Friday, May 20, 2016

Sister Mary Matthias

You were 85 when I met you.
Barely five feet tall, if that!
In a sky-blue cardigan, with a modest silver cross
around your neck. A face
of grandmotherly joy:
short white hair curling a bit,
glasses like happy octagons in a face of laugh lines
and (to be candid) old-age wrinkles
that somehow added to the beauty of the face.
You'd hug anyone at a first meeting!

You knew me during my days
as an East Boston kid, somewhat troubled,
volunteering for the church in Roxbury.
You'd smile at me on my glummest days
and my bad mood would dissipate
like an ice cube in hot coffee.

You'd preside over bingo with the St Patrick's seniors.
One day, you had me call the numbers!

Every March 17th
you'd wear green with the rest of us
and join the parish stalwarts
(Cape Verdeans, Latinos, African-Americans)
in singing Irish songs
like "Harrigan" and "Molly Malone."

I wish I could introduce you
to some of my newer friends,
to some of my older friends,
to people you never knew!

Deborah would have loved you.
You would have taken a keen interest
in her knitting projects, in the story
of how she and I first met
at Latin School in our teens;
you would have loved hearing about
Debba's travels to Asia
and her several years in Seattle and Portland.

Elena would have loved you.
And you would have loved this midwestern poet,
this Christian soul--
artist, singer, lover of music,
bright capacious heart!

My liberal friends, my conservative friends,
the cynical grumps, the ebullient charmers,
the shining lights and the hopeless cases,
all would have loved you.

My neighbors at the Manor--
some of them not much younger than you!--
they would have delighted in your company.
I think of devout Mrs Kelly,
who'd doubtless remember the same old songs,
"I'll Be Seeing You"
and "When Your Old Wedding Ring Was New,"
the same war-stories,
what things were like on the homefront
as our boys fought the Axis,
the same preconciliar Church
where Cardinal Cushing
said the Rosary on the radio
and Bishop Sheen was a TV star
who lightened the mood a bit
and always signed off with
"Bye now, and God love you!"

You once met a saint, you told me:
St Katharine Drexel, who founded your order,
the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament.

Well, I've met you, and I'm certain I can boast:
I have met a saint.
I know you're with St Katharine and all the saints,
with the anawim, the poor ones whom the Lord so loves
and whom you loved during
your 97 years of hope and mercy.

Thursday, May 19, 2016


With wide papery wings
as black as the death notices
the crow alit on a fireplug
near the Market Basket.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

A House in Somerville

Blue-gray-panelled two-story
on a side street near Davis Square,
house seen from the window
of the bus I often ride,
with a car wedged slantwise
in your cramped driveway,
with hedges anarchic
as the speech of the mad,
a back stair of chipped paint
and windows unwashed
since the days of George McGovern,
do your rooms hold treasures,
secrets and surprises,
attractions that your outside
gives no hint of?
Are there corners where children
can nestle and hide,
is there a little pantry
with jars of peanut butter
and copious cans of beans,
does the bedroom have
a cedarwood chest
(whose fragrance Time
has not completely stolen)
where scores of sweaters
are hoarded like wealth,
are there bookshelves, closets,
is there an attic whose boards
sag beneath the weight of boxes
packed with photographs
of the cherished and long gone?

Who drives the old sedan
parked outside the garage?
Who sits at the dinner-table?
One person? Two or three?
Are there conversations,
is there a happy family's
laughter and effervescence?
There must have been,
years and years ago.
Who dresses, who shaves
in the bathroom mirror,
who watches soap operas,
who wakes up at night
startled by a siren,
who pads on slippers
to the nightlit kitchen
to grab a glass of milk
and make a bologna sandwich?

Saturday, May 14, 2016



i am zacchaeus
fumbling up the sycamore
to catch a glimpse

i am the leper
flinging myself against the rules
onto the mercy of the nazarene

i am the woman at the well
parched at high noon
as a dry and barren land
where no water is

i am the psalmist
lamenting that my beauty
is gone for very trouble

i am pope francis
kneeling to wash
the feet of inmates
on his first holy thursday
as bishop of rome

i am a prisoner of sin
a mendicant of mercy
begging for blessings
greedy for grace


i am mary of bethany
and jesus rides the number 15 bus
in the heartadown dudley

smiling unsmiling
radiant and weary
the brown and black faces
of the sweet lord christ

domine non sum dignus
lord i am not worthy

but only say the word
and my soul shall be healed


says a friend
does not wear
a long face

as it is the freedom
to rejoice


it is liberating to be abject
it is exaltation to be humble
it is resurrection to be dust


learn to be grateful
for the exhaustion
when being tired
is the only prayer


i choke on the surfeit
of books and of words

the voice of the fool
comes with much chatter


o this agony
of trying to please heaven
when one is wedded to the earth
composed entirely
of lust and pride and hunger


the morning star
works in a bar
in the remnants of boston's west end

she gives light to those in darkness
she gives drink to the thirsty
she gives grace to the graceless


i wait patiently for the lord
who does not incline
to hear my cry


a winter liturgy
in the roxbury convent
three degrees above zero
out in the street
but warm in the modest
oddly handsome chapel

the old-shoe priest
father waldron
sporting a bandage
from a recent surgery

the nonagenarian sisters
of the blessed sacrament
sister mary matthias
and a few others
praying over the sound
of the hissing radiator

on a table in the back of the chapel
a beat-up paperback
by the jesuit william barry
god and you

there were six or seven people at this mass
and it was years ago

but nothing can unconvince me
that this mass changed the world


dare we hope
in a god
who loves us
not in spite of
but because


can our eyes discern
in love's humiliation
the delicate harbingers
of something called glory

can our soul perceive
in love's destitution
any bud any spear of grass
any sign of resurrection


my true love
is not this moralist
who quotes the catechism

my true love
is not this innocent lamb
who has never known sin

my true love
is a beautiful tyrant
exacting my surrender
and subjection

my true love
is furious and pure
blazes like fire
soothes like moonlight

my true love
has conquered me quite
and left me defenseless
and crying for mercy


my lord and my god
you cannot be
that white-bearded cartoon

my lord and my god
are you in fact that love
which religion seems to forbid

my lord and my god
can you restore
all that you have taken away

my lord and my god
do you reside on high in the clouds
or among the bricks and the dust

my lord and my god
behold your faithful servant
beneath a heap of rubble

my lord and my god
who you do think you are
treating me this way

my lord and my god
my heart cannot rest in you
you have given my soul no peace

my lord and my god
you are not the smiling face
you are not the happy ending

my lord and my god
you are the cruel fate
to which i am condemned

my lord and my god
you are the cross
on which i hang

Friday, May 13, 2016


You walked toward me on Hampden Street
in Boston's roughest neighborhood:
housing project to the left,
disused warehouses to the right.

Your face -- brown and unblemished,
about my age, late twenties at the time --
gave friendly light in the warm September morning.
Your black hair was pushed back from your eyes;
your smile was a happy introduction.

Something about you, I felt, was holy:
stained glass in Coventry Cathedral,
water from the grotto at Lourdes.

You said hello and I said hello.
You said Nice day and I said Yes it is.
You said Wanna date?
and your hand went for my zipper.

I leapt backwards half a step,
perhaps a little more,
making a noise like No!

You said, I know a spot.
Over there behind the fence.
Near the old factory.
I said, I’d really rather not.

Come on, you urged, ten bucks
and I’ll make you feel
like the President.

I wanted to convey
that I needed my money
for something else,
so I blurted:
I haven't had breakfast yet!

Of course, I didn’t get the presidential treatment,
but I ended up giving you two dollars
because you were persistent
and I wanted to get away.

I should have told you the real reason
I didn’t want to go behind the fence.

Forgive my saying so, I might have said,
but you’re too lovely a woman,
far too precious a soul
to be degrading yourself.

Monday, May 9, 2016


You are the spice in the chouri├žo,
the five alarms in the red peppers,
the fire in the diamond,
the ice in the sapphire,
the saxophone in “Moondance,”
the percussion in "We Will Rock You."
Your kisses are thunderstorms
thrashing the August night
with fantastic electricity.
Your kisses are blizzards
whipping the shores of Scituate
with an unhinged ferocity.
You are the hot wine of Argentina
coursing in the veins
of a tigress.
You are the coffee of Morocco
jolting a sluggish body
to wide-eyed attention.
You are sunbursts and hurricanes,
tidal waves and tantrums.
Your love is unprintable, unsuitable,
a slap in the face.
There is nothing perhaps about you!
You’re as hesitant and delicate
as a Pamplona stampede.
You’re as domestic and proper
as the fifth shot of whiskey.

Friday, April 29, 2016


Round-faced philosopher
stout as a ham,
with eyes that stare
and scrutinize,
tell me what secrets
you have unlocked,
what wealth of wisdom
you have acquired,
from your magisterial perch
in the Graco stroller.