Sunday, June 26, 2016


Poem #543
by Emily Dickinson

I fear a Man of frugal Speech—
I fear a Silent Man—
Haranguer—I can overtake—
Or Babbler—entertain—

But He who weigheth—While the Rest—
Expend their furthest pound—
Of this Man—I am wary—
I fear that He is Grand—

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Sister Mary Matthias

You were 85 when I met you.
A five-foot-tall engine of love
in a sky-blue cardigan,
with a modest silver cross
over your heart. A face
of grandmotherly joy:
short white hair curling a bit,
glasses like happy octagons
in a face of laugh lines
and old-age wrinkles.

You'd hug anyone at a first meeting!
A hug like home cooking,
telling the soul You are valued,
cherished, loved.

You knew me during my days
as an East Boston kid, troubled in mood and mind,
volunteering for the church in Roxbury.
You'd smile at me on my glummest days
and my distemper 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!
Unused to the task,
I rose to the occasion
calling out "N-38!" "G-54!"
with gusto and theatrical precision.
I must have sounded like the third Crane brother:
Frasier, Niles, Thomas.

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

My dear friend Deborah would have loved you.
You would have taken a keen interest
in the story of how she and I first met
at Latin School in our teens;
in tales of her travels to Hyderabad
and her several years in Seattle and Portland.
She might have even knitted you a scarf
for the bitter winter walks from the convent to St Pat's!

Elena would have loved you.
And you would have loved this midwestern poet,
this Christian soul--
artist, singer, lover of music,
bright capacious heart!
You would have loved her poems
praising the "ebony alleluias" of crickets,
and the "frailty and faithfulness" of family.

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.
Some saintliness rubbed off!

Now you're with St Katharine and all the holy ones
with the anawim, the poor souls whom the Lord so loves:
you're with the God who called you, Colette Gallagher,
an Irish-American girl,
to travel to New Orleans and Boston's inner city
as Sister Mary Matthias, bearer of Christ-light, Christ-love.

It seems impertinent to wonder:
Were you ever unsure? Did you ever doubt?

As with all religious,
you gave up much in the way of worldly ease
to become a channel of mercy
(for close to a hundred years!)
to those of us who waver and who fail.


No magic number, forty-seven:
you are aching bones,
sleep apnea, gray hair,
two hundred fifty pounds,
shortness of breath,
sluggish lumbering gait.
You are Dad's face
in the bathroom mirror.
You are lust and gluttony
undiminished (fortified,
in fact, by years of practice).
You are Boston Latin School's
30th Class Reunion,
a couple of dozen months away
from AARP mailings.
You are flirting with barmaids
born when you could drink.
You are rust in the muscles,
creaking in the joints,
Atenolol, Simvastatin,
glucose levels, finger-sticks,
beerbelly, five o'clock shadow,
crushes on women
twenty-five and sixty-five.
Your quick mind mocks
your body's disrepair.
No doubt you've passed
the halfway point,
but you're a mellow bastard,
you greet the world
with crusty compassion,
gruff tolerance,
manly mercy.
The flash in your eye
from behind the bifocals
lets the world know there's
life in the old boy yet.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Chasing the Waves

With Dad. Revere Beach, 1972.
My three-year-old legs would scurry to pursue
The beast of the Atlantic in retreat.

Of course, its watery paws would soon rush back
To maul the shore. I'd run from their attack
As quickly as I could on toddler feet.

Delighted, Dad would look on, and would shout
Encouragement and warning: "Hey, watch out!
They're gonna getcha!" I would shriek and laugh.

I'm older now than Dad was then. No son
To teach this excellent art of having fun,
Of chasing waves for an hour, or a half.

reposted for Fathers' Day

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Monastic Wisdom

The old Cowley monk Fr Wigram

was once asked by a junior cleric
which "method of contemplative prayer"

he most often used. The senior priest

scratched his head and admitted,
"Well, mostly I just kneel down,

and hope for the best."

Sunday, June 12, 2016

The Book Rack

I walked to 13 Medford Street
and popped into the Book Rack.
It's always an inviting atmosphere.
There's a bunch of smart ladies (plus Mike).

I popped into the Book Rack
to say hello and talk summer reading
with a bunch of smart ladies (plus Mike)
familiar to me from years of browsing.

I said hello and talked summer reading
with Brenda and Ann and Roxie
familiar to me from years of browsing.
I even bought some second-hand books!

With Brenda and Ann and Roxie,
you can make special orders
and even buy some second-hand books:
Seamus Heaney, Nora Roberts, Pema Chödrön.

You can make special orders;
they'll arrive within the week--
Seamus Heaney, Nora Roberts, Pema Chödrön--
they come from vast warehouses!

They'll arrive within the week
from places close by and far off;
they come from vast warehouses
with thousands of hardcovers and paperbacks.

From places close by and far off,
people walk into 13 Medford Street.
With thousands of hardcovers and paperbacks,
it's always an inviting atmosphere.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

For Christopher Smart

Let me salute my mug of coffee with the cactus and Mi Casa Su Casa
For it is a valorous vessel filled with elixirs of liveliness

Let Menotomy's brick sidewalks ring out with praise for summer
For the women walk around in open-toed shoes delighting the eyes of the sparrows

Let Roethke and Auden and Cummings sing praise to the Maker of peonies
For it is right and just to love all flowers in their flamboyance

Let Trappistine nuns make cheese and Trappist monks make beer
For food and drink gives glory to God as psalm and sacrament do

Let Jesus smile upon my friends at the Book Rack and at Gail Ann's
For Arlington is an afterthought to Eden and a foretaste of lasting joy

Let saints hold hands with Causeway Street drunks and the clients of the Lindemann
For downcast souls are priceless in the suffering eyes of Christ

Let cardinals fly exclamations of red in the shrubbery of June
For I have seen these angels in the scraggly gardens of Chelsea

Let me pray my beads as the friars do at five in the morning
For the birds of Mrs Alvarez sing Ave Stella Maris as the sun blesses the east

Let the ladies of St Elizabeth's knit blankets and eat creamed spinach soup
For wisdom resides in each stitch and sip and communion in their gatherings

Let the humble broom sweep away cobwebs from the corners of dusty apartments
For Satan is afraid of people who keep up with the housework

Let the throngs who shop at Market Basket in Somerville never go hungry
For the hands of the Lord are bounteous to the daughters and sons of poverty

Let Papa Bergoglio thunder mercy from the balconies of the Vatican
For he is a monstrance of the Saviour's love for all who hurt in the world

Let Americans stay home from the polls on the eighth day of November
For the friend of liberty holds no truck with charlatans fiends and liars

Let swords rust in their scabbards let missiles be sundered to dust
For there is no virtue more fierce and more proud than being a maker of peace

Let the sixies of Boston Latin School practice their newfound declensions
For they shall learn grammar and ancient languages and be distinguished for knowledge

Let Dad watch golf from St Andrew's in Scotland let Mom watch General Hospital
For Heaven condones enthusiasm in heads with many gray hairs

Sunday, June 5, 2016


Four tote bags of books lugged up to the Book Rack;
Heaviness of June warmth telling you spring's over.