Sept 20 – Gerard Manley Hopkins, sj — a place for sorrow in life

Wednesday, September 20

“it is the blight man was born for
it is Margaret you mourn for”

Several days ago a close friend told me that Hopkins’ “Spring and Fall,” when she read it, whispered deep down in her imagination.  I remembered that this morning and wondered whether these elegiac 15 lines (a sonnet less one?) had found their way onto the Work Day/Hard Time poetry list.  They had not; today they join six other gmh poems.  Thanks to my friend for bringing the poem to mind.

Hopkins (1844-1889) lived through the British industrial revolution at its most imperial, British innovations in factory design, the world’s master in ocean-going battleships, freighters, and luxury liners.  He lived close to the grinding wounds of expatriated farmers and machine-dominated factory workers.  Throughout his short life, he never lost his genius for sheer beauty either.   Perhaps he moves so many readers because his ability to write in language that does not compromise its playful elegance for its hard-edge tragedies, nor vice versa.

As Hopkins’ poems go, “Spring and Fall” is pretty accessible even on first reading.  Perhaps, however, on second reading surprises lurk.  It’s a good bet a second reading will have more pauses than the first.

Mid-week.  blessings wherever you live and work.


john, sj

Spring & Fall: to a young child

Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you wíll weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sorrow’s springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What héart héard of, ghóst guéssed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

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Sept 18 – Debra Spencer — two moments while holding the baby

Monday,  September 18
“I longed for sleep but couldn’t bear his crying
so bore him back and forth until the sun rose
and he slept.”

Debra Spencer knocked on the door of my imagination this morning, asking “are these words enough that you can pay attention?”  A mom and her infant, two moments of holding him, the grace of a change in perspective.   Some poems speak to human awareness at its most sensual,  this one is deceptively simple.   So, for sure, best to read it out loud, with pauses, at least two times.

Have a blest beginning of this work day, the fourth, I think, in the McNichols campus semester.


john sj


Today’s Post –  “Day Bath”  

for my son

Last night I walked him back and forth,
his small head heavy against my chest,
round eyes watching me in the dark,
his body a sandbag in my arms.
I longed for sleep but couldn’t bear his crying
so bore him back and forth until the sun rose
and he slept. Now the doors are open,
noon sunlight coming in,
and I can see fuchsias opening.
Now we bathe. I hold him, the soap
makes our skins glide past each other.
I lay him wet on my thighs, his head on my knees,
his feet dancing against my chest,
and I rinse him, pouring water
from my cupped hand.
No matter how I feel, he’s the same,
eyes expectant, mouth ready,
with his fat legs and arms,
his belly, his small solid back.
Last night I wanted nothing more
than to get him out of my arms.
Today he fits neatly
along the hollow my thighs make,
and with his fragrant skin against mine
I feel brash, like a sunflower.

“Day Bath” by Debra Spencer from Pomegranate. © Hummingbird Press, 2004.

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Sept 13 – Detroit Homecoming

Wednesday,  September 13, 1017   “Flocking back to the D: Detroit Homecoming 2017”

Is this the third or the fourth Detroit Homecoming?   3 high-profile days when former Detroiter’s, now successful and resourceful, are invited back for a three day pitch to re-learn (and re-invest??) in the city.

Among other events this week, expats will take one of three immersion tours in three neighborhoods (outside downtown and Midtown) where serious revitalization efforts are underway.  University District (see below) is one.   I can see it out my office window.   The excitement of a busload of expats with “real money” coming to our neighborhood, plus Brightmoor, and Dexter-Linwood is real.   It’s worth the effort to show off this come-back city.

It is also worth the effort to remember the decades where the wounds in these neighborhood were incurred,  remember the blight of fear of violence and of contempt for the city.  These thoughts led me to bring back Detroit poet Jamaal May’s blunt “There are Birds Here.”   Like every strong poem, the poet’s search for precise, flint-hard words can renew a reader’s imagination and vocabulary,  that, along with work on our neighborhood across the street, also counts as  rebirth.

Every poem does best when read aloud, with pauses.

Have a blest day.
john sj

 Today’s Post  “For Detroit”  Jamaal May

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. Source: The Big Book of Exit Strategies (Alice James Books, 2016)

University District

  • Privateinvestment: $3.4 million
  • Homerenovations: 276
  • Homes:1,252
  • Homesales (2016): 71
  • City-ownedcommercial properties: 1

Overview: This area, anchored by the University of Detroit Mercy and Marygrove College, has been a key target in the city’s redevelopment efforts outside the greater downtown area. Development interest has been robust, as The Platform LLC, Century Partners and Matt Hessler  have projects afoot in the area. The Live6 Alliance, an effort by Detroit Mercy, Kresge and the Detroit Economic Growth Corp., launched two years ago to bring economic development to the Livernois-McNichols area, which includes the Fitzgerald neighborhood targeted by The Platform and Century Partners.

Source for data:

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Sept 11 – Carl Sandburg working the law, aiming for justice

Monday, September 11, 2017  “speaking in a soft voice,
speaking in a voice slightly colored with bitter wrongs
mingled with monumental patience”

This past week, while Attorney General Sessions announced the rescinding of the DACA window out of fear for c. 800,000 “Dreamers,” I thought of my family’s 9 lawyers, across 3 generations.  I am deeply proud of them;  not only do they practice the law without cheating (their clients or the law itself), they often use their skills to open paths to justice for vulnerable people.  Yes, they, and the rest of the family, love to argue and debate about large questions and crazy tiny ones.  Dinner tables pulse with conversational energy, only sometimes noble;  sometimes we rant and scold each other.  Sometimes we apologize, sometimes we don’t get that far in a dinner argument.  But, that said, . . . .

I have been schooled by my family’s habits to expect lawyers to use their skills to open paths to justice for vulnerable people.  And expect that pragmatic hope for wounded people requires what today’s poet, Carl Sandburg, describes as “monumental patience.”  These hard days got me searching in Garrison Keillor’s 2005 anthology (Good poems – for- Hard Times).  That’s where I found today’s poem.  I’m taking the liberty of dedicating this post to those nine lawyers with whom I have lived all of my life.  (n.b., Sanburg uses “him” for his lawyer; 4 of my 9 are women.)

Monday approaching mid-September.  Have a blest day.

john sj

Today’s Post  “Lawyer”  Carl Sanburg

When the jury files in to deliver a verdict after weeks of direct
and cross examinations, hot clashes of lawyers and cool
decisions of the judge,
There are points of high silence — twiddling of thumbs is at an
end — bailiffs near cuspidors take fresh chews of tobacco
and wait — and the clock has a chance for its ticking to
be heard.
A lawyer for the defense clears his throat and holds himself
ready if the word is “Guilty” to enter motion for a new
trial, speaking in a soft voice, speaking in a voice slightly
colored with bitter wrongs mingled with monumental
patience, speaking with mythic Atlas shoulders of many
preposterous, unjust circumstances.

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sept 8 – Denise Levertov “In Love”

Friday,  September 8  —  Connie de Biase, a day after her birthday 7 months after we buried her

I found myself writing a paragraph contemplation of Connie on her first birthday since leaving us.

Connie in our 4 decades of kinship partnered with me in our mutual commitment to noticing.   When I miss her most is on Saturday mornings when I am home and able to Sabbath the day, especially driving into center city to buy community bread.  I used to call her while driving back home with fresh food in two bags in the back seat and we would talk about the condition of our inner lives.  Our last year or more were more brave and sad as Connie recognized her growing diminishment and her grief at losing the life in Madison that she loved and lived so gracefully.  Talking with her was part of that inner movement,  Ignatius calls these “inner disturbances” and counsels a habit of paying attention to them whether consolations or desolations.   Noticing.


originally posted January 23, 2017

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 a lifelong 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 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 Connie’s life.


In today’s poem Denise Levertov writes of an ancient poet whose frail strengths remind me of Connie.   This beautiful early autumn day might tempt you to open your window or step outside so you can read “In Love” bathed in beauty, breathing a little too.

Have a blest weekend


johns sj


Today’s Post   “In Love”

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

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

Denise Levertov  1923 – 1997

Connie laughing,  smiling,  contemplative  August 2006

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Sept 6 — attacks on DACA

Aug 21 Dunya Mikhail – a poet, a historian, a voice

I stray today from an editorial principle, “do not re-post the same poet/poem too soon.”  But here I am re-posting Dunya Mikhail’s “My Grandmother’s Grave” (August 21 and now September 6).   I do so to add the voice of this “Work Day/Hard Time” list to the voices of the Sisters of Mercy and the Jesuits in the network of 28 Jesuit universities across the US  (   These networks of Detroit Mercy’s sponsoring religious communities join other voices as we object to the Trump administration’s decision to bring more misery and uncertainty to c. 800,000 Dreamer students.   I might have posted Warsan Shire’s “Home” or Joy Harjo’s “Grace” too.  All three women write poems to help readers get our imaginations around the fear of immigrants that, as in the violent years after World War I (c. 1919-1924), grips this country.

Perhaps Dunya comes to mind today because she shares my faith tradition as a Chaldean Catholic, and is a fellow citizen of Metro Detroit.

Have a blest day, awash as it is, in early autumn’s crisp clean air.


john sj

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Sept 1 — W. H. Auden “September 1, 1939” anonymous guest editor

Friday September 1, 2017

A long time soul friend and fellow lover of poetry, emailed me two days ago – a poem by W H Auden, much loved by both of us over the years.  S/he wrote:

“This poem of WH Auden was quoted, briefly, at the end of a Sunday NYTimes op-ed a few days ago on the value of memorizing poetry, and also of reading it aloud.  I will send the link to you but also want to suggest the poem as one you might in turn suggest.  It seems to fit the political mood of a country that has to be thinking, often, ‘Didn’t we get rid of Hitler? Don’t we know enough to repudiate fascist demagoguery?’  Evidently not —  ”

Have a blest 1st weekend of September,


john sj

p.s. Yes, even the NY Times thinks it helps to read a poem out loud, to which I add, “with pauses.”


I sit in one of the dives

On Fifty-second Street

Uncertain and afraid

As the clever hopes expire

Of a low dishonest decade:

Waves of anger and fear

Circulate over the bright

And darkened lands of the earth,

Obsessing our private lives;

The unmentionable odour of death

Offends the September night.


Accurate scholarship can

Unearth the whole offence

From Luther until now

That has driven a culture mad,

Find what occurred at Linz,

What huge imago made

A psychopathic god:

I and the public know

What all schoolchildren learn,

Those to whom evil is done

Do evil in return.


Exiled Thucydides knew

All that a speech can say

About Democracy,

And what dictators do,

The elderly rubbish they talk

To an apathetic grave;

Analysed all in his book,

The enlightenment driven away,

The habit-forming pain,

Mismanagement and grief:

We must suffer them all again.


Into this neutral air

Where blind skyscrapers use

Their full height to proclaim

The strength of Collective Man,

Each language pours its vain

Competitive excuse:

But who can live for long

In an euphoric dream;

Out of the mirror they stare,

Imperialism’s face

And the international wrong.


Faces along the bar

Cling to their average day:

The lights must never go out,

The music must always play,

All the conventions conspire

To make this fort assume

The furniture of home;

Lest we should see where we are,

Lost in a haunted wood,

Children afraid of the night

Who have never been happy or good.


The windiest militant trash

Important Persons shout

Is not so crude as our wish:

What mad Nijinsky wrote

About Diaghilev

Is true of the normal heart;

For the error bred in the bone

Of each woman and each man

Craves what it cannot have,

Not universal love

But to be loved alone.


From the conservative dark

Into the ethical life

The dense commuters come,

Repeating their morning vow;

‘I will be true to the wife,

I’ll concentrate more on my work,’

And helpless governors wake

To resume their compulsory game:

Who can release them now,

Who can reach the dead,

Who can speak for the dumb?


All I have is a voice

To undo the folded lie,

The romantic lie in the brain

Of the sensual man-in-the-street

And the lie of Authority

Whose buildings grope the sky:

There is no such thing as the State

And no one exists alone;

Hunger allows no choice

To the citizen or the police;

We must love one another or die.


Defenseless under the night

Our world in stupor lies;

Yet, dotted everywhere,

Ironic points of light

Flash out wherever the Just

Exchange their messages:

May I, composed like them

Of Eros and of dust,

Beleaguered by the same

Negation and despair,

Show an affirming flame.


W.H. Auden
February 21, 1907 – September 29, 1973

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Aug 30 Rutabaga

Wednesday,   August 30

“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 last year.

Laura Grace Weldon’s celebration of Rutabagas fresh from the garden feels like a song for beginnings, which are happening 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 legitimate 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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Aug 28 A Falcon soaring and a treasure in a field

Monday, August 28   –  Gerry  Stockhausen’s birthday week — in memory

People tell stories about what they see, and hear, and touch, and people listen.   This ancient rhythm weaves humans together over the centuries.   At universities we talk about “research”  and in my faith tradition, we tell each other what we perceive in sacred words.   Telling and listening make the world go round.   The passage of time sifts words, sorting out the not very good from the good and the very good.  But in a lifetime of listening, you may find a few sayings so compelling that they hold their shape as clear and unforgettable for decades.

Many people at the university have spent time and tears keeping vigil as Gerry Stockhausen, back in early January 2016, labored with his dying in an Omaha hospital room kept company by some of the close women and men of his life.  After he died, some of Gerry’s soul friends gathered in Omaha, in Milwaukee, and here on campus in Detroit, to anoint him with our love after he had left us.  We told stories about him, sang songs he used to play and sing and lead for worship.  Once I heard Gerry preach a game-changer homily.   I write how I remember what he said then as a way of keeping vigil in these months since he died in that Omaha room.

Have a blest day,


john st sj

Today’s Post – a treasure in a field

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field which someone has found; he hides it again, goes off happy, sells everything he owns and buys the field.”
(Matthew 13:44)

Gerry Stock’s homily, (as I remember what he said that day):  “The saying tells of a treasure and a field.  Parables are not long and they reveal their meaning when you pay attention to the words.   This parable does not say, “He dug up the treasure, cleaned off the dirt, and carried the treasure away.”  If you want the treasure, Gerry told us, you have to take the whole field, everything in it, what you treasure and what you wish was not part of the deal.  It’s that way when you fall in love and decide to commit to each other: “For better, for worse”; good days and bad days; tenderness and fights; patience and impatience; grief and joy.  It’s that way, too, when you decide to take on a new job or move to a new city, or commit yourself to a process of reconciliation that invests you more deeply in some real and earthy person or place.”  This is how I remember what Stock said that one day some years ago.  I’ve not been the same since.

p.s.    One of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poems comes to mind thinking of Stock on his 2017 birthday.

Best to read the poem out loud, with pauses.  That’s especially true with Hopkin’s dense and demanding poems.   His poems open their meaning more after 3 or 4 readings.

“The Windhover:  To Christ our Lord”

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

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

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

Gerard Manley Hopkins  28 July 1844 – 8 June, 1889

p.s. My sibs are coming to Detroit this afternoon, 3 days to hang out and talk and look around Detroit.  Midge and Jim celebrate their 50th year this month,  all of us will gather.

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Friday August 25

Friday, August 25

The Jesuits here spent last evening and today at the Manresa Jesuit Retreat Center (c. 10 miles north of campus)  to tell stories about the hard and lovely moments of the past year, + house keeping practices and such.  Most of us were so tired we took to our guest room beds moments after our 2.5 hours of beautiful telling and listening.   Back at things today though.

I’m back on campus for a wide open weekend (=  YIPPEE!!)

lean post today. More Monday morning.   Have a blest weekend.

john sj

p.s. 60 years ago today I walked into the Oshkosh, WI Jesuit “novitiate” to begin the attempt to enter the Jesuits.   From my biased perspective, that risk has turned out all right.

💞  😇


Rabnindranath Tagore # 1   Gitanjali 


Thou hast made me endless,  such is thy pleasure.

This frail vessel thou emptiest again and again,

and fillest it ever with fresh life.


This little flute of a reed thou hast carried over hills and dales,

and hast breathed through it melodies eternally new.

At the immortal touch of thy hands my little heart

loses its limits in joy and gives birth to utterance ineffable.


Thy infinite gifts come to me only on these very small hands of mine.

Ages pass, and still thou pourest,

and still there is room to fill.


“There is no way of telling strangers they are all walking around shining like the sun.”

Thomas Merton


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