Monday August 13 – My brother Bill turns 82 today

Monday, August 13  –  “  . . .  How big is my heart, I wonder?”

I’d looked at two or three poems before this one ran into me.  Bam!  So precise, so demanding.    At times, when looking for a Monday poem, some poet I’d never met just flattens me.

Perhaps Dan Gerber will flatten you too, as you turn into the first week of this new academic year.    Today, like every day, the university welcomes us into what we do.   Perhaps it strikes us more on the McNichols campus this week when our President’s Convocation opens the new academic year.  Like the poet today, the university calls faculty and staff to settle into a year’s welcome to students, calling them to risk the works of learning, works of adulthood, to not surrender to  fear, and evasion, either from horrors or to flinch from  improbable, graceful beauty.  At Convocation the university calls out everyone who works here.  Stretches to send its collective voice out into the city and even into the wide world.

Dan Gerber is a hard read.  Best to read “Seventieth Birthday” out loud, with pauses.   Or perhaps even better to click on the link below the poem and listen to the poet read it to you.   Or both.

Have a blest week.


john sj

p.s. My brother Bill turns 82 today; he is prepping to travel with two or three of his six children, and some of their children.  Off to Luxembourg to take advantage of our mother’s heritage by enrolling in dual citizenship.  Bill’s courage over his many years shows most in his attention to his family, but also his attention to the beauty and harsh challenges of the world where we live.  Dan Gerber, today’s poet, could have written this demanding poem with Bill in mind, but I think too with all of us who work here.  We bring skills to work but also courage.


Today’s post:  “On my seventieth birthday”  Dan Gerber

Let everything happen to you:
beauty and terror.
Only press on: no feeling is final.


I read that tens of thousands of people
have drowned in Bangladesh
and that a million more
may die from isolation, hunger, cholera,
and its sisters, thirst and loneliness.


This morning in our lime tree,
I noticed a bee
dusting a single new bud,
just now beginning to bloom,
while all the other branches were sagging
with heavy green fruit.


I read that in Moscow
every man, woman, child, and dog
is inhaling eight packs of cigarettes a day—
or its equivalent in smoke—
from the fires raging over the steppes.


I saw the god of storms
take the shape of a tree,
bowing to the desert
with her back to the sea.


I saw on television,
a woman in Iran buried up to her breasts,
then wrapped in light gauze
(to protect the spectators),
weeping in terror and pleading for her life
while someone at the edge of the circle
of men dressed in black
picked up the first baseball-sized rock
from the hayrick-sized pile,
to hurl at her eyes, nose, mouth,
ears, throat, breasts, and shoulders.


How big is my heart, I wonder?
How will it encompass these men dressed in black?


Now the fog drifts in over the passes,
screening the peaks into half-tones.
And then into no tones at all.


These goats with names,
with eyes that make you wonder,
these goats
who will be slaughtered today.
Why these goats?


There are reasons,
but they are human reasons.


I listened while my friend
spoke through his grief for his son,
shot to death in a pizza shop he managed
in Nashville
after emptying the safe
for a desperate young man with a gun—
who my friend told me he’d forgiven—
spoke of consolation through his tears,
the spirit of his son still with him, he said.
The spirit of his son still with him.


Oak tree,
joy of my eye
that reaches in so many directions—
Are the birds that fly from your branches
closer to heaven?


The moon
shimmering on the surface of the pond,
its rippling reflected in your eyes,
of which you are no more aware
than the wind, just passing through this oak,
of the acorns still bobbing.


The mountains, resolute now
in fading light.
With her nose deep in the late-summer grass,
my dog calls up a new story.


“On My Seventieth Birthday” by Dan Gerber.

Text as published in Sailing Through Cassiopeia (Copper Canyon Press, 2013).

Gerber received a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Michigan State University in 1962. He was the co-founder, with Jim Harrison, of the literary magazine Sumac. As part of his journalist profession, Gerber made extensive travels, primarily to Africa. He has served as writer-in-residence at Michigan State University and Grand Valley State University.

Gerber’s literary works have been recognized and highlighted at Michigan State University in their Michigan Writers Series. His work has appeared in Narrative Magazine. His most recent book of poetry, Sailing through Cassiopeia was published in 2012 by Copper Canyon Press.

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August 10 Rutabaga, a poem for August

Friday, August 10  “Though your seeds are tiny
you grow with fierce will”

My sibs and are going to take advantage of what looks to be a rain-free day and check out the many ways the city interacts with the vast Great Lake world that flows through its most narrow channel in our downtown (“Detroit” in French means “the narrow place”).  Hence the city’s relatively long life for a U.S. city, 1703.  I chose this post from early August two years ago when we sibs gathered here to pay attention to our lives and our places in the world.

Laura Grace Weldon’s celebration of Rutabagas fresh from the garden feels like a song for beginnings, which are approaching on all three of our campuses these days.  Like many strong poems, Weldon sets us a table that looks ordinary but turns to become a gate into wonder.  Still pretty cheeky.  Wise too.

Try reading it out loud with some pauses.

john sj

Today’s Post:  “Rutabaga”

You darken as my knife slices
blushing at what you become.

I save your thick leaves
and purple skin
to feed the cows.

A peasant guest at any meal
you agree to hide in fragrant stew
or gleam nakedly
in butter and chives.

Though your seeds are tiny
you grow with fierce will
grateful for poor soil and dry days,
heave up from the ground
under sheltering stalks
to sweeten with the frost.

Tonight we take you into our bodies
as if we do you a favor—
letting your molecules
become a higher being,
one that knows music and art.

But you share with us
what makes you a rutabaga.
Through you we eat sunlight,
taste the soil’s clamoring mysteries,
gain your seed’s perfect might.

“Rutabaga” by Laura Grace Weldon,
Tending (Aldrich Press, 2013).
© Laura Grace Weldon. Presented
here by poet submission.
   Art credit: “Rutabaga,” unknown
medium, by Lara Call Gastinger.
© Lara Call Gastinger, 2004.

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“If Grand River Were a River”

Wednesday, August 8  “If Grand River were a river,
I would walk along its banks
From village to village,
If Grand River were a river,
Children could dance at water’s edge,
Dances of freedom.”

With thanks to Rosemary, here is her post from February 26, 2014, a poem by one of Detroit Mercy’s distinguished poet graduates, Al Ward.  Al writes about Grand River Blvd, the southern border of the University neighborhood.  Lots of familiar streets find their place in the poem.  Professor Weatherston explains why our university is home to a National Literary Landmark, a rare distinction nationally.  For the complete list see

Have a good week.  See you Friday.


john sj

Today’s Post “If Grand River Were a River”   (first posted Feb 23, 2015)

This week students submitted their entries for UDM’s annual Dudley Randall Student Poetry Competition. The competition began while Randall was a librarian and poet-in-resident at U of D. He served as its judge for several years—one of the many ways he inspired our student writers.

Those of us who know Randall primarily through his poetry and reputation as a publisher may be unaware of this aspect of his legacy–his extraordinary generosity with and support of poets of all ages and walks of life. Broadside Press’s extensive work with community writers continues this legacy.

In today’s and tomorrow’s posts I would like to share the work of three talented University poets whose work has been supported by Randall and Broadside Press.

Today’s author, Albert M. Ward, is a University of Detroit alumnus and well-known Detroit poet, activist, and educator. He often speaks of the transformative effect it had on him as a young African American boy to visit Dudley Randall in the public library near his home where Randall worked.

In Ward’s poem, “If Grand River Were A River,” we can hear echoes of Randall’s love of our city. We hear, too, Ward’s own rich, powerful voice taking us somewhere new.

Rosemary Weatherston
Director, Dudley Randall Center for Print Culture


“If Grand River Were A River”

There are no waterfalls on Dexter
But when it rains
The street shimmers like glass
And Oakman Boulevard
Becomes a rainforest,

Blue and transparent
The sky over Dexter
Is bright in summer,
The sun washes the savannahs
And sidewalks in golden hues,
In a barbershop on Dexter
I learned to play checkers.

At Parkman Library
My bicycle was stolen.
Had my African warriors
Been with me,
We would have drummed
On our shields,
Walked through the tall grass
And found my bicycle.

If Grand River were a river,
I would walk along its banks
From village to village,
If Grand River were a river,
Children could dance at water’s edge,
Dances of freedom.

Grandmothers would say,
“Carry these groceries, boys,
One day you’ll make fine young men.”
We’d walk Dexter sometimes
To Elmhurst or Fullerton
Or across Davidson to Clements
And Pasadena,
Had lots of friends on
Ewald Circle and Kendall.
The grandmothers would tell stories
And give us lots of fifty cents.

I remember that summer of “67,
43 people died they said,
A civil disturbance,
Businesses burned on 12th Street,
Houses in Pingree,
Tanks chewed up the alley
Behind the garage of my Aunt Sweet,
Looters running through her backyard
Terror, smoke and ashes,
Not to be denied . . .

If Grand River were a river,
Trees would grow rich and lush
Like baobobs, their roots thick,
If Grand River were a river,
I would be free.

Woodward and the boulevard, market place
Where villagers and neighbors come
To trade, to greet,
I see watercolours of silk
And broadcloths, women
With their bundles walking,
The Elders with their sticks.

Mt. Kilimanjaro is greater
Than the Fisher building
With snow like crystal,
Silver at its crest,
The sun sleeps there
When the moon is round and full,
East or west of Woodward . . . I am home.

If Grand River were a river,
Elephants could drink from it
And I would wash my clothes
Among its stones.

(Al Ward is second from the left, to the right of Professor Rosemary Weatherston.)

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August 6 – Jamaal May “there are birds here”

Monday, August 6 –   “And no
his neighborhood is not like a war zone”

We, who live and work in Detroit, 8 Mile Road down to the River, we  live with many perceptions of Detroit.  Jamaal May’s “There are Birds Here” was new to me before a friend sent it, suggesting if for the “Work Day/Hard Time” poetry list.  Every poem does best when read out loud, with pauses.   Today’s, perhaps, especially so by the 3rd or 4th reading.  Detroit alive with vitality while carrying wounds as well.

Have a blest work week.

john sj

Today’s Post    “There Are Birds Here

For Detroit

There are birds here,
so many birds here
is what I was trying to say
when they said those birds were metaphors
for what is trapped
between buildings
and buildings. No.
The birds are here
to root around for bread
the girl’s hands tear
and toss like confetti. No,
I don’t mean the bread is torn like cotton,
I said confetti, and no
not the confetti
a tank can make of a building.
I mean the confetti
a boy can’t stop smiling about
and no his smile isn’t much
like a skeleton at all. And no
his neighborhood is not like a war zone.
I am trying to say
his neighborhood
is as tattered and feathered
as anything else,
as shadow pierced by sun
and light parted
by shadow-dance as anything else,
but they won’t stop saying
how lovely the ruins,
how ruined the lovely
children must be in that birdless city.

Jamaal May, “There Are Birds Here” from The Big Book of Exit Strategies.
Copyright © 2016 by Jamaal May. Reprinted by permission of Alice James Books.

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August 2 – Work Day in a Hard Time poetry list begins its 10 month year of regular poems

Thursday,  August 2, 2018 —  “then it is that the miracle walks in, on his swift feet . . .”

Is it harder to stand still in a place of grief or a place of joy?   A year ago as August began, 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 of hope.  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.

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

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

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

For readers of this list, today is a New Year’s beginning.   Have a blest year.

Beginning the year fills me with joy.   Have a blest August.


john st sj

Today’s Post

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

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

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

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

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

Denise Levertov
b. October 1923  d. December 1997

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July 4 — what is home in hard times? where ?

On US Independence Day,  I thought of a Warsan Shire poem.   She shares the US dream and ideal of immigrants everywhere; risking death or wounds to find a welcoming place to sleep,  to cook, to hold one another free from fear.

I am c. 2 weeks into post surgery re-hab at the Jesuit Colombiere Center;   readers of the “Work Day/Hard Times” list came to mind late this July 4 morning and whispered the title of this strong Warsan Shire poem in my ear.

Best to read the poem out loud,  with pauses

Have a blest day


john sj

Today’s Post: – 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


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June 25 – Five Days After Surgery

Monday, June 25 – “Be one word in this great love poem we are writing together”  Oriah Mountain Dreamer

Please see the update below on John Staudenmaier SJ from Beth Finster SSJ:

I went to see John on Saturday, and he looks really good. He’s walking a good amount per doctor’s orders (and standing up straight with a walker that fits him) and since that is most of his therapy, he hopes to be home next weekend. He thanks everyone for their prayers.


Today’s post: Oriah Mountain Dreamer
The Call I have Heard All My Life

I have heard it all my life

A voice calling a name I recognized as my own.
Sometimes it comes as a soft-bellied whisper.

Sometimes it holds an edge of urgency.
But always it says:  Wake up my love. You are walking asleep.

There’s no safety in that!
Remember what you are and let this knowing

take you home to the Beloved with every breath.
Hold tenderly who you are and let a deeper knowing

color the shape of your humanness.
There is no where to go. What you are looking for is right here.

Open the fist clenched in wanting

and see what you already hold in your hand.
There is no waiting for something to happen,

no point in the future to get to.

All you have ever longed for is here in this moment, right now.
You are wearing yourself out with all this searching.

Come home and rest.
How much longer can you live like this?

Your hungry spirit is gaunt, your heart stumbles.

All this trying. Give it up!
Let yourself be one of the God-mad,

faithful only to the Beauty you are.
Let the Lover pull you to your feet and hold you close,

dancing even when fear urges you to sit this one out.
Remember, there is one word

you are here to say with your whole being.
When it finds you, give your life to it.

Don’t be tight-lipped and stingy.
Spend yourself completely on the saying.

Be one word in this great love poem we are writing together.

Oriah Mountain Dreamer

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June 21 – First Day of Summer + First Day After Surgery

Thursday, June 21 – “May the new sun’s rising grace us with gratitude”  J. Philip Newell

John Staudenmaier was released from the hospital today after two physical therapy sessions.  He is now continuing his recovery at Colombiere in Clarkston, Michigan.  Thank you for your prayers and support.


Today’s post: J. Philip Newell
May the Angels of Light

May the angels of light
glisten for us this day.
May the sparks of God’s beauty
dance in the eyes of those we love.
May the universe
be on fire with Presence for us this day.
May the new sun’s rising
grace us with gratitude.
Let earth’s greenness shine
and its waters breathe with Spirit.
Let heaven’s winds stir the soil of our soul
and fresh awakenings rise within us.
May the mighty angels of light
glisten in all things this day.
May they summon us to reverence,
may they call us to life.

J. Philip Newell


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June 20 – Update on John Staudenmaier SJ

Wednesday, June 20 – “May we be a blessing”  Rabbi Maralee Gordon

John Staudenmaier would like you all to know that his right hip replacement today was successful.  Please pray for his speedy recovery.


Today’s post: Rabbi Maralee Gordon
Be A Blessing

In this moment, mindful of our many blessings,
may we form an intent to carry gratitude with us continually.
May we leave fear and jealousy by the wayside,
making room in our hearts for contentment, satisfaction and compassion.
May we start each day counting our blessings:
the blessing of being alive,
the many miracles of the living world we are one with,
the ability we possess to love and to be loved,
the many gifts and talents we have been graced with,
the support we receive
and the support we are able to extend.
May our gratitude lead to action:
May we express our gratitude.
May we smile when we encounter each other on the path,
may we seek opportunities to share our talents with others,
may we express our love to one another,
may we give with no expectation of receiving.
May we seek to repair what is broken.
May we end each day counting the day’s blessings,
those we have received and those we have bestowed.
May we be a blessing.

Rabbi Maralee Gordon


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Summer break for the Work Day/Hard Time List

Thursday, May 31

Much of this May I have been learning how to prepare for hip surgery (on June 20); learning again since this Beaumont Hospital surgical team already replaced my left hip early in 2008.   This year that team will replace my right hip.   Lots of prep work; remembering how to manage a walker and get around my Jesuit house slowly and carefully.  One major difference between 2008 and 2018;  2008 the surgery happened Jan 14 and recovery had it’s time and disciplines play out well before May, when I try to spend time on Pine Ridge.

For this year’s pre-summer break post, I went back to May 27, 2016 when my contextual paragraphs talk about the sensual experience of Pine Ridge for me.  I won’t get to Pine Ridge this year so this post serves as a contemplative thanksgiving for what Pine Ridge has meant to me all these years.   Next May?  Days on the Rez and days with Lakota soul friends once again.  Who knows?  I might stand still in the badlands and let meadowlarks woo me with their spring songs until I am dizzy.

By the time August arrives this year I have a hunch I’ll be walking like a younger man.

Have a blest early summer,


john sj

Today’s post

Friday May 27, 2016  –  “Enough. These few words are enough.”  David Whyte

“Remember sunscreen” —   Pine Ridge, SD is about 3400 ft above sea level,  sun shines more directly here than in Motown at 300 ft elevation.   In most years, about a week after commencement and Eastern Market Flower days, I pack for a week on the Pine Ridge Lakota Reservation.  It sits in western South Dakota; you can see the profile of The Black Hills 70 miles off to the north and west;  you can stand still near wild Badland formations, created mostly by wind.  Improbably with desert-like terrain,  you can also stand still to listen to meadowlarks, and frogs, in marshy water holes 100 yards across.   It’s because I lived here a long time that this particular beauty melts my soul and refreshes my spirit.

So do conversations with soul friends of 40 years or more.  I come to Pine Ridge to renew the origins of my adulthood in this place of beauty and laughter and grief.  It slows my steps and my breathing.  And reminds me that the normal work year has ended and summer has begun.  There’s  still plenty of work time but the pace is different.   For you too, I hope.

I looked for a short poem that reminds me of why I come out to Pine Ridge each year.

David Whyte wrote the poem, “Enough.”  Readers of the list have heard it before.   Below the poem are 3 wisdom sayings learned on Pine Ridge over the years.

Have a blest weekend.


john st sj

Today’s Post

Enough. These few words are enough.
If not these words, this breath.
If not this breath, this sitting here.

This opening to the life
we have refused
again and again
until now.

David Whyte, Where Many Rivers Meet

a wisdom-saying born on the Pine Ridge Lakota Reservation
“Time spent baking bread follows the pace of yeast”

“Motorcycling alone; I move as a  tiny person in a vast world”

“If I pause long enough, I  hear the sound of grass growing,  and trees, each at its own pace.”


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