Feb 20 Mary Oliver – “making the house ready for the Lord”

Wednesday, February 20,   

“Beautiful is the new snow falling
in the yard and the fox who is staring boldly
up the path to the door. And still I believe
you will
come, Lord”

I have not posted this Mary Oliver winter poem since 3 years and 5 days ago.  This gray Monday morning, however, I stood at an East-facing window in the Jesuit Residence looking out onto the large parking lot and watching university employees straggle in …  another work day.  Were the snow serious and exquisite, perhaps another poem would have come to mind.  Today the snow is unassuming and ordinary, work-a-day snow.  M Oliver’s poem strikes me as work-a-day too.   “Making the House Ready for the Lord” emerges from the depths of winter.  “It’s cold outside,” says the poet, “How deep might the capacity for welcome run?  Whose house is it anyway?”

Winter won’t last forever.   Have a blest day.   Read the poem out loud if you can.

john sj


Today’s Post:  “Making the House Ready for the Lord”

Dear Lord, I have swept and I have washed but
still nothing is as shining as it should be
for you. Under the sink, for example, is an
uproar of mice – it is the season of their
many children. What shall I do? And under
the eaves
and through the walls the squirrels
have gnawed their ragged entrances – but it is
the season
when they need shelter, so what shall I do?

And the raccoon limps into the kitchen and
opens the cupboard
while the dog snores, the cat hugs the pillow;
what shall I do? Beautiful is the new snow falling
in the yard and the fox who is staring boldly
up the path to the door. And still I believe
you will
come, Lord: you will, when I speak to the fox,
the sparrow, the lost dog, the shivering
sea-goose, know
that really I am speaking to you whenever I say,
as I do all morning and afternoon: Come in,
Come in.

Mary Oliver


p.s. When I pulled this February 11, 2014 post off the archive blog, the blog header came along with it, along with a right margin banner.   I decided to keep it today; something I’ve only done once before.  The header and banner can remind us readers that since its September 2013 beginning, the Work Day/Hard Time list has posted 658 poem-posts.  All searchable looking for an author’s name or any other word at http://blogs.udmercy.edu/mission-and-identity/  The most recent post appears at the top.

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Feb 18 – – “when we no longer know what to do . . . which way to go” Wendell Berry

Monday,  February 18

Why, I wonder this morning, have I never posted one of Wendell Berry’s poems?   He has written great and supple poetry since, at least, the early 1960s, poems and novels and essays about the land and the place of humans in relationship with the land.   Betsy Linehan, RSM, a friend and university trustee, sent me her favorite W. Berry poem.   A fine beginning to this 2nd last week in February.   It’s brief; and, yes, it’s best to read it out loud with pauses.

Our campus this morning shows off what a steady light snowfall can do for the land and streets and buildings if you give it 7 or 8 hours to work its magic.

Have a blest day.

john sj

Today’s Post – –  Wendell Berry

It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,

and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.

The impeded stream is the one that sings.

Wendell Berry

Wendell Erdman Berry (born August 5, 1934) is an American novelist, poet, essayist, environmental activistcultural critic, and farmer. He is an elected member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers, a recipient of The National Humanities Medal, and the Jefferson Lecturer for 2012. He is also a 2013 Fellow of The American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Berry was named the recipient of the 2013 Richard C. Holbrooke Distinguished Achievement Award. On January 28, 2015, he became the first living writer to be inducted into the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame.

On July 4, 1965, Berry, his wife, and his two children moved to a farm that he had purchased, Lane’s Landing, and began growing corn and small grains on what eventually became a homestead of about 117 acres (0.47 km). They bought their first flock of seven Border Cheviot sheep in 1978. Lane’s Landing is in Henry County, Kentucky in north central Kentucky near Port Royal, and his parents’ birthplaces, and is on the western bank of the Kentucky River, not far from where it flows into the Ohio River. Berry has farmed, resided, and written at Lane’s Landing ever since. He has written about his early experiences on the land and about his decision to return to it in essays such as “The Long-Legged House” and “A Native Hill.”

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Feb 15 – “something there is that doesn’t love a wall” – – Robert Frost

Friday,  February 15, 2019
“Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense.”

It’s hard to walk through a full day without hearing angry calls to build to keep out unwanted migrant people, women and men, infants and children. Walls are technologies that cannot get far from mistrust, statements in wire and digital stone that privilege fear of little understood human beings other than oneself.  Robert Frost’s masterpiece, “Mending Wall,” treats his neighbor’s entrenched suspicions playfully.

“He only says, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
‘Why do they make good neighbors?”

Here on campus,   in late February 2016, we blessed a lovely gate out onto McNichols Road.  Its digital tools make it easier to get in and out; the broad oval arch frames Detroit Mercy’s legendary clock tower.   I hear the gate say “Welcome,” over and over:   EZ-pass cards for students and employees, leaving more time for guests who need directions from a live person in the other lane;  “Welcome” the gate says to neighbors who come to walk the track and use the library’s internet work stations;  “Welcome” it says to EZ-pass homies who come to work on mean days, come to work worn down and impatient.

We’d suffered with a stingy-looking gate for years.  The new gate, now in its third year, makes me smile even on hard days.  I’ve been looking out our living room window and watching Detroit Mercy people arrive for another work day.  Those people, my peers, the new gate makes them look a little more beautiful, and brave, and noble.  Perhaps that’s why Robert Frost came to mind.   “Mending Walls” is a great poem, a source of wisdom and playful humor during crabby times.

Best to read the poet out loud, with pauses.  Have a blest day.


john st sj

Today’s Post, “Mending Walls”

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
‘Stay where you are until our backs are turned!’
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of outdoor game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
‘Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.’ I could say ‘Elves’ to him,
But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’

Robert Frost, 1874 – 1963

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Feb 13 – Detroit to Boston during some messy winter days in both

Wednesday, February 13, 2019   “There will be daffodils in the Back Bay”

view from my Detroit window – December 2007







Boston is my second city, after Motown. I’ve lived there 7 different times, whole years and half years, at MIT and Boston College. The city is dear to me, dear with familiar urban mazeways (like where to get my car fixed, my hair cut, my teeth tended, smart ways to avoid heavy traffic if you can manage it), how to plan contemplative times beside the sailboat basin of the Charles, whether to walk from my Jesuit house in the Back Bay over the Mass Ave or the Longfellow bridge. All those years have connected me with soul friends.

This week’s tedious patch of winter is more real and sensual because both cities are slogging through sleet and the ice it leaves behind. Winter fatigue and soul friends whose years of kinship help me to take in a Detroit Mercy facilities man who, scooping ice on the walk outside our administration building yesterday morning, lest I slip on more treacherous ice than we’ve seen in a while, tells me that his first salt run was c. 4:30 am.  He confessed as we crossed paths that he was “ready for this to be over!”   I responded that February ice and sleet have a graceful aesthetic purpose;  our fatigue begins to whet our appetite for green grass and daffodils. Whole cities collectively are-learning to long for spring.  Yesterday, an idea for today’s post snuck up on me. I am posting a playful poem I wrote one April afternoon in 1983 while walking across the Mass Ave Bridge into Newbury St. heading home after a work day at MIT.  Is the poem whimsy, or a reminder, or a promise, or a blessing?  Doesn’t matter.   All of the above.

May we each have three good surprises before the end of work today.

john sj

Today’s Post — Meeting at Rush Hour

A gust of wind
sent the metal street sign for Charlie’s Tavern
skittering fifteen feet up Newbury Street, an unlikely sailboat
escaped, perhaps, from the Charles.

The clatter and improbability
set us both free.

She looked twenty two,
blond and lovely,
going the other way
and no doubt equally homeward bound.

In our sudden bemusement
at the sign’s startled venture
our eyes touched.

Then, the wonder.
We grinned.

Delight at our moment’s kinship
freed us from fear
from strategy and burden.
She flashed fire at me
and I, no doubt, at her.

A moment’s celebration quickly passed–
rare and winsome beauty,
breathed through two human forms
filling us with awe.

We went our ways with no word spoken,
both journeys blessed.

April 20, 1983


Dawn outside our front door – March 8, 2007

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Connie de Biase, csj, soul friend of 40 years, died this date in Brentwood Long Island, d Feb 10, 2017, c. 6:15 pm

February 10, 2019  –  “a mutual commitment to noticing”
Over 4 decades of kinship, Connie de Biase and I partnered in 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 new baked bread.    While I drove home, we would talk about the condition of our inner lives.  Through Connie’s last year, our talk was more brave and sad as she recognized her growing diminished, her grief at losing the life in Madison that she loved and lived so gracefully.  Ignatius calls such talk paying attention to “inner disturbances,”  both consolations and desolations.   Noticing.

originally posted January 23, 2017 (@ 2 weeks before she died)
Perhaps this Denise Levertov poem came to mind because I flew into JFK Saturday, braved Long Island’s expressways with their too tight turns matched by slightly-too-narrow lanes, to spend time with my dying soul friend, Sr. Consuela de Biase, csj.   Connie has become frail, like the ancient poet in today’s poem.  She misses nothing, I realized, but you have to lean in close to hear;  worn with fatigue, she whispers, and pauses to breathe.  We visited three times  (c. 90 minutes,;  25 minutes; and 4 or 5 at the end when we said goodbye before I headed back to JFK early Sunday).  I love it that the 40 mile drive on the parkway was wearing;  it reminds me that those miles and our 3 conversations are of a piece with decades of mutual listening, the fabric of life with Connie.

Have a blest week.

john sj

Today’s Post   Sunday, February 1o, 2019  – –  “In Love”        Denise Levertov writes of an ancient poet whose frail strengths remind me of Connie.   Perhaps this wintry but hardly arctic morning might tempt you to open your window or step outside so you can read “In Love” while breathing a little.

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

Consuela  (Connie)
August 2006




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Feb 8 – – William Carlos Williams and Denise Levertov — a long generation apart, but very close

Friday, February 8, 2019

“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.”   George Danko to jstsj  May 22, 2018

George  and I met in early September 1973 as we both began finding our way around on our first day at U Penn’s PhD program in American Civilization. These 45 years later we remain good friends who sometimes trade stories of insight or grief or beauty.  Last May, George surprised me.  From reading the Work Day/Hard Times poetry list, he knew that the poets William Carlos Williams and Denise Levertov often appeared there.  Until last May, I had no notion that they shared a living room where Williams listened to Levertov’s young voice and told her what he heard – – a magical inter-generational kinship.

Two poets, two poems.  I hope you can find time to read each one out loud, with pauses.  They will be worth the time this Friday early in February.  Have a blest weekend.


john sj

p.s. Just now, c. 8:30 am here in Detroit, a lovely snow began to fall, large flakes helped along by a trace of wind.

Today’s Post:   George Danko to jstsj, May 22, 2018

“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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Feb 6 a poem for an indoor day Wislawa Szymborska

Wednesday,  February 6, 2019

“The subject of today’s investigation
is things that don’t move themselves.

They need to be helped along,”

I’ve been on the road: DC,  Baltimore, and a mildly harrowing connection via Atlanta during Super Bowl Sunday to get to New Orleans for a trustee meeting of the National Jesuit Volunteer Corps til last night.  That’s got me behind as Wednesday begins.   Weather.com tells me that rain is likely, maybe even “sullen rain” until a sweet Saturday of sun after prevailing winds shift to Detroit’s best direction, West at 25 mph Friday to clear the air, down to West at 9 mph Saturday.

What sort of poem for this little patch of gloomy weather and an agenda that needs tending?  I thought of a classic and wonderful indoor poem from Nobel Laureate Wislawa Szymborska.  Turn on a bright lamp indoors, get comfortable (some more coffee?) and read.  Best read out loud with pauses.   The post will be back Friday and so, I suspect, will the sun have returned.

Have a blest mid-week,


john sj

Today’s Post “A Little Girl Tugs At The Tablecloth”
Wislawa Szymborska

She’s been in this world for over a year,
and in this world not everything’s been examined
and taken in hand.

The subject of today’s investigation
is things that don’t move themselves.

They need to be helped along,

shoved, shifted,
taken from their pace and relocated.

They don’t all want to go, e,g., the bookshelf,
the cupboard, the unyielding walls, the table.

But the tablecloth on the stubborn table
– when well-seized by its hems –
manifests a willingness to travel.

And the glasses, plates,
creamer, spoons, bowl,
are fairly shaking with desire.

It’s fascinating,
what form of motion will they take,
once they’re trembling on the brink:
will they roam across the ceiling?
fly around the lamp?
hop onto the windowsill and from there to a tree?

Mr. Newton still has no say in this.
Let him look down from the heavens and wave his hands.

This experiment must be completed.
And it will.

(Translation: Clare Cavanagh and Stanisław Barańczak)

Maria Wisława Anna Szymborska [viˈswava ʂɨmˈbɔrska]
(2 July 1923 – 1 February 2012)
Nobel Prize in Literature 1996

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Jan 31 – 15º winds from the southwest at 14 mph – – Robert Frost, horse sleighs, blizzards, and lap rugs

Thursday, january 31 –  “Stopping by a wood on a Snowy Evening”  written 1922

Twenty-some years ago, our university hosted the meeting of Jesuit national leaders (called “Provincials”).   All the brass coming to our city was a pretty big deal for us.   I can’t remember who organized logistics;  whoever that was asked me if I could arrange an all afternoon event for them to show off The Greenfield Village, a world-famous historical park within the Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village complex. Technology and Culture, the international journal I edited then, was co-sponsored by the Ford Museum and we had our editorial offices there.   It was not hard to ask Greenfield Village to arrange one of their 19th century sleigh rides for our group, horse-drawn sleighs on runners through the winter snows blanketing the Village at that time of the year.   The village supplied us with 19th century “sleigh rugs” to keep our legs warm.   We needed them too; a wind-swept blizzard turned the G Village into heavy magical snow riding the howling winds.

Some of the Jesuits thought that afternoon was a blast, very fun to taste winter travel from c. 100 years before;  other provincials emphasized the “blast” more than the “fun.”  I love the memory and those courageous leaders who tackled the challenges facing The Society of Jesus three decades ago.

I’d forgotten that we had posted “Stopping by a wood” once before, February 7, 2014. “This winter’s snow is acting like winter:  demanding & labor-intense, wearisome. .  As a help to transcending plodding through these days, here is an offering from  Robert Frost,  one of the great U.S.  poets of the 20th century.   ‘Stopping by Woods’ is one of his understated classics, exploring the tension between stillness and beauty vs commitments and weariness.

Have a good weekend.”

john st sj


“Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”
—  Robert Frost

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Robert Frost

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Jan 28 — Jamaal May – – “Shift”

Monday,  January 28   “I used to want to be this bad at a job.”

I hadn’t posted a poem from Detroit poet Jamaal May in a while.  He writes “Shift” with the subtle density of language that characterizes his poetry.   “Shift” asks a reader to read two or three times to find a way into a world of growing up into an adult’s awareness of often violent power moves by supervisors over the people temporarily in their power; this all the while learning the honor of showing up and doing a job.   It’s worth the 2nd and 3rd read, better out loud with pauses.

Have a blest week.

john sj

p.s. In Detroit we are a couple hours into the beautiful stillness that often accompanies a snow storm with only a little wind.


today’s post:  “Shift”

Acting on an anonymous tip, a shift supervisor

at a runaway shelter strip-searched six teenagers.

Mrs. Haver was taping shut the mouths

of talkative students by the time she neared retirement,

and Mr. Vickers, a skilled electrician in his day,

didn’t adapt when fuses became circuit breakers,

a fact that didn’t stop him from tinkering

in our basement until the house was consumed by flame.


I used to want to be this bad at a job.

I wanted to show up pissy drunk to staff meetings

when the power point slides were already dissolving

one into another, but I had this bad habit

of showing up on time

and more sober than any man should be

when working audio/visual hospitality

in a three star hotel that was a four star hotel

before he started working there.


When the entire North Atlantic blacked out,

every soul in the Hyatt Regency Dearborn flooded

the parking lot panicked about terrorists and rapture,

while I plugged in microphones and taped down cables

by flashlight—you know, in case whatever cataclysm

unfolded didn’t preempt the meetings. Meetings,

before which I’d convince a children’s hospital

to pay fifteen dollars to rent a nine dollar laser pointer.

Thirty-five bucks for a flip chart,

extra paper on the house. Is it good to be good at a job

if that job involves pretending to be a secret service agent

for Phizer’s George Bush impersonator? I don’t know


if it’s better to be good at a bad job or bad at a good job,

but there must be some kind of satisfaction

in doing a job so poorly, you’re never asked to do it again.

I’m not saying he’s a hero, but there’s a guy out there

who overloaded a transformer and made a difference,

because in a moment, sweating through my suit,

groping in the dark when my boss was already home,


I learned that I’d work any job this hard, ache

like this to know that I could always ache for something.

There’s a hell for people like me where we shovel

the coal we have mined ourselves into furnaces

that burn the flesh from our bones nightly,

and we never miss a shift.






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Friday 25 — all day board meeting in Denver

Friday,  January 25, 2019

I am participating in our regular January Board of Trustees meeting so I stepped back to the same date, January 25, 2017.

one of my favorite poems ever.

Have a blest weekend,


john sj

Wednesday  January 25

Gray days lined up one after another,  not as tough as Sunday’s dense fog you couldn’t see through even a little,  not as tough as serious deep ice/snow in Maine  . . .  but the gray lineup can get wearing too.  On our three campuses, the pulse and bloodstream of learning and teaching has pretty much hit stride for what we call “Winter Term.”   Final exams live off in the distance, and when they arrive, so will the flowering trees and tulips.

Today seems like a good day to read W. H. Auden’s puckish celebration of the flow of love’s tenderness and passion around and through the work commitments we try to accomplish any given day.

A very cool poem, worth reading out loud, with pauses.

Have a blest day


john sj


April 22, 2006,  Detroit Mercy campus


Today’s Post –  “Song”

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.


February 21, 1907 – September 29, 1973

Poem: “Song” by W.H. Auden, from As I Walk Out One Evening: Songs, Ballads, Lullabies, Limericks, and Other Light Verse. © Vintage Books. Reprinted with permission.

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