Oct 26 – An ancient prayer and a prayer written 3 or 4 days ago

The prayer below appears on the first day of January each year.  If I am not mistaken, it is the oldest prayer I ever recite, several thousand years deep in the liturgy that helps open the first day of each year in the Christian tradition.   Yesterday, my Lakota daughter, Mary Tobacco, and my sister, Mary Staudenmaier, and I joined in a mid-afternoon prayer — several sacred prayers followed by prayers for, and in gratitude for, people who know us, and who bless us, and who need us.  Because Mary Tobacco lives in an intense infection zone – – The Pine Ridge Lakota reservation is generally considered the poorest county in the United States – – Mary lobbies for desperate people.  Yesterday through c. one foot of snow, she and her team of 35 men and women delivered firewood and food along the district’s back roads.   We prayed for the elders and the children, prayed about hunger, and the pandemic’s dangers.

When we turned to the January 1 prayer, the two Marys with whom I prayed found this ancient prayer nourishing and beautiful.   Mary T asked us to pray it again this morning as we began our day.   Here it is;  best to read the prayer out loud, with pauses.


May the Lord Bless you
and keep you
May she make her face
shine on you
and be kind to you
may he turn his face tenderly toward you and bring you peace.


Have a blest week,


john sj

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October 23 – a new poet for the Work Day/Hard Time list – Jennifer Elise Foerster – “Leaving Tulsa”

Friday, October 23
“She was covered in a quilt, the Creek way.
But I don’t know this kind of burial:”

Poet Laureate Joy Harjo calls Tulsa her home, lives there and, in subtle ways, lives from there also. As with her many poems, she brings her unflinching memory and voice, tender and alive with vitality, to a resilient human place. I am only now meeting Jennifer Elise Foerster. She stopped me into stillness when I read “Leaving Tulsa” this morning, and, yes, she reminds me of Joy Harjo.

“I understand how to walk among hay bales
looking for turtle shells.
How to sing over the groan of the county road
widening to four lanes”

Best to read the poem out loud, with pauses. Have a blest weekend, here as October continues its songs for us.

john sj

Today’s post: “Leaving Tulsa”
By Jennifer Elise Foerster
for Cosetta

Once there were coyotes, cardinals
in the cedar. You could cure amnesia
with the trees of our back-forty. Once
I drowned in a monsoon of frogs—
Grandma said it was a good thing, a promise
for a good crop. Grandma’s perfect tomatoes.
Squash. She taught us to shuck corn, laughing,
never spoke about her childhood
or the faces in gingerbread tins
stacked in the closet.

She was covered in a quilt, the Creek way.
But I don’t know this kind of burial:
vanishing toads, thinning pecan groves,
peach trees choked by palms.
New neighbors tossing clipped grass
over our fence line, griping to the city
of our overgrown fields.

Grandma fell in love with a truck driver,
grew watermelons by the pond
on our Indian allotment,
took us fishing for dragonflies.
When the bulldozers came
with their documents from the city
and a truckload of pipelines,
her shotgun was already loaded.

Under the bent chestnut, the well
where Cosetta’s husband
hid his whiskey—buried beneath roots
her bundle of beads. They tell
the story of our family. Cosetta’s land
flattened to a parking lot.

Grandma potted a cedar sapling
I could take on the road for luck.
She used the bark for heart lesions
doctors couldn’t explain.
To her they were maps, traces of home,
the Milky Way, where she’s going, she said.

After the funeral
I stowed her jewelry in the ground,
promised to return when the rivers rose.

On the grassy plain behind the house
one buffalo remains.

Along the highway’s gravel pits
sunflowers stand in dense rows.
Telephone poles crook into the layered sky.
A crow’s beak broken by a windmill’s blade.
It is then I understand my grandmother:
When they see open land
they only know to take it.

I understand how to walk among hay bales
looking for turtle shells.
How to sing over the groan of the county road
widening to four lanes.
I understand how to keep from looking up:
small planes trail overhead
as I kneel in the Johnson grass
combing away footprints.

Up here, parallel to the median
with a vista of mesas’ weavings,
the sky a belt of blue and white beadwork,
I see our hundred and sixty acres
stamped on God’s forsaken country,
a roof blown off a shed,
beams bent like matchsticks,
a drove of white cows
making their home
in a derailed train car.

Jennifer Elise Foerster, “Leaving Tulsa” from Leaving Tulsa. Copyright © 2013 by Jennifer Elise Foerster. Reprinted by permission of University of Arizona Press.

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Oct 21 – Three stone cairns and One bird – Andy Goldsworth and Emily Dickenson

Wednesday, October 21 — Three Cairns – sculpture
“Cairns [are] stone structures [or markers]
that identify a place of great importance.”

This little boy exploring a large stone egg got me wondering the way art does.  Two artists here, the sculptor and the mom with the camera. So I emailed his mom back asking about the egg. She’s a close friend living in La Jolla, CA: “it’s a sculpture by Andy Goldsworthy, called ‘Three Cairns,’ in front of the Museum of Contemporary Art; my son calls it the ‘egg rock.’”

I found an explanation on the website of the Greater Des Moines Public Art Foundation (http://dsmpublicartfoundation.org/public-art/three-cairns/). Just below is their great picture of the central cairn at the Des Moines Art Center. “Cairns,” Public Art tells us, are “stone structures [or markers] that identify a place of great importance. Their dry-stone construction represents an engineering feat as well as artistic creativity. The process of shaping and stacking the stones into a simple oval shape is challenging and intense. The form symbolizes fullness and ripeness, time and energy, loss and endurance.” The Foundation also tells us that this is the largest project in the Western Hemisphere by British artist Andy Goldsworthy.

The photo, by Doug Millar, shows the central cairn at home among Iowa grass and trees. Goldworthy’s placement of the two hollow-out stone frames isn’t random. One points toward New York, a matching cairn outside the Neugerger Museum of Art; the other points west to the San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art in La Jolla and the cairn my friend’s son showed off for us. The limestone for each comes from long before its physical home was inhabited by people calling their place “Iowa.”

Lots going on here. Not one place but three, not three places but a continent, not one time but millennia, all crafted with the precise skills of a contemporary worker of stone. I like to imagine the work we do at the university like that – demanding precise thinking and some memory. But, our Mission Statement reminds our students, the point is not the quizzes or the grade; the point is a lifetime of their citizenship in a world that is vast and beloved of God.

While getting reacquainted with the Cairns, I opened a poem feed that lands in my inbox each day to find a gift from Emily Dickenson. Just below my signature, you will find Emily Dickenson’s 12 line poem about an unnamed bird. Which form of beauty opens me to deeper stillness this mid-October day in 2020, the trans-national sculpture or this poem from the 19th century? Answer? “yes.”

Looks like autumn rains today, encouraging grass and flowers and trees to do their thing as this hard and challenging academic year continues to surprise us in our city and on our campus.   Best to read the poem and savor these cairns slowly, with pauses and gratitude.

Have a blest day,

john st sj

Today’s Post

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

Emily Dickinson
December 10, 1830 – May 15, 1886

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October 21 – – Gerard Manley Hopkins, sj “Hurrahing in the Harvest”

Wednesday, October 21

“Summer ends now, now
     barbarous in beauty the stooks arise around”

Getting ready for a rainy day — each day a little shorter and the sun a little lower in the sky, sunrise a little farther to the south. This is a season when how far north or south one lives can get our attention. I love it that we have a large open space in the northeast corner of the McNichols Campus and that McNichols Road (aka 6 Mile) makes our northern boundary a true east-west survey line, keyed to 8 Mile Road (which dates to the 1789 Northwest Territory survey mapping project). All that makes it easier to locate this campus against the majestic march of sunrise all through the year, and can remind us, too, that Detroit has been around a while. Do I go a little nuts in autumn? Sure do. You?

19th century Jesuit poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, loved autumn also (see today’s poem just below). Even more than most great poets, GMH rewards investment in the sounds of his language. Best to read out loud, with pauses, several times and, maybe, enjoy the sky?

p.s. for a working definition of  “stooks”  see the caption below the harvest field after Hopkins’ poem.

Have a blest day,

john sj


Today’s post — “Hurrahing in The Harvest”

Summer ends now; now, barbarous in beauty, the stooks arise
Around; up above, what wind-walks! what lovely behaviour
Of silk-sack clouds! has wilder, wilful-wavier
Meal-drift moulded ever and melted across skies?

I walk, I lift up, I lift up heart, eyes,
Down all that glory in the heavens to glean our Saviour;
And, éyes, heárt, what looks, what lips yet gave you a
Rapturous love’s greeting of realer, of rounder replies?

And the azurous hung hills are his world-wielding shoulder
Majestic—as a stallion stalwart, very-violet-sweet!—

These things, these things were here and but the beholder
Wanting; which two when they once meet,
The heart rears wings bold and bolder
And hurls for him, O half hurls earth for him off under his feet.


“ .  .  . now, barbarous in beauty, the stooks arise
Around . . .”

“stooks”  = “a group of sheaves of grain stood on end in a field.”

Gerard Manley Hopkins
28 July 1844 – 8 June, 1889


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Oct 19 – Maria Ibarra “Being Catholic”

“But how can they believe me?
When sometimes I don’t even believe myself.
Maybe it’s time to be loud.”

No strong poem is ordinary;  Maria’s surely is not ordinary either.  I am proud that the “Work Day in Hard Times” list has made a home for her voice among our poets and readers.    Best to read the poem out loud, with pauses.

Have a blest day,


john sj


Today’s Post –  “Being Catholic”

I wear my faith quietly,
like a pebble in your pocket
Smooth and cold,
Comforting when you hold it tight in your hand.
But to be more honest,
I wear my faith secretly, cautious of who
to tell the truth because
I’m not sure how my circle
of liberal, leftists, almost
socialists would take it.
How could I, a feminist who uses reason,
logic, and kindness, follow a church
that doesn’t let women be leaders?
Follow a God
who believes LGBTQ loved ones will rot in hell?
follow an institution
that rapes children?
I want to tell them that
that isn’t my church, isn’t my God.
My God lives in jails and detention centers,
in water bottles left in the desert,
and school teachers who work too much for too little.
My God is in parents who love their gay
and trans kids as reflections
of God’s own image.
My faith is the holiness of women, the life
in service for others.

My God is liberation.
She is the power of the storm
and the stillness of it when it’s over.
She is Brown laborers
rebuilding a city,
and the sweat of their foreheads
feeding their families.
But how can they believe me? When
sometimes I don’t even believe myself.
Maybe it’s time to be loud.
As loud as the annoying (and wrong) fetus
fanatics who are pro-life without
really being pro-living.
Maybe it’s time to let my faith breathe. Take
my pebble and let throw it
in the water.
Let it make ripples.
Let it make a fucking tsunami.

Maria Ibarra-Frayre
Writer, feminist, unapologetically undocumented

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Jamaal May “There are birds here”

Friday, October 16 –   “And no
his neighborhood is not like a war zone”

We, who live and work in Detroit – 8 Mile Road down to the River – 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 weekend,

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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October 12 – Noticing at Connie’s

Monday, Oct 12, 2020  –  “a mutual commitment to noticing”

Over 4 decades of kinship, Connie de Biase and I lived our way into a mutual commitment to noticing. She died in Brentwood Long Island 3 years ago.  Since she left us,  I miss her most on Saturday mornings when driving into center city to buy loaves of fresh-baked bread.   I would call Connie after I’d placed my shopping bag on the passenger side.  As I drove home, we talked about the condition of our inner lives.  Through Connie’s last months, our talk became more brave and sad as she recognized her growing diminishment, her grief at losing the life in Madison, CT that she loved and lived so gracefully.  Ignatius calls conversations like this a way of paying attention to “inner disturbances, both consolations and desolations.”

first written and posted January 23, 2017 (c. 2 weeks before she died)
“Perhaps today’s Denise Levertov poem came to mind because of what happened in me as I flew into JFK Saturday and braved the Long Island’s expressway with its too-tight turns matched by slightly-too-narrow lanes.  I’d come 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 came to realize, 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, c. 25 minutes, and 4 or 5  minutes early the next morning when we said goodbye before I headed back to JFK).  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.”

Denise Levertov writes of an ancient poet whose frail strengths remind me of my friend.   This Monday morning, chilly and gray but still alive with the promises with which February can surprise us.  Who knows?  The poet and the morning might tempt you to open your window or step outside so you can read “In Love” while bathed in its beauty, and breathe a little too.

Have a blest week,

john 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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October 13 – Shiraz is more than a wine; it is an ancient city in Iran and the home of the first great wine

Wednesday, October 13 – “My city is that cup of sunshine. . .”

Professor Fatemeh Keshavarz, University of Maryland’s Roshan Chair of Persian Studies, is a poet and a scholar. In September 2014, she welcomed us into our academic year by reading a poem she wrote a few days before September 11, 2001 — before she or we knew about the 9-11 attacks on New York, Washington DC and a field in western Pennsylvania. This first Monday of October, national news led with a story of a violent mass shooting in Las Vegas. It is hard not to go numb with what feels like a relentless rush of hatred carried out with precise killing weapons. Fatemeh locates that same violence in a vast universe of creative intensity and serenity. If you were not there in 2014, and even if you were, it’s worth reading again (http://danmurano.com/poetry/fatemeh-keshavarz).

Here is another of Fatemeh Keshavarz’s poems. She celebrates “Shiraz,” her home city in Iran, which has lived as a center for art and beauty for c. 4000 years. Wikipedia tells me that “The oldest sample of wine in the world, dating to approximately 7,000 years ago, was discovered on clay jars recovered outside of Shiraz.”

Detroit is only 318 years old, but I am using the poem to celebrate Motown today. The beauty of taste and the pause that good wine inspires, can help put terror in its much larger context of the human condition over centuries. Lift a glass when you get off work.

Best read “Shiraz” out loud several times, with some pauses. Have a blest day.


john sj


Held up to gods
In the palm of a giant’s hands
A rare handcrafted marble cup
Brimming with sunshine
Defined at the outer edges
With tall cypress trees
That line up at dawn reverently
To interpret the horizons
In their meticulous green thoughts

My city is
That cup of sunshine
I can drink to the last drop
And be thirsty for more.


Shiraz, Dec. 21, 2000

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Wednesday, Sept 30 – Gerard Manley Hopkins — “the power and beauty of ordinary human sadness”

Wednesday, September 30
“It ís the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.”

This demanding Hopkins poem speaks of the power and beauty of ordinary human sadness.  Pretty much every work day in the year invites our attention to work-pressure but also to what we notice when we pause, breathe, and invite stillness into the pace of living.

“Have you breathed yet today”?  This has been a question many women and men, soul friends, plant lightly in the hustle of my life, and I plant the same question in their lives too.   This afternoon, that question brings me back to Len Waters, sj.  Len taught me and other college age young adults in his classes.  He challenged us to believe that our lives are alive with beauty, that sadness opens us to beauty as freshly as playfulness does.   Len taught us to keep what he called a “Commonplace Book,”  small enough to fit in a shirt pocket.   When some extraordinary sound or sight or memory or piece of poetry catches our attention, we could stop right where we are, take out our battered little book, find words that want our attention precisely then and there.  Thus, a commonplace moment can come alive in our imaginations with remembering, again and again.

The “Work Day in a Hard Time,” now in the list’s seventh year, comes from Fr. Waters’ teachings when he taught me in my early twenties.   I miss him still.   Reading this Hopkins poem slowly, with pauses, reminds me of what I owe to his mentoring.  Let me tip my hat to Len and to a host of great teachers who have anointed generations of students here at Six Mile and Livernois.

Have a blest week as we catch a hint of autumn.

john st sj


Spring and Fall
By Gerard Manley Hopkins
   to a young child

Márgarét, áre you gríeving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leáves like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! ás 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:
Sórrow’s spríngs áre the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It ís the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

Near the Jesuit cemetery, Colombiere Center November 28, 2006


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September 28 — wedding anniversary of my Mom and Dad in 1935

“Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness”

Last year about this time, one of the list’s readers responded to an all-time favorite autumn poem from Gerard Manley Hopkins – – who pretty regularly knocks me flat with wonder. The email contained John Keats’ early 19th-century romantic poem without comment.  That reader reminded me, as list readers often do, of a poet I had not noticed for a while.  No scolding either; as in “how can you have overlooked Keats!”  Since then, Keats works on my imagination this time of year.  I’m in his debt for this near-perfect evocation of mid-autumn blustering East/North East winds and rain.

During this year,  with its avalanches of relentless news stories, I am hearing — in conversations with generous-hearted companions who find the courage, again and again, to pay attention to the wounds of the world and call out powerful and stark images of the state of the present world.  One soul friend, when I asked, “tell me how you are these weeks,” told me: “my cough has been very tough, mostly because of the clouds of smoke from the raging fires around us.”  She said, “sometimes this feels like the end of the world. . .”  But then we tell each other stories of tenderness and hope in and for this same hard world.

Telling each other stories restores and refreshes our hopes and imaginations:  we rise from our fears and begin again to embrace our world.

Best to read “to autumn” several times out loud with pauses.


Have a blest week.

john sj


Today’s Post “To Autumn” John Keats

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

Where are the songs of spring? Ay, Where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

31 October 1795 – 23 February 1821


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