Friday, November 21, 2014

Poems in French and English


avec café stylo
cahier ouvert

keeping watch
with coffee pen
open notebook


qui vive
à cette heure?

who's up
at this hour?
the lift--


vent du nord
les feuilles

north wind
the leaves

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Three poems

(in rickety Italian
and in slightly less rickety English!)


cantare un' inno
a questi tenebrosi
giorni d' autunno

a hymn of praise
for these dark
November days


Bardo vecchio
chi osa rimare
alla gara di poesia!

Emboldened oldster
daring to rhyme
at the poetry slam!


Arlington! O mio paese

Arlington: my favourite place!
Quiet, courteous in its grace.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014


I praise you, East Boston, and I damn you:
Urban purgatory, trash-mouthed progenitrix
Of my bravest poems, adolescent home,
Stomping ground of mobsters, good cooks, athletes,
Ethnic mélange of triple-deckers, Eastie,
Loud and difficult, next door to the airport,
Under the wings of Logan's jumbo jets.

I remember the Salesian Boys Club
Where priests and brothers and other staff would urge
Uncompetitive me to tentative exertions
On the basketball court.
Jim worked there: age twenty,
Avid for '60s music and Walt Whitman,
Literate, progressive, knowledgeable,
Encouraging my more creative side.
I remember Mass in the chapel with Father Sid,
Who was Italian, belying that first name,
And Brother Pat (Irish) who would play guitar
And sing the Beatles song about Mother Mary
Speaking words of wisdom.

I curse you, Eastie streets, for being populated
With a small number of bullies who'd pounce
On bookish me. I remember epithets
That rhymed with "maggot," and I remember
The gentler mockery of "brainiac, brainiac!"

I spent twelve years on Morris Street
Between Sacred Heart Church and the James Otis School:
My bedroom was a purple-carpeted cube
Large enough (barely!) for a twin bed, a radio,
A twelve-inch black-and-white TV, and not
Much more.  All the remaining space I filled
With novels and with books of poetry.
It was in this room that I memorized
Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night
And other poems by the great ones
Who made me want to write and write:
Dylan Thomas, Emily Dickinson,
Seamus Heaney, Edward Estlin Cummings.
I crafted rhyming bombast. I made
Strange surrealist flowers
Spring up from cracks in the sidewalk.

Somehow I survived,
Survived ungainly efforts at small-fry baseball
And glorious ineptitude at touch football
With a coach who thought he was Knute Rockne,
Survived the bullying, the name-calling,
The self-inflicted damage, the drinking binge
On the first day of my fifteenth June
That almost put my lights out once and for all,
Survived the loneliness, the doubt, the foolishness,
The deflated and inflated senses of self-worth,
Survived it all by spending endless hours
Listening to Morrissey and the Smiths.

I cannot glorify you, Eastie.  I'd like to wring your neck
Or whack you over the head until I feel
Some measure of guilt over not forgiving the sins
Of what was and is, for better or worse, my neighborhood.

[2011, rev. 2014]

Saturday, November 1, 2014


Blushing tumbler
through amber ages
     stages of the wind's velocity
chapped veins brittle in the year's dusk
     fingers curled        air to grasp
as brisk night balks the staunch tree's force

An ode to your soft leaving
is a modest celebration
     we start to speak a darkening dialect
     plucked from a tenebrous lexicon
sinister swirls of weather breathe our chill
our quest for solemn ecstasies

Ripe in its death the newborn ghost of time
begins to winnow our prolific chaff


Hotter than Hades

Is Hades hot? A bad surmise!
The flames are there to tantalize.
The icy soul that fain would melt
Seems close to warmth that is not felt.


A Vulgar Poet

He stuck a knife in the life of wit
And was embarrassed not a bit.
His work is art's true antonym:
I cannot hymn the likes of him.

Il Miglior Fabbro

You ply the English word with prudent hands,
unfailing love, keen wit; you've studied well
the noiseless patient spider, how she spins

innate examples of geometry--
a rhetoric of gossamer and silence
that stays composed in the brunt of battering gusts.

The stentor is the desperate counterfeit:
but your lines walk in steadiness and poise;
your poems speak; they do not rant or blare.

There is a place for gladness, for a soul
whose wisdom, humour, charity, and grace
all quietly excel the commonplace.

Imperishable joy! Yes, art's the thing--
and we are lucky to be listening.



Lovely woman born in June,
Splendid as the summer noon,
Pray for me who thirst for grace
As I seek your absent face
Darker, brighter than the moon,
Disappeared without a trace.
(Twice twelve winters now have passed
Since I saw my lady last.)

Lovely woman born in June,
I shall find your hiding-place
(Chasing you through memories
Till I glimpse your tender eyes)
If it take five dozen years,
Twenty thousand nights of tears
When the only prayer that's said
From the desert of my bed
Is your beatific name.

All your virtues I proclaim
As a holy litany
(When the bedside clock reads three)
To dispel my loneliness:
Come, good angel, come and bless
Him who dies for lack of you:
All my failing powers renew
By your kind and gentle voice;
Then, this poor soul will rejoice
To have regained paradise
Lost once through malicious pride.
(Heaven won't be squandered twice.)

When I find your missing face
In the place where saints abide,
Welcome me to your embrace
And absolve me from disgrace;
Bring about my restoration
With your healing salutation--
Be that day remote or soon,
Lovely woman born in June.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Centennial Ode

27 October 2014

If Dylan Thomas
Were still alive,
He'd cringe to see
My jittery jive.

I do not aim
To vex his ghost.
He is the poet
I love most.

I love him more
Than bacon and eggs;
Yes, more than Tina
Turner's legs.

I love him like
The cognac neat
That I imbibe
At Grafton Street.

I love his voice
Brazen and sure
More than the Smiths,
More than the Cure.

I crave his rave
Like chocolate cake,
Like chunks of fudge.
Make no mistake:

I love him more
Than pizza pie,
Than Branagh's Hamlet
Or ham on rye.

This randy rhymer,
I love him more
Than ravioli!

My rising moon,
My setting sun,
My bardic ocean,
He's the one.

I think he's nifty,
I think he's fine,
Forever young
At thirty-nine.

Brief was his life,
But mighty his metre!
He must have sneaked past
Old Saint Peter.

(Nuns and nurses
Hail-mary'd him home
To the tear-drying vale
Where angels roam.)

Somewhere in Heaven,
In a bar, pub, or joint,
He's laughing a laugh
And lifting a pint

Or maybe he's thundering
Sonnets and psalms
To herons and pipers,
To Wales in his arms.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Poor Sinner

Dramatis personæ:
Fr Ambrose Martin, a Franciscan, age 44
Fr Bonaventure O’Herlihy, also a Franciscan, age 79

Scene: The community room of St Francis Friary. The television is off. The room is empty of persons except for the two friars.


You up for TV, Bonny? No game tonight,
But the classic film channel’s got Audrey Hepburn.
Or maybe Downton Abbey's more your speed?

I love that Maggie Smith -- but no, not tonight.

You seem a little pensive. Am I wrong?

Oh, you know us senile contemplatives!
I need to spend more time in Adoration.

You always loved the old devotions, Bonny.
Tell me -- have you ever tried Centering Prayer?

Devotion to the Eucharist isn’t old.
It's timeless! Ever ancient, ever new.
Now, what on earth is this thing, Centering Prayer?

O artful codger! Trying to play dumb?
I’ve seen your bookshelves, Father O’Herlihy!
You’ve read Tom Keating and Basil Pennington.
You know damn well what Centering Prayer is.

Language, young man, language! Yes, I know.
I tried it during my Zennish '70s phase.
It's not for me. I like the Eastern prayer:
"Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy
On me, a sinner." Simple, short, and sweet.

Sinnering prayer instead of Centering Prayer?

Ha! "Sinnering." I'll have to remember that.
Tell me something, Ambrose. How do you pray?

I'll tell you how, O Grand Inquisitor:
I look at the world, at people all around me,
The baptized, unbaptized, the saint, the sinner,
Rich, poor; white, black; gay, straight; yes, everyone! --
And I see evidence of divinity.
Emmanuel, God with us, God in us:
A ceaselessly fruitful source of meditation.

The mystery of the Mystical Body of Christ!

Yes, Bonny, you could say that. And please do!

The immanence of God. Now, tell me, Ambrose:
Do you ever meditate on God's transcendence?

I should have known you'd bring transcendence up!
Is my way of thinking too adventurous
For a crusty old traditionalist like yourself?

Reactionary rigor, that's my specialty.

Transcendence, Bonny. Enlighten your young novice!

Well, you're putting a worn-out friar on the spot.
I’m getting forgetful of my theology.

You raised the topic, Bonny. It's your penance.
Expatiate, Methuselah!

Well, let’s see.
What can I say that you don’t already know?
God is Majesty. God is Mystery. Timeless, limitless.
He is Immortal Love. He is Beauty and Truth.
He broods over the world "with, ah, bright wings!"
With such unutterable purity,
With such unspeakable tenderness! He makes
The moon and the sun. The stars He puts in place.
He is the prime progenitor, the First Cause.
He fills our hearts with charity and hope
And ... and He is patient, very patient ...
He's far too patient with wretched sinners like me.

Are you all right, old buddy?

Oh, it's nothing.
I sometimes get -- well, lately I've been thinking
Of all the times I've failed Our Risen Lord,
Those many times I've wounded His Sacred Heart,
The times I have offended His Blessed Mother.

Surely you're being a bit too hard on yourself?

Not hard enough, Brozy. Not hard enough.
Are you familiar with the Dylan Thomas poem,
"Twenty-four years remind the tears of my eyes"?
Well, when you're seventy-nine, you get reminded
Of a whole lot of tears. A whole lot of tears.
I probably shouldn't say this, Ambrose, but ...

What is it, Bonny? Something is troubling you.

I wish I had your hope, your faith, your love.

Bonny! Good Lord! What are you talking about?
I should be saying the same exact thing to you!

I'm degenerating into bitterness.

Now stop it. No, you're not. Good heavens, Bonny!
You're the heart and soul of St Francis Friary!

God help us all if that's the case. Please, Ambrose,
Do me a favor. Before you hit the hay,
Just say a couple of extra prayers for me.
In fact -- would you mind? -- can we please
Say the Memorare together, now?

Of course!

Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thy intercession, was left unaided. Inspired by this confidence, I fly unto thee, O Virgin of Virgins, my Mother! To thee I come, before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in thy mercy, hear and answer me.

Bonny, you're scaring me. Tell me, what's up?

I was culpably stern -- no, not stern. Harsh.
I was very harsh with a penitent yesterday.

In the confessional?

Yes. Where else?

Go on.

Well, obviously, I can't tell --

Of course, of course.

I sounded like a monstrous moralist!
Don't smile. It's not a joke.

I'm sorry, Bonny.

I read him the riot act. “Change the error
Of your ways,” all that. But worse than that.
I was impatient. Said the kind of words
That keep people away from the sacrament.

You're human, Bonny. You had an off-day.

Off-day! God help me! My off-day
Might keep a desperate soul away from Christ!
We need to pray for him, poor man, for me,
For all confessors of our holy church,
For all old fools with mean hearts and sharp tongues,
For suffering souls with nowhere else to turn,
For those who look for refuge in the Church
And find a scowl in place of a welcoming heart.
(He probably saw me scowling through the grille!)
In the twilight of our lives we're judged on love.
St John of the Cross said that. Of course, he's right.
And if that’s the case, I’m in a heap of trouble.

What's that you're always telling me, Bonaventure?
"God writes straight on crooked lines." It's true.
You're not the perfect confessor. You're a sinner
As much in need of mercy as your penitents.
We're all poor sinners. That's our glory, Bonny!
We need the love of God so much! We do!
We're utterly dependent on God's grace.
Now, God sees, He must see, your good heart,
Your sincere sorrow, and your true compassion.
You may have made your penitent uncomfortable,
But then again, you might have made him think.
And if his sins appalled you, that should spur you
To pray for this poor fellow all the more,
To join him in his suffering supplications.

Oh, I don't know.

That's right, you don't know.
So please don't go around assuming the worst.

That poor man, he was genuinely sorry.
Christlike! Of course, Our Blessed Lord was sinless,
And my God-thirsting penitent was not,
But there was something beautiful in his sorrow.
“O the beautiful souls of sinners!” Who said that?
No matter. This fellow had a beautiful soul,
And I barked pieties at him. Stupid, stupid!
If I could, I’d kneel to him and beg forgiveness.
Oh, Brozy, I've botched it. How can I say Mass
Or hear confessions when I'm so ...


So loveless!

Come on, Bonny.
It's late. You've got the 7 o'clock tomorrow.

Oh, no! Oh, goodness! Brozy, please, you have to
Hear my confession before I go to bed.

Confession? You’re in luck. That’s what I do.
I can't refuse my old pal Bonaventure.

Your old pal is one cranky son-of-a-gun.

That might be true. God loves you anyway.
The rest of us? We just put up with you.
Let’s go into the chapel.

[They rise, Ambrose easily, Bonaventure with effort]

De profundis clamavi ad te, Domine:
“Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.”
Brozy, do you know Wilde’s De Profundis?

Ah, good old Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie!
They teach him nowadays at the seminary.

As what, literature or moral theology?

But in a recent issue of The Ignatian,
Some Jesuit calls him a Doctor of the Church!


For me, he’s got a far more glorious title:
A poor sinner who fell in love with Christ.

Brozy, you brazen infidel, you’re all right.

[They walk off.]