SUNDAY

I am upstairs in this new place we have down by the river, upstairs earlier today when the morning is almost the afternoon.  We are at home for about two hours after the eight o’clock Mass where we provide the musical entertainment, and after that, we stop off at the house of Tom Bolton, a retired state trooper, who lives a few doors down from us with his wife Dee, and their two dogs, Lillian who is a well mannered Chocolate Lab approaching a dignified age, and Garda Siochana, a youngster who is learning her manners, slowly, very slowly.  She just goes by the name of Garda, though.  Tom’s son, who is also Tom Bolton, named her.  It is probably because he is a Sergeant on the Nashua P.D., a pretty sharp cop who teaches at a local college and up at the State Police Academy. That, and the fact that they are Irish. Garda Siochana is the official Irish name of their national police force.

We bring them communion after Mass every Sunday because Tom has a motorcycle accident about ten years ago which almost kills him and leaves him not able to ride a motorcycle any more in addition to not being able to do much of anything else, including pee standing up.  Motorcycles will do that to a person. It is a fact that my sister, Stephanie, does not come to my wedding in St. Patrick’s Cathedral to Sheila Marie Teresa Welby back on a nice summer day in July in New York City, at 11:00 sharp in the morning, because she is in the surgical ward at Bellevue Hospital.  This is because she gets the big toe on her right foot cut off in the drive chain of the motorcycle owned by a friend of mine as they are about to come home from an evening celebrating that she will get the exclusive use of the bedroom that her brothers have now left.

We get the phone call near midnight, and my parents rush down to the hospital in a cab.  I stay at home and keep vigil with my friend Tom Sheridan, and fill a garbage can with empty beer cans.  Next day, after the ceremony and the reception, we begin our honeymoon with a visit to my sister in the hospital where Sheila delivers a piece of wedding cake and gives  her the bouquet.  And, as a direct result of that, I like to think, Stephanie marries Frank Morse a few years later who is a policeman in New York City, but is not attached to the motorcycle squad.

My friend Billy Chase, who we call Charming Billy, because he was just that, and has two blue eyes that don’t hurt the impression; two blue eyes like a soft summer sky, or a robin’s egg, and a voice like the feel of a cool silk pillow case on your cheek, was a cop for a few years in Watertown, which is a town next to Boston.  It has an arsenal that becomes a mall; an updated example of swords becoming plowshares.  One afternoon we are sitting in a car watching something that is supposed to happen not happen, and telling each other stories.  This is a thing to do to pass the time, after you have discussed everything else. He tells me that when he is a rookie cop in Watertown he is riding with an older guy one night when a call comes in about a motorcycle which loses a fight with a telephone pole, and would they like to go over and make sure the pole is all right because nothing else is.  And, when they get there they see that the motorcycle is scrap, and so is the guy who was riding it.  Only the motorcycle has all of its parts, but the guy is missing one of his.  The part missing is his head!  And, every thing for a few yards all around is covered in the guy’s blood like a fire hydrant blew its top.

“Go find the head,” the old cop says to my friend. “I’ll stay here for the fire department, ambulance and the wrecker.”  So Billy says he gets out of the car and goes off looking for the head which he does not find where he thought it would be.  It is not anywhere in front of the headless guy for a few dozen yards, or on either side for a few yards this way or that way.  He walks past his partner who throws him a questioning, “What’s up?” look from his seat in the car where he is sipping his coffee.  Is a head that hard to find?  And he starts looking down the street on both sides for the missing head.

Which head he finally locates about a hundred feet away on the other side of the street.  Off the road.  Under some guy’s boxwood hedge.  Still wearing the helmet.  “I found it” he yells.  His partner motions him back to the motorcycle.  When he gets there they talk, and wait.  One guy sitting in the car drinking coffee.  Billy leaning against it outside the car.  The head is where it landed.  The engine arrives and they leave, soon.  No fire, no need.  The ambulance comes next and two guys get out.

“Most of him is there,” Billy says pointing to the mess partly on the bike and partly not, staining the street and sidewalk.  They walk a couple of feet.   Make a few remarks.  Then one of them says, “Where’s the head?”  Billy,says, while he points down the block, “Back there about fifty feet under the hedge.”

The guy says, “Fly ball?”  Billy looks at him.  “Was it a fly ball or did it take a hop?  Any brains or blood on the road along the way?”  Billy says no.  The guy’s partner says, “He fouled out, then.”  The four guys laugh. The sanitation guys show up shortly and hose down the street after the dead guy and his head are bagged and taken to the ME for a medical ruling of death by fouling out.

Billy tells me this story again at least twenty years ago while we are drinking in a bar one night during some bullshit conference in Newport, which like most conferences is really an excuse to get drunk with your friends in a place where you are close enough to walk to a comfortable place to sleep.  Only this time he has added the detail about the cause of death.  Stories have a life of their own, I think.

When I am upstairs after bringing communion to Tom Bolton who, I swear to God, had his head sown back on his shoulders. I’ve seen the scar, and the tattoo he had put on his neck, a zipper.  I think of the story again.

I get the book I went up to get and come back down here to read it.  “Damon Runyon: A Life” by Jimmy Breslin.  I always like a story by either of these guys.  They were like farmers with the facts.

I never asked what happened to the helmet.

John 11: 50

 

Here is a letter I have written to Fr. Robert Shanley, President of Providence College, and who is currently presidentially presiding over the very dignified and collegial lynching of a great scholar, a devout Catholic defender of the Truth, and a good and decent man.  I imagine him in his robes of office: aloof, yes, compassionate, of course, aware of all the necessary facts, without question, and deeply concerned for the lives, and souls and the, well, the reputations about to be supported or sacrificed for the greater good of the school and benefit of all mankind.  It is what presidents do…when not playing golf or hosting benefactors, delivering speeches and looking magisterial and compassionate, wise and consoling, boundlessly merciful and intuitively practical; when being, in a word, godly:

 

Rev Robert Shanley, O.P.

President

Providence College

1 Cunningham Square

Providence, RI 02918 USA

 

Dear Father Shanley,

You have been described to me by people better informed than I am as a philosopher, an art of which I have only a passing knowledge.  And as a priest, and a Dominican at that, I am reasonably sure that you are more than well versed in Catholic theology. Indulge me in a little bit of my own background, stories from my youth about philosophy and theology.

Father Anthony Rubsys, who went to Heaven, I am sure, in August, 2002, was a refugee from Communism who came to America during the Hungarian uprising.  He was a biblical scholar fluent in seven languages, a good and gentle, a loving, man.  He taught me in class and counseled me out of it.  He was extremely intelligent, extremely gentle and deeply concerned for The Good.  Why else not, I have often wondered while thinking about and praying for him; a man who saw and suffered much, all of it the result of when and where he lived before coming to this country, through the horrors of Nazism and the Second World War and the soul sickening weight of post-war Communist rule.

As an assignment in one of his classes, I wrote a paper on Thus Spake Zarathustra.  I was taken then with the Strauss tone poem, and stupid student stuff.  So I wrote the paper and handed it in.  Several days later Father Rubsys returned it with this note in his handwriting above my title, which was something like Superman, “Why do you waste your time on this when the faith has so much more to offer, to study?”  I cannot remember much beyond the title of the thing I wrote about. Nor can I remember much about the music, except what bit of it opens that film by Stanley Kubrick.  Few, I suspect, will remember much about it, if anything at all in another hundred or so years.  Almost no one knows the film’s music’s title.

Harry Blair was a much decorated World War II veteran, a tank commander in Gen. Patton’s Third Army, a tragic man, and a Shakespeare and Renaissance scholar.  I took every class of his that I could and got to know him very well.  He drank too much; but, I suppose, he had every reason to do that.  When he taught King Lear his classroom was filled beyond capacity. His rendering of the King’s speech in the storm on the moor brought more than one student to tears, myself included, as we listened to an old man pour out his grief at having given his life to his children and been misunderstood, spurned, betrayed, cast away.

I once had a letter published in the school’s newspaper…the editor was a friend of mine…and Harry read it, of course.  The letter called for the “aggiornamento” underway in Rome to be extended and applied at the school, for there to be a radical change in, well, just about everything.  I remember I called not only for windows to be opened but walls to be demolished and ended with “I would have no church at all!”  Brave words, I have thought more than once since.  Brave words for the inferno we face, now.  We sat together, Harry and I at the bar in the Pinewood drinking an afternoon beer and he showed me the issue of the paper with my letter, quietly asking me what had possessed me to write it.  Seriously I answered at length about all of the things I saw that were wrong and needed changing.  “You are very young,” he answered, and then we went on to talk of other things, though I do recall him wondering aloud about the lady I was soon to marry and asking how she felt, how I might feel when I was a father.  But, there he left it.

Bear with me, please, Father.  I do have a point.

There is no doubt that Alexander Solzhenitsyn was a philosopher like yourself, and a great and good man.  Were he a Catholic, I suppose his cause would already have been introduced.  In many ways he was a martyr for the truth, and a lover of the beautiful in people, in society and in all of creation; even when found in the Gulag, anterooms to hell built and maintained by hell’s servants here on earth.  Maybe that’s overly dramatic, but, nevertheless…  Joseph Pearce, who wrote an excellent biography of Solzhenitsyn, has written his own story, and a fascinating one it is.  He calls it Race With the Devil, and discusses his descent into violent racism and hate, and ascent from it through the grace of God.  Indulge me in a quote from Pearce’s book:

“My descent into delinquency was aided and abetted by the progressive philosophy adopted by the school. No effort was made to impose discipline, which resulted in the triumph of anarchy in the classroom… (The) disruptive elements made it difficult, if not impossible, for teachers to teach and for students to learn.”

I apologize for the size of the quote.  I cannot figure out how to change the font. Nevertheless, it’s the sad truth and the tragic cause of the matter at hand, and the inevitable result of the choice in this matter (and in how many others?) you and the faculty quislings who brought this complaint against Professor Esolen to you seem, for all of your wisdom, training, education and Catholicity, to have made.  That the “death” of one man is necessary.

And, I cannot understand why you did what you did; a great disservice to the students , confirming them in their stupid and uncharitable,  selfish and infantile behavior…at the same time causing pain, anxiety and worry to not only this good man and his family, but thousands of other people who have never yet met the man face to face but know and treasure him through his prolific good works, his brilliantly clear and consistently charitable mind, and his reliably masterful scholarship.

You are a priest and pastor, too, finally much more important callings than mere president.  Have you acted in this instance as either one?

I expect that  Caiaphas was thought a wise and good man, a president, so to speak, who gave no help when help was needed.  And, of course, we all know what to think of Pontius Pilate, who simply gave up before the angry mob.

Which of the two should one say best describes you in this matter?

Yours truly,

Peter Gallaher

PS:  I only know of one other person named Shanley, a fellow I came across many years ago when I was working.  He was a Wormtongue, covert slave to Saruman.  In other words a coward and a traitor.

 

 

The State of The Nation #3478.02A

IMG_2104

The State of The Union, #3478.02A

AN ALLEGORY

We need some structural work, and can’t find a good carpenter.  We need the plumbing re-done; a new hookup to the sewer.  Well, we need a sewer, because the leach field out back is poisoning the corn field down hill of it.  Been that way for two years, and the public was supposed to do something.  And, guess what, we can’t get a plumber, and the DPW  don’t answer the phone anymore.

We need the road outside paved.  That was promised years ago.  And I think Jasper, the guy over on the other side of the hill?  I think his pickup’s still in the hole where the road washed out last March.  Ain’t no glass in the window, and the electric’s been out for six months since the creek took down the bridge and the feed from the power company. Killed most of the trout up and down for a mile till someone down there cut the switch to up here.

Ain’t got no phone. That went with the electric. The old man lost his job cause the bridge went out and he couldn’t get acrost the creek.  Tried beaver and muskrat trapping, but he can’t get out in the water with no boots, which he gave up when he got work in the town, and the boat got crushed by the bridge fallin’.

Got no firewood.  We was countin’ on Uncle Dan to deliver us a load, but last we talked, he said he can’t get enough for himself, and there ain’t no coal left since the mines was shut down..  Besides, creek’s to wild to walk it across since the damn cracked and flooded everything upstream last year.

But, what the hell.  Winter’s still three or four months away.  We don’t starve first, when it comes real strong we’ll freeze to death.  That’s a good way to go.  Painless, kinda easy, happy like.

Tommy, the oldest one, set out yesterday to walk across the mountain to see if there’s anythin’ them folks can do in North Valley.  He took the last blanket, a cook pot and some coffee.  Not much else.

If you’re readin’ this, we’re dead.  Bury us upland of this place.  We always like lookin’ at it, an’ hopin’.

Ellen

We Went Out To The Ballgame Last Night, Hearts Filled With Hope

 

It’s raining this morning.  Raining cats and dogs.  Earlier it was raining refrigerators, boxcars and horse drawn wagons; with horses attached.  But, none of that stuff happened last night.  Last night it rained home runs, big cheers and great joy!  Great joy after deep gloom; the best kind to have.  That’s the story of baseball, one of mankind’s greatest achievements along with a cold mug of suds and a fat sandwich, and kids who play the game with heart, so guys like me never have to grow old.

Here’s how it happened.

A BRIEF CAUTIONARY NOTE:  The reader will be aware, I hope, all half dozen of you, that what I shall tell below is a story, not factually perfect.  I took no notes, and I work from an overtaxed memory.  But it’s a true story, believe me.

It all started a few days ago when the home town team, The Nashua Silver Knights, was scheduled to play The I Mavericks from Portsmouth, NH, in a three game series to see who would go up against the Western Division’s team for the 2016 Champeenship  of the FCBL (Futures Collegiate Baseball League).  We’ve had season tickets for several years now, and a season’s worth of ball games in the open air, with attendant beer drinking and hot dog eating and screaming at the umps, cheering for the good guys, costs about as much as a night down in Bean Town or a day at Fenway , is closer to home and better for the soul.

Anyway, our guys lost the first game.  Actually it was stolen from them.  But, like Mom always said, “There’s no use…”, right?  And besides winning or losing, we knew we were better than “them”.  So, like everyone in Brooklyn long, long ago, we headed for the next game, last night’s, up in Portsmouth at what I was led to believe was a nice place for a game, Leary Field; our hearts topped off with hope and swagger.  We bought our own chairs with us, and I thought, “This is real!” as, after paying only three bucks, we wandered across the field with our folding seats, and jackets just in case.  It was a beautiful night for baseball, a game of which makes every night more beautiful.  But, nature had put on the Ritz for the game: clear sky, high clouds, a neat little park across from the library with church steeples and old houses and tree lined streets ringing the place, and a quarter moon crooning brightly in the light of the setting sun.  I kept looking for Norman and his easel.

The game was late getting started, and I can’t remember thinking it was because of the crush of the crowd.  Fewer than a hundred people were in the stands, or spread out along the chain link fence on the visitors’ side.   I remember thinking that the ball park was a hitter’s paradise.  It looked like a place for high school ball; no fence further than about 350′, and none higher than 7′.  Compared to ours in Nashua, where Don Newcombe and Roy Campanella played, it was an orange crate to a mahogany chest.

Anyway, I couldn’t help remarking to one of their players, as we passed them by on the way in, “Good game last night.”  He looked up from his stretches and said, “Thanks.”  “You got lucky, ” I answered and walked on.  It was going to be a serious night of ball.


The first three innings were a hitless, scoreless pitchers’ duel, lots of strikeouts, but, also something else.  There were lots of terrible calls from the home plate umpire.  By the end of the third inning, it was more than obvious that the bad calls on the other side were for balls instead of strikes, and on our side he called them the other way ’round.  I know it’s not a good thing to hate anyone, but this fellow was the one exception where hatred was a virtue.  Well, not “the one” exception.  But, you know what I mean.

Striking everyone as odd, the first thing he did when coming out to the field was rearrange the batter box boundaries, a thing no one had ever seen before.

And so it went.  We scored two runs on one hit in the fourth, and it seemed to me, and every other one of the folks with us that the ump was definitely favoring the other side.  Yet even with a tenth player on their side, they couldn’t score.  Our coach was visibly angry with the guy, and our own players were getting upset.  One of our pitchers, the starter, came out in the middle of the fifth because he was too visibly upset to continue.  The umps tactics had gotten to him.

The relief fared no better, and by the 7th inning the score had been tied.  Then, they broke out in front, scoring three more runs on a double by their big first baseman with the bases loaded; bases that were loaded on three walks in succession delivered to them courtesy of the ump, and another pitching change for us due to the same cause.  The kid who came in took the mound, and I could see that the terrible conditions behind home plate had already had an effect on him.  His behavior was full of contradictory signs, all doing with trying to work under tough conditions.  It’s hard building a castle when it gets knocked down before you can get a wall up.  Bad metaphor, I know. Nevertheless the whole team was by this time affected.

We fans, we few on the right side, were catching the virus, too, feeling powerless.  About all we could do is commiserate with the team, and curse the ump, while watching bad call after bad call, and our hopes drain away.  Strangely enough, there was a deafening silence from the fans on the other side; as if they were, somehow, ashamed.


The “scouting report” on our opponents from one of the fellows who was with us said that they were weak in pitching.  Who needed good pitching when one was able to count the ump as a player. Nevertheless, there were some things the guy had to call balls, and out bats still worked.  So, despite the handicap, the fellows managed to even the score. And it was tied at five runs apiece.

But in the eighth inning one of our guys hit a solo home run, a shot clearing the fence way out in center field; too far, I thought with a grim satisfaction, to be ruled foul by anyone so inclined to try.  And, that ignited everyone!  The celebration lasted through the next two at bats by our lads, I think.  Some folks were literally dancing with glee.  I know I was.  It was Christmas and the Fourth of July and VE Day!  I picked the latter to remind everyone, you special seven readers, that work had still to be done.

The bottom of the eighth didn’t change a thing for them, and we went into the ninth ahead by one run.  I have to say the other side tried everything  they could in a long time at bat; but their best efforts still left things as they were.  And, as they were was definitely  not to safe a position to hold on to.  One run against a team that had beaten us by five just two days before was no cushion to rest on.  It was a sharp rock in your back!  Everyone knew it, and knew we needed to build a bigger lead. A combination of worry and determination and purpose built like a coming storm on us, on everyone, I think.  The “game” took one a meaning more than play.  The on deck “circle”, a stretch of gravel next to the ugly squat cinder block shelter that was the dugout, was a busy place with sometimes three players stretching, squatting, practice swinging, loosening up….waiting, and trying not to wait.  The dugout itself was quiet.  The fans, when we weren’t biting our nails, and looking for rabbit’s feet were doing what fans ordinarily do; our best to build a little hope, give a little support.


Have you ever been in a position where you get in inkling that the weather is about to change, feel a cool breeze on a hot sweaty day, a lightening of the heart, a change in attitude about someone or something?  I had sat quietly for some time during the last inning really worrying about our thin lead, and, I guess, praying that we could build on it, to ensure the win I hoped was coming.  And as the first batter walked to the plate, I thought I felt that breeze.  This is no hindsight working on me now.  I simply had a premonition that things were going to be OK.  Only, I didn’t yet know how OK they were going to be.

So, I stayed to see.

I mentioned that pitching was our strength.  Well your can go for the ride of your life on a pitcher’s arm, and we certainly had a stable full of thoroughbreds.  On the other side of the field, they were no judges of horse flesh.  I guess that is why they relied so much on the kindness of umpires.  In this instance it failed them.  The fellow on the mound, God bless him, could give the ump no help, because he kept throwing things so low only an ant could hit them.  And what wasn’t low, was west of Chicago.  Oh, there were a few pitches that weren’t ankle high, and one of them, perhaps more, became hits.  He may even have walked one of them, despite the umps’s best efforts for the team.  The bases filled, then, and another single sent another run in.

The sun had arisen on a beautiful day and the birds were all in marvelous voice.  As a matter of fact everything sounded great, including the prolonged madness of our celebratory screaming.  We filled the bases again with, I seem to recall a miserly hit to shallow right field.  And that inkling I had had was growin’ fast, beyond intuition, beyond certainty and coming up on fact.  By that time several among us behind the chain link fence may have been frothing at the mouth.  I know at least two who certainly sounded that way.

The next fellow up, one of the steady producers, but not the biggest weapon by far in the arsenal, cleared the bases with a grand slam.  And while it was all over in a few dozen seconds, it seems to me now that it took several hours while tragedy and triumph mingled on the plains of battle, and the opposition’s dugout became a mortuary.

And then, our last at bat grounded out. And, as if all it was was  Dad and his pals leaving the factory after the whistle blew, our few fellows on deck turned and walked off the field.  And I felt as if civilization had just been saved.

I listened to the sound of Verdi’s “Dies Irae”  in my brain as the other guys trudged up to the plate, and I asked God for one or two small favors, three mercifully quick outs or perhaps a couple of runs, sort of as a comforting sip of water, a mercy before the just end.  That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?  And it was God’s pleasure to remain where He was and let unfold what had been ordained before the worlds were made, before the stars in all their solemn majesty were set on high above.  There was no long tragic march into Valhalla, no Wagnerian  parade across the bridge into Valhalla.  The end was a brutal fact. Merciless and swift and sure, as the lion suffocates the helpless zebra.  And silence.  For a split second before we all,players and spectators erupted in one triumphant rush and roar.

He had granted my first prayer…the one I really, really wanted.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IT’S NEVER RIGHT: or, Save the Baby Spinaches

I read somewhere that one of the things Socrates said was, “It’s never right to do wrong.”  Now, thinking about that and the three folks canvassing the country for you and me to help one of them become our next president, I am wondering how that quote applies to me.

Should I vote for one of them?  Should I vote for someone else?  Should I not vote at all?

As a citizen I have the right to vote, to participate with the rest of you who are eligible. Which, these days, simply means that you are alive, old enough, and have registered to do it; neither property, riches, language, religion or intelligence mattering as once they did. (In a way, folks in that frame of mind might reasonably conclude that consciousness is the only thing that counts about being a citizen and “Participating In Democracy.”  I say that with not a little irony and scorn.)

It’s an obligation and a duty to vote we learn from an early age.  Something which is, I guess, along the lines of making your bed, picking up your toys and eating everything on the plate when you are a child; even the yucky stuff like spinach, kale and codfish.  The stuff  Dad said was good for you, and  Mom said would help the starving children in China.  How was forcing myself to gag or puke going to do that?  I still wonder about what good they do and whether my swallowing what I hated saved a single soul across the sea.  And, though I have grown accustomed to kale and actually like spinach, I sometimes muse on the morality of eating “baby spinaches.” Cod, though, is good in chowder and for seagulls in fishing ports.

That’s absurd of course, that baby spinaches malarkey.  Just so, there’s nothing ethically or morally wrong with eating baby sheep or cows, they’re tasty; or harvesting baby seals, their skins keep us warm and look nice on pretty girls; becoming whatever form or thing one decides one really has or is; marrying a tree, or oneself; saving baby whales, there aren’t enough of them; or killing baby humans.  Umm, now where did that thought , the baby human one, come from?

Well, it’s obviously originally from one of those ten things we can no longer put in front of the courthouse carved in stone; those things which nevertheless hang heavily  over our heads like a gathering storm, which loom like ten massive mountains in front of us, a wall of warning we have so far safely ignored.  Those things which with the help of Progress in Science, Economics, Jurisprudence, Medicine and Politics we may all one day soon be able to drive out from under and up and over into a land flowing with, well with whatever we would like it to overflow, solar panels on every rooftop and 500 channels of TV; a workers paradise and a thousand year something or other.

We will be great again!  Have hope!  Achieve, at last, the change we have wanted all along, from that first afternoon with the sun on the meadows and us lolling in the shade of a the apple tree.  We will be the best we can be, if only we listen to one of the three.

It’s a choice, really, between Tweedledum, who will make everything plentiful and free; Just Plain Dumb; who will make us once more great behind our Great Wall; and Dee, the barrel legged beauty from hell, our true mother with what potions and drugs we need to make us well.

It is a choice I do not wish to make, a meal I do not choose to eat, in a place I find oppressive and toxic.  I know how the Socrates quote applies to me.  Avoid the ballot booth in November as if it contained a nest of vipers.

Perhaps I should stand outside the place with a sign that carries the words, “Lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch’entrate!”  Few enough of us read English any longer, so it might be a conversation starter.  Folks who know me could ask, passers by, poll watchers “Why are you out here?”  And I could ask them back, “Why are you going in there?  Why do you care?”  When they ask, “What the hell does that sign say?  I could say, “It really doesn’t matter.  We are there already.”.

And on January 20, next year I’ll stand at the right moment, wave my sword in the right direction and proclaim with the rest of us, “Hail, whomever, we who are dead salute you!”


Yes, it is a wild place we have wandered into.  Would that we had a guide through, and up, and out.

Dante’s Inferno

THE SHADOW OF THE SUN (REVISED)

(Thinking of my Grandmother, Catherine Ann Fanning)

She was always old and ever more

She became wander eyed, hollow cheeked.

Her speech left reason in the dust

Rambling among ruins of thought and circumstance.

Leaves and birds were waves along the ocean tops;

Reminders of the land she couldn’t own

From father and mother stolen

And beaten brothers wept for in hollow years,

Mountains, reveries and sips of wine,

Poetry , prayer, pulled from a bag of rocks

She carried on her walk through town

Her fortune and her only friend.

Balance, ballast and fare to pay

Should the bus come her way.

“I have it here in my bag,” she’d say,

Shaking the old thing.  It clattering away

The dry sound of bones in a bag,

Punctuation, and a smile so sad

You’d like to cry.  But still she’d bend

To the work, searching through her history.

Work worn fingers she would spread

To show her strength, her generosity.

Her eyes full.  Her hands empty.

Growing stone at the bottom of the sea

One grain, one diatomic shell by shell

Builds white cliffs like waves along morning shores.

A thousand centuries and ten thousand more

Aren’t enough to raise it man high over

Gray backed, white capped ranks, wild

Winds whining while waves roar.

 

The waves around in her room.  She was Helen.

Like the sun at home, and stole herself beyond

The West where she became her own white

Cliff in memory, a rock high against

The shadow of the sun emptied into her.

,

Today, April 24, 2016

P1010740

A Ruined Augustinian Monastery in Cashel, Ireland Destroyed by Cromwell

 

It is a cool afternoon here by the river; a steady wind from the north has been blowing downstream since mid-afternoon yesterday, and I wonder why everything here isn’t somewhere on Cape Cod.  It’s a bit late in the day to be doing this, but when one has to be at Mass long before Mass begins because you need practice, well, things get put aside.  Now, the time seems to be good for this little exercise.  I’ve finished lunch, folded the wash, actually two washes, and conducted a fruitless search (again) for something I’ll need for a trip we are taking in June.

There’s only this, and, maybe, a nap.

Spring has made itself seen and felt around here with usual brightness of day, softness of showers and sound of courting birds for the past week or so.  We await the first tulips blooming in our little plot out back.  Yesterday afternoon I listened to a lonesome cardinal  in a nearby tree calling someone, anyone, in his cardinal world to come and make his life complete.  There were at least a dozen other cardinals in trees on both sides of the river with the same idea.  Poor guy, he sang his heart out, and got nothing for the effort.  He won’t give up, though.  I admired his persistence and his pluck, and hoped the best for him and his bachelor buddies.  There are no cardinal monasteries they can enter.  There’s no vocations to celibacy for them to follow.  Nature bound, they must find a mate and obey.  Nor can they will to do anything else, like deciding they identify as something, anything other than a lonesome male cardinal, or running away with the fellow one tree over.

Above them all yesterday, high against the clouds two hawks slid effortlessly down the wind and back again for at least twenty minutes.  Cloud coasters, sky surfers, catching the invisible air waves; I watched them and thought of angels and Icarus.

It’s too wind washed today though, both sky and nearby trees, for a lonely gang of cardinals or a lazy pair of hawks.


It’s quiet in this room.  All I hear is the clock on the wall, and all I see in the afternoon sunlight are the crab-apple branches shying from the wind and a chickadee or two  darting into the azalea bush before dashing to the feeder just outside the front door.

It was a century ago this day in Dublin when the Easter Rising against British Rule took place.  The “lads” all met a swift end in the Post Office, or a few days later against a wall.  I saw the marks the British bullets made and put my fingers into the holes.  It was Easter Sunday, a century ago.  My father was just “gone” three, with his mother and father in New York City, and I wonder what those two thought might be coming for their families home  if the British got their blood up over it all.  There was Dick Fanning, my grand-uncle who fled his mother’s house, and up and over hills to hide in Kilkenny.  And all I knew of him I first learned watching his sister pray for him when I was little.

But, then, perhaps the Sassenach invader couldn’t devote too much thought to it all, caught up as they were in the slaughterhouse across the channel in France, and a crumbling empire.

The only things I know about that day a century ago I learned in the songs we all sang when I was younger; songs of the long years of trying in the sad and often desperate tunes of wild colonial boys, rattling Thompson guns, orders from the captain to get ready quick and soon, the sad fields of Athenry and the hope behind it all; that Ireland once again a nation be.

It isn’t, yet, after eight hundred years.  They got most of it, to be sure, to call their own again.  And the rest?  Someday, God willing, the four green fields will together bloom.


What took place in Ireland then was preceded by a greater horror only a year before, the great murder of Christian Armenia by the Muslim Turks, the the decaying remains of the Ottoman Empire built on the corpse of Byzantium.  Until today I hadn’t known the two events were only a year separated, and I’m walking around wondering at the woe both people suffered; only for the Armenians much more horrible for its scope and swift brutality, I suppose, at the hands of the Turks than the long woe of Ireland under the British yoke.  It was thousands, perhaps a hundred or two thousand transported away from home by the British over a few centuries, and four million starved to death in the Great Hunger, while beef and pork and poultry and corn and all the great produce of the small green land went across the Irish Sea to feed the landlords, and the farmers ate grass and watched their wives and children die..

But for centuries the Armenian people, the first Christian nation, suffered slavery and worse at the hands of their Muslim overlords until the effort to do away with them completely began with the arrest and imprisonment of several hundred scholars, and spread with enslavement, rape, crucifixions, death marches and slaughter.  Spread in a word with all of the honored cruel methods of population control used for so long in the Middle East.

Not much has changed.  It happens today.


Today is the feast of St. Fidelis of Sigmaringen, a town in Germany.  He became a martyr in Switzerland where he had gone to preach.  He once wrote: “What is it that today makes true followers of Christ cast luxuries aside, leave pleasures behind, and endure difficulties and pain? It is living faith that expresses itself through love.”

Think of him when next you hear of some Christian being castigated for telling the truth about their faith, for “casting aside” the luxury of silence before error, or worse being martyred for being a Christian.

The Fields of Athenry is a song about a young man sent away from his family because he tried to feed them: The Fields of Athenry 

This is a song from Armenia.  I don’t know the words, but you can guess, and I do not think you’ll be wrong:  Armenian Song