May 23 – William Carlos Williams – a surprise close connection across decades

Wednesday May 23
“It turns out that Williams, despite fragile health in his later years, mentored younger poets at his home.
One of them was Denise Levertov, a favorite of yours.”

I met “George” (sun glasses . . .  the note just below) in early September 1973;  we were both finding our way around on the first day at U Penn’s PhD program in American Studies.  45 years later we remain good friends and sometimes trade stories of discovery, or grief, or beauty.   Yesterday, George surprised me.  From reading the Work Day/Hard Times poetry list he knew that the poets William Carlos Williams and Denise Levertov often find their way from my memory and imagination onto the pages of this list.  Until yesterday morning I had no notion that Carlos Williams and Levertov, though a long generation apart,  had a personal connection.   An aging poet-pediatrician mentoring a young poet just finding her way into her compelling public imagination.   Until yesterday, I had no notion that these two poets, both of whom I have come to cherish, shared a living room where William Carlos Williams listened to Denise Levertov’s young voice and told her what he heard.

George.  I owe you.  Thanks a million.

john sj


Today’s Post:   George Danko to jstsj May 22

Dear John,

I recently read a children’s book, A River of Words, about William Carlos Williams, the pediatrician and poet who wrote and administered to families in my hometown of Rutherford, New Jersey. His son also followed his father in a medical career and was my pediatrician. It turns out that Williams, despite fragile health in his later years, mentored younger poets at his home. One of them was Denise Levertov, a favorite of yours.



William Carlos Williams:     The Manoeuvre

I saw the two starlings
coming in toward the wires
But at the last,
just before alighting, they

turned in the air together
and landed backwards!
that’s what got me —
to face into the wind’s teeth.

William Carlos Williams
September 17, 1883 – March 4, 1963


Denise Levertov:  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
b. October 1923  d. December 1997

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May 14 — Commencement Week just ended

Monday May 14 — “A silence in which another voice may speak”   Mary Oliver

{a memory from 2014’s ceremonies}:   “In Dentistry many graduates are hooded by one or two or three of their kin who are already dentists; In Law three faculty have the hooding down to a rhythm. Even so, one tall grad knelt down as if to help the hooders reach over the top of his head, only to take an engagement ring out of his pocket and hold it out to one of those hooding;   he asked her to marry him. Saturday’s Baccalaureate Mass packed the Gesu Church. At the main campus commencement, the University first hooded Gerry Stockhausen, sj our immediate past president. His “Doctor of Humane Letters Honoris Causa” address was laced with wisdom and corny jokes. No one who had shared time with him at UDM was surprised. One UDM trustee, Brian Cloyd from Steelcase in Grand Rapids, told me how moved he was by the diversity of the main campus students as they walked to receive their diplomas. The whole human fabric, it seemed, showed itself; all of us were invited to pay attention to the beauty that we are.”

{Commencement days 2018}:  Lots of immediate work to dress campus at its best.  Lots of logistic work to get graduates dressed for the solemnity; get the music right, get hospitality ready for speakers and alums, plus this year managing lots of rain.  Also a masterpiece of family love as one of the graduates in the McAuley School of Nursing line was surprised by her brother in his Navy working uniform holding out a bouquet of flowers.  He had arranged a micro leave to give her the flowers and hold her in a long tender embrace before he hustled out of Caliban Hall to get back on duty.    Deep surprise and deep sibling love.

Today’s post has a name for this kind of paying attention; Mary Oliver calls it “Praying.”

Have a good day.

john sj



It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.

Mary Oliver


Something to catch my attention  – one flower undaunted by concrete
Front sidewalk of Lansing Reilly – July 20, 2008 – 8:31 am


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May 9 — Howard Gray died

Wednesday May 9   “it is more important to be grateful for your love . . . ”

Howard Gray’s unexpected death stunned many people.  Mutual friends wrote me and we reminded one another of the wisdom and kindness he brought to his listening.   These conversations brought to mind women and men who welcomed me and helped me welcome the world,  mentored me deep into my adulthood. Howard was surely one.

Once, many years ago we were talking about the demands of loving another adult and of letting her/his love take hold in my life.   I have never forgotten one Howard sentence, one of the wisest teachings about love ever.  I’ve tried to abide by this wisdom ever since.

“It is more important to be grateful for your love than to manage your behavior within that love”

In his one-on-one conversations as well as in countless talks with groups Howard counseled courage:  “Risk the loves that are given into your life, on good days and hard days; risk it and be grateful.”   Thank you, Howard,   I miss  you.


john sj

Today’s post:  Denise Levertov

Prayer for Revolutionary Love

That a woman not ask a man to leave meaningful work to follow her
That a man not ask a woman to leave meaningful work to follow him.
That no one try to put Eros in bondage
But that no one put a cudgel in the hands of Eros.
That our loyalty to one another and our loyalty to our work
not be set in false conflict.
That our love for each other give us love for each other’s work
That our love for each other’s work give us love for one another.
That our love for each other’s work give us love for one another.
That our love for each other give us love for each other’s work.
That our love for each other, if need be,
give way to absence.  And the unknown.
That we endure absence, if need be,
without losing our love for each other.
Without closing our doors to the unknown.

Denise Levertov         1923 – 1997

Howard Gray, SJ        1930 – 2018

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Commencement week – a shout out for graduates, families, and mentors

Monday, May 7  — Gerard Manly Hopkins, sj  —  beauty & courage

This week the university holds three commencements.  Graduates,  families and friends infuse fresh wonder and pride into these ancient rituals of achievement.  Moms and dads, relatives and friends come dressed to the nines as they watch “their graduate” walk, and shake the President’s hand, and receive their diploma from him.   Year after year it blows our minds.

St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, encouraged paying attention to the choices that led me to where I am now, and to  celebrate those choices.   Catherine McAuley, the founder of the Sisters of Mercy, lived this same wisdom.  She and her sisters, risked ministering to the brutal poverty of Ireland in the 1800s.    Catherine often kept watch at a young sister’s death bed,  sharing her grief at dying so young, and recognizing that the one keeping her company was heartbroken too.  Catherine “celebrated” these terrible moments with playful jokes and strong tea.

Today’s poem — Hopkin’s morning falcon riding sharp wind currents — may help the reader come close to what commencement’s excitement is all about, —- that is to say, every daring risk students or their faculty take to dare excellence.

Best to read out loud, with pauses.

Have a blest week


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, sj

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May 4 – about early spring up North + a news note about hip surgery

Friday,  May 4  –  “I watch the spring come slow-ly”

Traveling north-south, south-north during season changing time lets trees and ground plants show their stuff to visitors.  Readers from where I live in Detroit will recognize in the poem how much farther north it is in mid-Maine today.  Poet Rhonda Neshama Waller offers readers to her south a taste of what down here was weeks ago — “warm sun, after a week of rain, hail, snow.”   In Detroit, we’ll touch 80º over the weekend, most of our leaves have spread to full size, tulips have already blown our minds.   Which part of spring is more beautiful?  “Yes.”

Have a great weekend.


john sj

Today’s Post  –  “Spring Comes to Maine”  

Sonnet May 10

Almost mid-May, I watch the spring come slow-
ly day by day, pale lime-green moving up
from Sheepscot Valley towards my mountaintop,
up here the leaves still furled. Two eagles flew,
late afternoon, just past the east window.
Today, wild violets everywhere I step,
bright golden dandelions on the slope,
warm sun, after a week of rain, hail, snow.
Remembering to match my pace to this,
to note the details of each day’s new turn,
the distant hills still patched with lavender,
deep green of fir, the changing moments pass.
For dinner I’ll have buttered fiddlehead fern,
The daffodils are opening in the grass.

Rhoda Neshama Waller

Art credit: “Two adults from the local Bald Eagle family,” photograph taken August 19, 2012, near Pembroke, Maine (USA), perhaps.

{first posted May 15, 2015}


p.s. People who live where I do have noticed my gait looking bad.  Sometimes strangers ask me some version of “can I help you?” and carry my stuff, humbling and touching.  Finally, yesterday I met a hip surgeon who looked at my x-rays & showed me the x-ray from ten years ago when we replaced my left hip  (at that time zero cartilage and growing bone spurs).  Surgery worked wonders.  He compared that 10 year x-ray with today’s.   Same thing,  zero cartilage bone-on-bone.   He asked “why did you wait so long?”   Good question.   At any rate, the first open date we found is June 20.  I’ll have to miss some travel which is important to me but imagining the absence of chronic pain smells good to me even at this distance.


p.p.s.  Leigh Star, a soul friend who died too young, wrote me this blessing the day after hip surgery # 1.  I miss her.

“I will think of your body gladly giving up this pain and accepting a stranger into its midst, learning to live with its new ways.”

January 9, 2008

Leigh Star  1954-2010

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May 2 – Denise Levertov – Agnus Dei”

May’s 1st Wednesday   “What terror lies concealed
in strangest words, O lamb
of God that taketh away
the Sins of the World”

Once again, as so often now 4 years deep in poetry posts and c. 2500 readers strong, a reader and friend, living through a hard time, concluded a stark lamentation email with this timeless question:  “How is it that the Lamb of God bears the sins of the world?”   Whenever, it seems, this hard question comes into focus, adults find it hard to acknowledge it, find it hard to recognize that the time and circumstances can transform the words “Lamb of God” toward an unavoidable hard place.

When a soul friend placed the question,  here at mid-week in what begins to feel like spring, s/he brought poet Denise Levertov to mind.  Like every great poem, the poet transcends the boundaries of any single faith tradition, opens the imagination and takes the reader to a demanding place where some rebirth can happen.   Best to read “Agnus Dei” out loud, with pauses.
Have a blest mid-week,


john st sj

Today’s post – Denise Levertov & the words “lamb of God”

Given that lambs
are infant sheep,
that sheep are afraid and foolish, and lack
the means of self-protection, having
neither rage nor claws,
venom nor cunning,
what then
is this ‘Lamb of God’?

This pretty creature, vigorous
to nuzzle at milky dugs,
woolbearer, bleater,
leaper in air for delight of being, who finds in astonishment
four legs to land on, the grass
all it knows of the world?
With whom we would like to play,
whom we’d lead with ribbons, but may not bring
into our houses because
it would spoil the floor with its droppings?

What terror lies concealed
in strangest words, O lamb
of God that taketh away
the Sins of the World: an innocence
smelling of ignorance,
born in bloody snowdrifts,
licked by forebearing
dogs more intelligent than its entire flock put together?

God then,
encompassing all things, is
defenseless? Omnipotence
has been tossed away,
reduced to a wisp of damp wool?

And we
frightened, bored, wanting
only to sleep ‘til catastrophe
has raged, clashed, seethed and gone by without us,
wanting then
to awaken in quietude without remembrance of agony,

we who in shamefaced private hope
had looked to be plucked from fire and given
a bliss we deserved for having imagined it,

is it implied that we
must protect this perversely weak
animal, whose muzzle’s nudgings

suppose there is milk to be found in us?
Must hold in our icy hearts
a shivering God?

So be it.
Come, rag of pungent
dim star.
Let’s try
if something human still
can shield you,
of remote light.

Denise Levertov
b. October 1923  d. December 1997

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April 30 Jim Janda mystic – pilgrim – poet

Monday,  April 30 “The Town in March”

Jim Janda lived as a mystic pilgrim for most of his 74 years. He died August 7, 2010 in Salt Lake City, a priest of that diocese since 1996. Jim also lived for a quarter century as a Jesuit which is when we met. Jim was “well known for his gentle and generous heart. . . . During his life he wrote and published a series of short religious stories for children, school plays and books of poetry.” So reads his obituary in the Salt Lake Tribune. The obit is accurate, as was the stated cause of his death, emphysema; I think he smoked too much. I can’t remember ever visiting with Jim without feeling bathed in wisdom and tenderness, and in his awareness of how deep grief runs in human beings, right there along with whimsy.

The Tribune’s evocation of “stories for children, school plays and books of poetry . . .” does not even hint at the flint-hard prose and fine-tuned ironies that throb and flow through his poems. Today’s post comes from the 1970s when Jim lived on the Lakota Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota. Like many of his poems, “The Town in March” is homey and close to the grass without flinching from pain.

Jim Janda reminds me of Joy Harjo. I am glad I thought to pull his book off my poetry shelf.


John sj

The Town in March  – 1st posted to this list March 19, 2014

a wind smelling
of grass
and wet earth
was coming
off the prairie
and blowing
through town

you could hear
Mr. Buffalo Robe
playing marches
on his piano
from the open door
of his shack

Mrs. Big Dog
sitting on the
stoop of her trailer
was squinting
in the sun

kids were shouting
about the dead
badger they found

he does not play
the piano any more

some men broke his
hand and arm
when he was drunk

some men blinded
John Red Feather too

this is not spoken of
in town

Jim Janda   d. August, 2010

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April 27 improbable play

Sometimes joy after grief awakens slowly, filled with stillness and soft footsteps.  Sometimes joy after grief runs so hard it messes your hair and makes you giddy.  Today’s poem is that 2nd kind of joy.  Whenever I hear what William Carlos Williams pulled out of his magic poet’s bag, I cannot help repeating it.   Exams on our McNichols Campus are wrapping up,  buds are opening all around.

Have a blest week.


john sj

Today’s Post:     The Manoeuvre

I saw the two starlings
coming in toward the wires
But at the last,
just before alighting, they

turned in the air together
and landed backwards!
that’s what got me —
to face into the wind’s teeth.

William Carlos Williams

September 17, 1883 – March 4, 1963

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April 25 – David Hinton, a poet new to me — “Desert”

Wednesday April 25  “gazing out, the old
masters say. It
seems easy
enough.           But . . . ”

This habit of beginning three work days a week with a poem often stretches my imagination; David Hinton’s few words in today’s poem also stretch me.   Reading “Desert” outloud, strong because of its flint-hard word choices, provides a stop during the work day.  Perhaps it can offer a break in the crowded pace of the day’s agenda.  But that’s what poems do.  Some of our c. 2500 readers tease me about the mantra “read outloud . . . with pauses”  but in a world where so many messages pulse with anger and fear and over-statement, that’s what poems are for.

Have a blest day this mid-week of final exams on the McNichols Campus.


john st sj


“To celebrate Poetry Month, we are sharing a poem from our forthcoming collection of original poetry, Desert by David Hinton.” ~Shambhala Publications

Today’s Post:  “Desert”  David Hinton

Empty mind
is a mirror
gazing out, the old
masters say. It
seems easy

enough. But all
night long, stars shimmer
deep in my gaze. Who

could be that

vast? And at dawn
I’m sure
it’s not me

desert, but wide-
open desert
mirroring whatever

it is
I am.


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April 23 It begins to smell like spring

Monday, April 23,  “What is all this juice and all this joy?”

Gerard Manley Hopkins, sj wrote  “Spring” in language alive with sensual delight, a breath of  fresh air after this April’s ice storms and cold winds.  “Risk some delight” says Hopkins.   Best to read every poem out loud, with pauses.   Hopkins rewards the reader’s attention more than most.

Have a blest week,

john sj

Today’s Post   “Spring”  

Nothing is so beautiful as Spring –
When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;
Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;
The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush
The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush
With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.

What is all this juice and all this joy?
A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning
In Eden garden. – Have, get, before it cloy,
Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,
Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,
Most, O maid’s child, thy choice and worthy the winning.

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