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


(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


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


The Two Shall Become One



I was thinking about my marriage the other day. If you know me well, you know that I am a re-married widower. After eight months in that state I married Mariellen, the woman who sits at the other end of the couch from me now. While Sheila, may she rest in peace, was dying she found time to concern herself no little with making sure I would be well matched and cared for once she had died. So, she advanced, in her subtle wife’s way, Mariellen and me. It is a story some of you may have heard. And, she had help from higher powers. That is a story fewer folks know, but no less true for all that.

Why am I telling you this? Because I think it is one of the greatest truths in the universe, the truth about marriage, sacramental marriage, marriage until death do us part… When Sheila had finally finished her work here on earth I gathered the kids and said, “The best part of us is gone.” I was talking about the family, of course, but more. I was talking about who I was with her, what we were together, our sacramental, blessed, matrimonial union; the married-for-life singularity we had been for the past 34 years, 3 months, 11 days, 11 hours and 47 minutes since we became a new “person” who had formerly been two and were now one.

The Catholic Church teaches us that upon his ordination to the priesthood a man is changed ontologically; his very being, his humanity is changed. I’ll accept that. I’ll probably start a philosophical/theological argument here when I say I wonder if something along the same line doesn’t happen to both a man and a woman who “pledge their troth” in the Holy Sacrament of Marriage. The two shall become one!  The words are the title of this little exercise; stolen directly from the Bible.

That’s exactly it!  We, Mariellen and I, are one flesh, before God for whom we are no longer two but one and, we have become one person also before the law and civil authority. So should we be, because we, and all married men and women, are the wellspring of life, culture and civilization, the promise and guarantee of a future, and, through the family, the first and firmest link in society; any society no matter where and no matter when.  We are that society’s basic building block, the beginning of everything human, the foundation of everything human, the “home” of humanity, its self understanding, its promise of a future and its first and firmest link and with the past.

Undo marriage, fail to affirm its unity of persons into one new person, and you unravel human kind, human culture, human life begun as two-become-one by the very God who created us; who said: “It is not good for man to be alone.  I will make him a helper.”  There’s a note to this verse in the Catholic Bible: [2:18] Helper suited to him: lit., “a helper in accord with him.” “Helper” need not imply subordination, for God is called a helper (Dt 33:7; Ps 46:2). The language suggests a profound affinity between the man and the woman and a relationship that is supportive and nurturing.

What happens to one of us happens to both of us through this oneness of being-in-marriage. And what one of us does, we both do. And what is done for, with or to one of us is done to us both. Not only to us, the man and the woman, but to everyone. We are no longer two, but one, flesh and feeling and life and love.

I’d like to recommend to your attention an article which first appeared about a year ago in the journal First Things. It is well worth reading, studying, learning from, because marriage is under attack these days, weakened, treated poorly, debased and derided. If it is done away with, as many wish it to be with all their plans for “expanding” it in every direction, and marriage, real marriage, neglected and cast aside, we will have cast aside our humanity, I think, and become beasts.

The most casual glance toward, the briefest look at, the slightest taste of what passes for culture, what composes society, what orders our behavior, what guides us in law, what have become our standards and “approved” behaviors among men and women, children and families today, what we choose to be entertained by, to “tolerate” in our homes and elsewhere, should show the intelligent observer how well on our way to that state we are.

The State of the Nation II

Frost, Not Blake

Sometimes things happen. This one happened a couple of years ago, and, it’s a pretty good illustration of how things sometimes happen:

The part I liked best about writing this little nothing is remembering my wife’s role in it, God love her. She’s my radar, my navigator, my best friend and more fun than a day at the beach. And, when we have a day at the beach together that’s just the best thing since the Resurrection and the promise of heaven:

Someone once asked me, “How do you write a poem?” Well, first of all, I am not sure that I have ever written a poem. What I mean is this: I have written things that rhyme. And I have written things that scan; things that are split into stanzas, too. I have written things that use odd words in odd places. And, some people I know who have read these things have called them poems and told me that I write poems.

I’m not sure.

So, keep that in mind as you read what follows on.
The other day someone I know sent me a poem written by a big deal poet. “Write something better than this,” he said. The poem was “Tyger, Tyger Burning Bright.” Smiling a big smile I answered, “OK.”

About ten minutes later I looked out of one of the windows upstairs and saw several things: snow on the ground, a woodpile and a woodpecker pecking away at one of the logs in the pile. There were no “Tygers”, and no fires, and no forests. But I thought about what I saw and remembered being at the pile a few days ago before a storm, carrying armloads of logs inside for warm fires while the place got blanketed. All of a sudden… Really, all of a sudden… four lines fell out of my brain into my lap; four lines that sounded like four lines of a poem. These were the lines:

Crossing the yard in the snow
To where the wood against the fence is stacked
The snow is deep, the going slow
My right hip hurts, so does my back.

I said to myself, that doesn’t sound like Blake. It sounds more like Frost. I used to have a book of all of Frost’s poem, but it was lost a long time ago. Pity, that.

While sitting at the table eating breakfast I wrote down the lines above on a little pad of paper I found somewhere. One or two more suggested themselves and these were added. It looked like a poem. Was it? It certainly was not from my point of view. It was an incomplete something. Then I went about my business for the rest of the day. That was Saturday. Sometime Sunday afternoon I scribbled a few more lines, and then Monday morning, before my wife, God love her, had a chance to say no, I read her what I had written, and called it finished.
Here is the thing she heard:

Wood Waits
(Frost, not Blake)
Crossing the yard in the snow
To where the wood against the fence is stacked
The snow is deep, the going slow
My right hip hurts, so does my back.
The wood I cut last spring waits.
Cut wood stacked against a fence
Is like that. It knows its place
And will not move until carried thence
The old bow saw I used to cut
The trees dropped last year by the storm
Served well, but now its blade shows rust.
There’s a titmouse on the pile hunting worms.
My gut’s got bugs, my weak legs worms
But I still move toward wood and fence
The little worker hears leaping for the sky
And I follow him who bears my heart hence.

She smiled when it was finished. “Well?” I asked. “It’s not your best. It’s nice enough,” she said walking away with her tea.

Yeah. I know. Hallmark. Hallmark with a big helping of The Dead End Kids.

But what the heck. My friend was from New York, too, and my age. He’d get a kick out of it, and probably call the whole thing a lemon. On the way upstairs to type it into this infernal machine another line dropped out of my head. By the time I got to typing the thing had changed. Now the last bit looked like this:

I stop for a breath and catch his bright black eye
Then move again toward wood and fence
The little worker starts – leaps into the sky
And I follow him who bears my heart hence.

Still Hallmark, but the Dead End Kids have gone. As a matter of fact, it is way too Hallmark for anyone. That last line would embarrass Jane Austen. But, it was done.

Well, no, because I wanted to send the thing to some other folks I know and felt a little too embarrassed by that much treacle. They’re all on diets. Yesterday, Monday, I sat looking at the thing on the screen; looking at it like some lady might look at her hair just before a date, and not like the way that curl fell just there; looking at it like some guy might look at bush he’d just moved and not like how close it was to the tree. And, so, I moved the curl and replaced the bush.

Now it looks like this:
Wood Waits
(Frost, not Blake)

Crossing the yard in the snow
To where the wood against the fence is stacked
The snow is deep, the going slow,
My right hip hurts, so does my back.
The wood I cut last spring waits.
Cut wood stacked against a fence
Is like that. It knows its place
And will not move until carried thence.
The old bow saw I used to cut
The trees dropped last year by the storm
Served well, but now its blade shows rust.
There’s a titmouse on the pile hunting worms.
I stop for a breath and catch his bright black eye
Then move again toward wood and fence.
The little worker starts – leaps into the sky
Away from me, old, crippled, bent.

The titmouse? That’s poetic license, and just a touch of Hallmark.

My wife, God love her, says, “It’s nice dear. It’s not your best one.” 

It’s Frost, not Blake. And, a little Hallmark.

The wood’s still is there.  The house is being sold.

The Last Christmas Letter

I opened my eyes as the train, the IRT #1, was just pulling out of the station at 135th Street and knew in a moment I was headed in the wrong direction.  I glanced quickly at my watch and saw that I had been headed in the wrong direction, this time, for at least three hours, give or take.  It was early, very early, on New Year’s Day in the mid-60’s, about in the middle of that decade when the nation, and much of the rest of the world became afflicted with that paroxysm of self indulgence which continues today; worsening down the decades since. Hours before, together with my friends, most of whom are dead now, I had taken liberties with my body and soul to mourn the old year’s passing and greet the new one before the chance for a massive hangover in its honor escaped me. I had succeeded beyond my wildest imaginings

I was in the car with only one other person.  He was a “long drink of water”, taller than me, slim and neatly dressed in white tie, wearing a well polished shoe on his left foot and an old style high topped canvas Keds sneaker on his right foot; very sloppily laced and tied.  I knew he was taller by the length of his legs reaching almost beyond the pole, one of three down the length of the middle of the car placed for standees; none of whom were now here, and would not probably be for at least forty-eight hours.

As I slowly returned to the state I was beginning to wish I hadn’t, I noticed something else about him.  He was playing a harmonica, not well, but not horribly, and barely audible above screeching wheels and echoing roars and rattles coming from the empty train.  He looked at me and winked, smiled behind his cupped hands and kept playing.  He was playing, I determined, something of Wagner’s, The Entry of the Gods Into Valhalla, from Das Rheingold.  And, I thought, entering something like consciousness, why not??  What better thing to hear than a Wagnerian march-dirge played in time to the Cage-like screeches and roars of a 60′ tin can in a dark, wet, cold tunnel.

We were alone, but I thought none of this was at all unusual.  New York City, I’d long ago learned, was a big enough place to handle a waking drunk and an oddly dressed virtuoso harmonicaist (?) by themselves in a subway car so late in the night that the hours are probably not on the clock.

He stopped around 96th Street and I clapped, bringing my hands slowly together and making as soft a sound as I could stand, and managing a weak “Bravo!”  Well, it was brave, anyway, his performance.  For that, I thought, he should receive recognition, small as it might be.  This made him smile.  “You like it?”  And , it was my turn to smile.  And nod, slightly, my head not yet fit for much more movement.  He rose, stretched and galumphed across to sit next to me.  I realized he was that kind of tall person who occasionally appears; the ones two sizes too big for their ability to do little more than sit; who, once upright, appear always on the very edge of tumbling into a mess of separate parts and pieces, like a pile of Legos the dog just ran into.

Tucking his harmonica away in his jacket he offered me his hand.  “Photius Jarndyce Le Pense,” he nearly trumpeted in a squeaky tenor, perfectly matching the rest of his presence in the world.  “Photius for the heretic.  My mother is one.  Jarndyce for the case.  My father is an attorney.  Le Pense is French.  We are all thoughts.  Of God, don’t you think?  Very pleased to meet you!”

I returned the gesture and the sentiment, though I wondered then how much pleasure I had to offer.  But, I gave it my best shot.  “I’m French.  Are you?”  I hadn’t spoken my name, I supposed, loudly enough for him to hear it clearly.  So, I repeated it, and added, “No.”

And there began a friendship that endured across time and distance until just a few months ago.  It was a strange one, I’ll admit, but, nonetheless ..

By the time I had arrived at my own stop in The Bronx, the sun was making great advances on the night.The sky above the hill that framed the eastern edge of my neighborhood, Kingsbridge was beginning to glow a warm and delicate pink.  The last stars and a slice of moon hung approximately above the station platform I was standing on; still a bit unsteadily on legs not long ago washed in a storm of inibriation.

I felt a steadying hand on my arm, and Photius’ said, “Nice place, this.  I’ve never been here.  Let me help you home.  Don’t worry.  I haven’t a thing to do today.”  He spoke like a telegram.

I was grateful for the offer, because I had figured out that I could either wait in the cold station until full light came, and with it one sight and sobriety, or reach the street below the only way then possible; by tumbling down three flights of steel stairs.

So off we marched.  It was a short three block walk to the door of the old apartment house, and along it I answered a few questions from him, and he answered a few of mine.  We exchanged nothing of either a deep or profound nature along the way.  He told me he preferred three minute eggs, and loved creme fraich on his breakfast cereal.  I learned what creme fraich was, who, in fact, hadn’t known it existed until then.  He learned that there were thirty two taverns along Broadway and the neighboring side streets between the 225th Street El Station and the line’s end at 242nd Street.

Upon the foundation of such confidences was our life long friendship built.

Photius delivered me to the door of my apartment on the ground floor shook my hand, wrapping his long bony fingers about twice around my hand firmly and bowed slightly while wishing me a “Happy and Holy New Year.” Then, with a word of thanks for the company, and a quick glance at my watch …he carried none…he left, saying he would be in time for the 9:00am Mass at Holy Name down on 110th Street..  I stumbled through the door and was asleep, probably, before he crossed the old bridge over the railroad tracks across the street.

We never met in person again.  Ours was to be an epistolary friendship, his first letter, a charming and amusing description of his life as a student at Morningside Heights, and comments on students, professors, food and drink, music and art, on life, arriving a few days later.  I did my best to keep up, but I couldn’t.  Photius was a river.  I was a little pond, more often a puddle.

His Christmas letters were the best, and I shared them with friends and family, quite a few of them becoming friends with him themselves.

He never married.  He never published anything, though many people often urged him to do so.  He was simply happy writing, I came to conclude.  It really didn’t matter to him if he was ever read by anyone.  But, he was.  Maybe it wasn’t millions, or even thousands. Perhaps several hundred people at most knew of him, and enjoyed what he did for them, the places he went, the things he saw, the people he met, and his stories about them all.

But, it had to end, and it did.  The letters suddenly stopped, and we wondered; myself and the few of my own friends I had introduced to Photius over the years.  For a year there was silence.  And, then, on Christmas 2001, the week before to be exact, I saw his familiar scrawl on an envelope and opened it to read this, Photius’ last letter to me, or to anyone else.

Believe me, I tried to  find out if there were others.  I reproduce it here for you.  Don’t let his first sentence confuse you.  I think Photius lived “in” Christmas, and considered all of his letters, perhaps everything he did, to be taking place during Christmas, and to be about things and people taking place and being in Christmas:

Christmas, 2001:

As you know for some years now I have been in the habit of writing an annual Christmas letter at least once a year.  I know that as well.  So, we agree.  That is good.

I used to have a lot of time to do it, and unlike what many people do with Christmas letters, I took pride in making sure everything I wrote was Gospel truth.  I checked my sources and my facts, reviewed my notes and recordings of my conversations with all of you.  I worked for weeks assembling the vast amount of data I knew you would examine closely with microscopic attention to detail, hoping for some notice from me of your role in my life, or a mistake about it.  Have I ever failed you?  Honestly, now.  Remember, God is watching you.

Well all that has changed, and who knows it may all be for the good.  I don’t mean, I am not speaking, about failing you, but about having the time to put together an accurate and interesting Christmas letter.  What to do about it has been troubling me a bit lately.  I thought of asking one or two friends to sort of ghost write one for me, figuring that presidents and such have staff writer who do things like that.  But that wouldn’t be me.  It’s deceptive, and I have never lied when I didn’t have to.  In that matter I have always followed the advice of my friend’s Uncle Dennis, a very wise man,  given to me personally many years ago, “Never waste a lie, Photius, lad.  If you do, you’ll always be one behind.”  The man, God rest him, never passed up a drink, either, and for the same reason.  he believed in something he named, alternatively, the Economy of Truth, and Alcohol.  Conserve the former and consume the latter.

I thought about sending out some form of  letter full of blamk spaces that might be filled in by you, whoever you ar, with whatever was exciting in your own lives.  You could then read it to your friends as if it came from me.  But, I decided that wouldn’t do.  It would rob you of experiencing my own wit and style, no small reason why there is, I have been told, a brisk trade in bootlegged copies of past letters copied on Xerox machines i places as disparate as Xingiang, China and Peoria, KS.  I don’t say this with any sense of hubris at all.  Well not with so much as to be disgustingly smug.

It happened that I was thinking what to do with this year’s letter the other day when in the mail arrived the answer.  it was the Christmas letter of my good friend Homer Timolean Clinch originally from an real American town, Rubberlip, TN.  Homer had moved here about six months ago and started a business, Homer T. Clinch Pasta, right out of his kitchen. He’s already got ten employees, eight of them family from Rubberlip, living in his apartment, and is in production “most every day it matters” as he says.  His stuff has become pretty popular around here, especially the Alfalfa Linguine with Hog Ear sauce.  It’s an acquired taste I’ll warrant, but don’t knock it you people back east.  So are chocolate covered ants.

Here’s what Homer has to say to his “Frayuns and Famlee” this year:

“Hy, Y’all, it’s me again, Homer.  By now most of you are missing me, and those that ain’t I ain’t sending no letter to anyway.  Me and Alma Jean and the Spawn moved up North to the other side of the Ohio.  It was business took us.  Most f the folks here are nice people, but, this ain’t no joke, they talk funny…and too darn fast.  I have got to figger me some way to listen faster.  And stop laughin at ’em.

Take last Friday.  I was in the kitchen stirring up a mess of dough for my special Christmas pasta, Green and Red, from collards and red beans.  It was comin’ real good, too.  the phone rung and I put down the oar I was using for stirring.  I don’t use it for rowin’ no more since some folks complained about the pasta tasting like pond water.  I may go back to it when I come out with my Algae pasta in the spring…and from it, ha, ha.

Anyway, I put down the oar and Dolph, my hound with the chewed ear, begun ‘a likin’ on it.  “Damn Dolph,” I said, “You’re mor trouble than hungry wet twins.  Don’t I always give you a lick when the batch is done?”  He just looked at me with them goober eyes of his and went back to licking and scratching while I answered the phone. 

Howdy, Homer here,” I said, real pleasant.  Was a lady on the line and she said, “Help!”  I got that clear.  Oh I do good on one word at a time.  And then she took off… 

She begun about a three minute mess on how she was planning a big supper for some outta town friends who ain’t never been down this far before.  They was, I figure, the tie, jewelry and powder wearing kind, you know?  I was able to make out she wanted a mess of pasta from me for one of the courses on this hog waller she was puttin’ on.  So I run down the list of what I got.  And the only thing I heard her say clear was, “I don’t boil Hog Ears!”  That was real clear.  Well, I told her, who does? I’d chop ’em. I told her I’d take off most of the hair since she had Yankees eatin’. So, after some back and forth, we worked down to where I thought she’s ordering a mess of my special holiday Hog Ear sauce.  So I thought she wanted me to do it up and bring it over hot and ready.

How many was all I wanted to know , and I mad out her sayin’ thirty.  I guessed that was the number of folks at this party.  At two ears a plate, that figgered out to 120, give or take.  A big order, and I could use the ten bucks. “What time you eatin’, Miss,” I asked her, and thought she said Saturday at 8:00pm.  I told her since I don’t stay up that late unless there’s a game on, I might have to charge her more.  I thought she said, “Don’t matter.”  Then I hung up and commenced to cooking for real.

I was at the door with a mop pail full of steamin’ pasta at 7:58PM.  Big house, lots of windows and curtains on every one as far as I could tell, even on the top floor.  Some fella from the army opened the door and let me in, and even took my coat which I asked him to put on the chair.  He put it in a closet as big as our downstairs.  He wanted to take the pail of pasta, too, but I said , “The lady of the house is waiting.”  I bust right past him into a big room with more candles than a church and about the most dressed bunch of folks this side of one of them walt Disney cartoon movies all sitting around a big long table talking real low and drinking from skinny glasses; not a jug in sight.  I heaved the plate up on the table and said, “Y’all pass your plates on down this end and lemme slop some of the best stuff you ever wrapped your lips around onto ’em!” 

One of the ladies way down the other end, I recognized her whe she started talking, she was the one placed the order, said, “Excuse me, but just who are you?”  I said, real loud ’cause this might be a good place to advertise, “I’m Homer Clinch from Homer’s Pasta, and I brung you the best mess of Alfalfa with special Holiday Hog Ear sauce, you ever swallered.”

Two ladies got up and ran from the room right then.  A couple of fellers got up after them and started moving my way.  I figgered they was coming to help until they grabbed me and begun to hustle me back to the door and the army guy.  The lady followed and another army guy come up and took the pail of pasta and sauce off the table. “Hey, I thought you wanted me to bring this stuff on over tonight, lady,” I said.  She got all stiff all over and said, “What I told you, Mr. Clinch.”  I got all this now on account of she was talking real slow, “What I told you after hearing your list of revolting products, was “Don’t soil my ears.”  “Now, ” she continued, “I’ll be happy to see your back and the last of your (here she shook all over like someone who just stepped in a mess of stuff real soft would do) Hogs Ears.”  “Not so fast, Miss,” I said while the two guys held me and the first army guy was draping mu coat over the top of my pail of sauce.  “Not so fast.  It took me some time to make this up and I’m out $7.00 for the ears.”  She turned to the army guy and said, “Give him enough to get him out of here.”  The she left to go back to her long table, skinny glasses and whispers.

I took a chance and told him I wanted $12.oo, so I made four dollars on the night, and sold the pail full of pasta to Millie, down at her Diner for their Sunday Dinner Special, for another $3.50 and a mess of sweet potato pie.  I threw in the use of the mop pail for a week.  She got a mop but no pail and been using the dish sink water on the floor. 

I don’t figure I’ll be doing no deliveries soon,a nd it’ll be a while before I break into the city market

Me and Alma Jean, the kids and Lump wishes you a Merry Christmas,


This is all I have of him.  I’d kept all of his letters in a box in the basement of the house we just moved from to this place on the river not far away.  Somehow the box, along with a couple of thousand old photos I was sure I had, never made the journey.  The other place is empty now, echoing with the ghosts packing their own gear.  I’ve left them the new address.  They have a standing invitation.

I’m hoping Photius, wherever he may be, picks one up.

I miss the odd fellow.  My memory is clouded about what took lace all that long ago.  It is working on data that was hazily acquired at best.  But I remember the voice, the tall thin awkward fellow, the stilt like legs in their formal dress.  I remember his Adam’s apple oscillating as he spoke. And I remember his kind eyes.  Blue, like the lightening sky.

I never did find out how he wound up with one shoe and one sneaker, though for years I kept meaning to ask him.

Here is my friend’s show piece:

The Entry of the Gods Into Valhalla