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 (http://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/local/detroit-city/2017/05/30/ford-foundation-office/102332510/).  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 (http://www.crainsdetroit.com/article/20170525/news/629531/orchestras-conference-return-detroit-after-31-years#utm_medium=email&utm_source=cdb-afternoon&utm_campaign=cdb-afternoon-20170526).

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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Wednesday April 24

Wednesday May 24,  a wisdom-saying born on the Pine Ridge Lakota Reservation

“Time spent baking bread follows the pace of yeast”

I slept in until almost 8:00 after a lovely evening with Don & Paulette Montileaux in Rapid City;  we talked about artists and life-long creativity until c. 8:30.  Then I spent c. 40 minutes at a gas station searching for my cell phone all through the car and under it 3 times until I saw it about 15 feet away on the pavement just waiting for a car to run over it.  Didn’t happen but it got me home late with all the Jesuits asleep and I soon after.

Here is a poem from last year on Pine Ridge + a couple pics.


john sj


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May 18 – – the days after commencement in Motown

Thursday May 18   about very old wine and time for contemplation

A busy time in my work life rearranges this week’s calendar for posts,  Monday and Thursday instead of M-W-Fr.  An intuition sent me back to Fatema Keshavarz and her contemplation of 7000-year-old wine.   “Breathe a little more often than usual”;  that’s what this morning’s intuition tells me.  Might be good for you too.

Next week, I will write from Pine Ridge, SD for a week with long-standing soul friends and sacred places of beauty and memory.

john sj

Today’s Post: Shiraz, “the oldest sample of wine in the world”

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May 15 – a signed copy of Denise Levertov’s Freeing of the Dust

Monday after Commencement, May 15

Remembering when I lost my copy of The Freeing of the Dust;  remembering when a close friend restored the book with a signed copy.   Why am I thinking of this long loved love poem today? — Spring sun dancing all over the city?  The new  Q-Line rail just opened on Woodward?   Memories of our McNicols  graduates and their kin dancing all over campus on Saturday’s Commencement, and their fellow graduates from the Law School and the Dental School?  Showers of joy and live affection, of pride and relief,  days for dancing.   Sure the world’s wounds remain.  Today, though, remembering beauty and play wants attention.

Have a blest day,  as this work week in the middle of May begins.

john sj


Here’s introduction I wrote for “Revolutionary Love” two years ago in April.

Today’s Post  – “Prayer for Revolutionary Love”

McNichols Campus April 27, 2006


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May 8 – Speaking the wounds of war in springtime: World War I, Sarah Teasdale

Monday, May 8  “And frogs in the pools singing at night,
And wild plum trees in tremulous white . . . ”

I listened to a news report yesterday about the unique terrors of chemical weapons, those originating in chemical labs during World War I and those whose appearance in present battlefields frightens so many observers.  “Unique terrors” (1) their effect in the bodies of children and grown-ups from the moment they engulf their living bodies, causing some of the most ordinary body processes (e.g., breathing, speaking, seeing) to collapse into biological horrors; (2) these horrors terrify especially because they last and last, leaving maimed victims to walk the earth carrying disfigurements that seem never to go away.   That experience helps explain why World War I left gas attack survivors walking city streets pulling terror and despair in their wake.

And that terror helps to understand why the first years of the 1920s are marked by cruel reactions of deeply frightened people (e.g., the reborn Ku Klux Klan peaked in 1924; the year when more black Americans were lynched than any other year in U S history;  the year of the “Immigration Act of  1924” when Congress shut down the promise that this country welcomes immigrants from all parts of the world, when the “Other” was redefined not as a source of blessing, of renewing energy for the national symbolized by its Statue of Liberty, but as hoards of aliens threatening the nation (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Immigration_Act_of_1924).

Not a few observers of our current historical moment find 1920-25 a compelling metaphor for the competing antagonisms roiling the political order of 2017.

No surprise, perhaps, that exquisite poems, written in the years just after World War I can speak to people paying attention to our present tense.  Poets sometimes seek “flint-hard” words to help readers come close to fear and to tenderness and not to flinch from either.  In today’s post, Sarah Teasdale evokes a Spring whose delicate beauty, in blossom and bird song, require the reader’s attention to war as a world-ending genocide.

Best to read “soft rains” out loud, with pauses between the two for some breathing.

Monday of the 4th week of Easter in the Christian tradition.   In Detroit spring in full blossom and covered with sunshine.

Have a blest week.


john sj

p.s. I’m on the road Wednesday in Santa Clara and Friday in Connecticut; see you next week.


Today’s Post # 1  “There Will Come Soft Rains”
Sara Teasdale, 1884 – 1933

(War Time)

There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,

And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;


And frogs in the pools singing at night,

And wild plum trees in tremulous white,


Robins will wear their feathery fire

Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;


And not one will know of the war, not one

Will care at last when it is done.


Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree

If mankind perished utterly;


And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn,

Would scarcely know that we were gone.


Sarah Trevor Teasdale  1884-1933


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Denise Levertov – an Easter poem

Friday, May 5   “She listens, listens, holding her breath.
Surely that voice
is his . . . ”

Sometimes a poet finds a poem in a painting.    As Denise Levertov did in this 1620 painting by Diego Velázquez;  her imagination offered words for what Velázquez found with his painter’s eye and brushes and paints.  The painter and the poet, together they open a story.   Best to read the poem first and contemplate the painting second?  .  .  .  or the other way around?   Both — ear and eye — make good paths for the last work day of the week, the 3rd Friday of Easter.

Have a blest day.


john sj

“The Kitchen Maid with the Supper at Emmaus” 
by Diego Valázquez  c.1620

She listens, listens, holding her breath.
Surely that voice
is his—the one
who had looked at her, once,
across the crowd, as no one ever had looked?
Had seen her?
Had spoken as if to her?
Surely those hands were his,
taking the platter of bread from hers just now?
Hands he’d laid on the dying and made them well?
Surely that face—?
The man they’d crucified for sedition and blasphemy.
The man whose body disappeared from its tomb.
The man it was rumored now some women had seen this morning,
Those who had brought this stranger home to their table
don’t recognize yet with whom they sit.
But she in the kitchen,
absently touching the wine jug she’s to take in,
a young Black servant intently listening,
swings round and sees
the light around him
and is sure.

-Denise Levertov

Creighton’s Online Ministries home page

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May 3 David Whyte – praise for the holy dark

Wednesday, May 3 –

“Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
to learn  .  .  .”

I think I began to appreciate darkness as an ally in 1968, living in Oglala, South Dakota with Luke and Rose Weasel Bear.   I had asked them if I could live with them for c. 6 weeks so they could teach me about how many Lakota people lived, could teach me some wisdom.  They had no electricity or running water;  we hauled the water and went to bed soon after the sun set.  11 miles down the road was “The Mission,”  our K-12 boarding school where I had already learned many life lessons — how to challenge students with respect and affection while they lived through a young person’s hope and sweet energy interwoven with waves of anger and despair.   The mission was, as schools go, poor (sometimes you lived with a broken toilet, or a broken window, for weeks — things like that).  We did our teaching and learning on shoestring budgets.   But seen from Luke and Rose’s little family camp, the mission was staggeringly wealthy;  running water in every building, electricity, regular, healthy food in the girls’ and boys’ dining rooms.  The cars and trucks had five tires each and got fixed when they broke down.   {“ . . . .  I had asked them if I could live with them for c. 6 weeks so they could teach me how many Lakota people lived, could teach me their wisdom. . . .”}

That’s where I learned, too, that the hour or so before real dark, the dim light of dusk, could open my soul to my own sorrows and wounds, just standing still on a shallow hill as the light left the land and opened itself to the holy dark.   That’s probably why David Whyte is one of the poets who help me to keep renewing my long-term kinship with the holy dark, at least on my good days.  On crazy days, I run around wired and edgy.   Best to read his poem out loud, with pauses.

Mid-week after final exams on the McNichols Campus.   Have a blest day and week.

john sj


Today’s Post  “Sweet Darkness”

When your eyes are tired
the world is tired also.

When your vision has gone
no part of the world can find you.

Time to go into the dark
where the night has eyes
to recognize its own.

There you can be sure
you are not beyond love.

The dark will be your womb

The night will give you a horizon
further than you can see.

You must learn one thing.
The world was made to be free in

Give up all the other worlds
except the one to which you belong.

Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
to learn

anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive

is too small for you.

– “Sweet Darkness” by David Whyte, House of Belonging

sunset, about 7 miles south of where Luke and Rose lived,  between Oglala and Calico

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May 1 – poem touching a longing for peace in a violent world – Dunya Mikhail

Monday  May 1  – “ . . .  so the weapons sleep
beneath the dust . . . .”

I met the poet Dunya Mikhail when another poet and life-long friend Joy Harjo, read and performed at The University of Michigan early March.  We posted one of Dunya’s poems, “I Was in a Hurry” on March 13.  These past weeks meet so many of us with the threats of war and violence that the Three Holy Days leading to Easter sometimes opened the congregations where I worshipped (Gesu Parish across McNichols Road from the University and the University’s chapel) into an eloquent lament for our wounded world and music alive with the longing for a healing of those wounds.

That is probably why Dunya Mikhail came to mind this morning.  She emigrated to Detroit’s Chaldean community from her birth country, Iraq.  Today’s poem, lyrical about violent realities brings a realism that invites wonder and courage to accompany grief and moral fatigue.

Best to read aloud, with pauses.

Have a blest Monday,


john st sj


Today’s Post   –  “Another Planet”
I have a special ticket
to another planet
beyond this Earth.
A comfortable world, and beautiful:
a world without much smoke,
not too hot
and not too cold.
The creatures
are gentler there,
and the governments
have no secrets.
The police are nonexistent:
there are no problems
and no fights.
And the schools
don’t exhaust their students
with too much work
for history has yet to start
and there’s no geography
and no other languages.
And even better:
the war
has left its “r” behind
and turned into love,
so the weapons sleep
beneath the dust,
and the planes pass by
without shelling the cities,
and the boats
look like smiles
on the water.
All things
are peaceful
and kind
on the other planet
beyond this Earth.
But still I hesitate
to go alone.


Dunya Mikhail

from The Iraqi Nights. Copyright © 2013 by Dunya Mikhail.
Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation.

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April 27 – Saying goodbye to your brother

Thursday, April 27   Kevin Embach, sj and Denise Levertov

A Detroit native, now studying theology in Boston, came home this week to bury his brother who died of an illness that lingered for decades.  We will gather for Daniel this morning in Dearborn.  When Kevin came to town, he stayed in our house as he often does.   An hour ago he and I paused as we both entered our days.  It must have been that Kevin and his brother were on my mind when I woke that I finally opened Denise Levertov’s last book, The Great Unknowing: Last Poems.  Readers of the Work Day/Hard Time list have, I suspect, gotten used to her manner long since in this blog.

I have trouble opening a new poem because so much of her work already means so much to me.   After months of nodding to the still unopened  The Great Unknowing, this morning I found another wonder on the first page. “From Below” takes me into a place, and surprises me on this day when my friend takes leave of his brother.   It is deeply refreshing for my spirit to meet wonder once again at the hand of this poet.

Best to read with pauses.

Have a blest Thursday.


john sj


Today’s Post  –  “From Below”

I move among the ankles
of forest Elders, tread
their moist rugs of moss,
duff of their soft brown carpets.
Far above, their arms are held
open wide to each other, or waving

what they know, what
perplexities and wisdoms they exchange,
unknown to me as were the thoughts
of grownups when in infancy I wandered
into a roofed clearing amidst
human feet and legs and the massive
carved legs of the table,

the minds of people, the minds of trees
equally remote, my attention then
filled with sensations, my attention now
caught by leaf and bark at eye level
and by thoughts of my own, but sometimes
drawn to upgazing-up and up: to wonder
about what rises so far above me into the light.


Denise Levertov
b. October 1923  d. December 1997


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