
It is apparent that there is no death.
But what does that signify?
Not only under ground are the brains of men
Eaten by maggots
Life in itself
Is nothing,
An empty cup, a flight of uncarpeted stairs.
It is not enough that yearly, down this hill,
April
Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.

Edna St. Vincent Millay  in 1933
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edna_St._Vincent_Millay

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March 29 – Terri Breeden (my niece) about early days on her grandmother’s front porch

Friday, March 29, 2019  “I was nine that summer . . . ”

I saw & heard my first robin yesterday,  standing on the roof of our courtyard cloister walk inspecting the early morning, then leaping up into the air and getting about the day.  A few light-work days allow me to catch up on small tasks, the beginnings of building back toward strong Nordictrack habits, and opening day for baseball.  The Tigers won in the 10th in Toronto.  Soon too I’ll drive up I-94 to the Blue Water Bridge into Canada to spend an evening with Bill Clarke, sj in Guelph.  I first met Bill in the summer of 1980 when he directed my silent 30 day retreat, something Jesuits do at least two times in their lives.  St. Ignatius called the 30 days “a school of the affections,”  a time during which you re-learn the patterns of your feelings:   what dis-affections distract you, what affections open you to a wider, deeper world of the heart, a school of your affections.   The thirty days teach you how you already pray, so you can trust that in yourself, good days and hard days both.   That summer Bill taught me how to trust the graces of my life.  Every few months, this four hour drive gives me time with him; it’s worth every mile.  Oh yes, and as I drive over the Blue Water Bridge, I sing “O Canada.”

“Octogenarian” appeared on this list twice before, my niece Terri Breeden’s recollection of learning new words while playing cards with her grandmother on the front porch, learning of gratitude and mortality.  Best to read out loud, with pauses.

Have a blest weekend.

john sj

p.s. We buried my mother in 2015 at age 102.

 

Today’s Post   “Octogenarian”

I was nine that summer
when you taught me satiated.
It came after precocious
and pernicious, but was obviously
and immediately the best word yet.

We refill the drinks with extra ice, cool ourselves
with condensation, that slick of sweat dripping down
our glasses. You proffer crackers; I decline,
satiated and smug about it. You shuffle and deal, while the sun
slowly loses its glower in the Menomonee River.

I place each card carefully, fingers splayed,
intent.  I hunch a bit, slanting my anticipation
toward the deck in those gnarled fingers, toward
the sheen of sun on water, the road and the bridge,
the cities on the far side, toward you.

It doesn’t matter what we play: 66, gin rummy,
cribbage, even two hands of solitaire, laid out
like opposing armies or fields fresh planted, seven shirts
spaced out on each side of the clothesline, falling straight,
quiet in the fading heat.

You hold your cards loosely, competent,
a word from last summer, but you don’t
always win.  I learn to bridge the cards without
spraying any into the porch screen,
dragonflies darting toward the river.

I learn about matrimony from the thin band
embedded in the swollen skin of your ring finger, about eternity
from the way you refer to Grandpa as though
he were still here. And I learn about gratitude
without noticing, even how to spell it.

Some things though I didn’t learn, like when you taught me
octogenarian and I thought it meant
a person eight decades old, thought
it meant you at your next birthday, never comprehending
that it really meant
you would leave me someday.

Terri Breeden, Carson City, NV

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