Saturday, May 9, 2015

Thom Gunn

Thom Gunn's sturdy handsome stanzas
show he grew up when well-schooled youth,
when poets and layfolk learned to write.

His verses about lovers taking chances
(and dear friends dying) wound with their truth,
their hell-bent clarity, their dark delight.

The Single Area

As I once told the Reverend Peggy,
my long-time spiritual advisor,
wry and wise toward my nervousness,

the single area of my unkempt life
where I act with a measure of aplomb,
a degree of resiliency, where I rarely

become discouraged by setbacks,
where I am almost an adult despite
my sophomoric humour, is here, is now,

when I take up pen and notebook
or sit and type in the prosy-fingered dawn,
and work at language, nudging sluggish words

toward something that resembles poetry.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Grendel's Den

Some afternoon we'll meet at Grendel's Den;
we'll grab a bite to eat
at Grendel's Den.

I know I'm not wrong to anticipate
an hour or two made sweet
at Grendel's Den!

Cambridge welcomes both townie and traveller:
we'll rest, pull up a seat
at Grendel's Den.

Between its walls, chatter and comfort food:
for lunch, you can't compete
with Grendel's Den.

Abandon gloom, all ye who enter here!
The atmosphere's upbeat
at Grendel's Den.

Professors, punks, join forces, raise a glass!
There's no room for conceit
at Grendel's Den.

Bless your floorboards, once blond as beer, well-worn
by waiters' youthful feet,
O Grendel's Den!

Barn-swallow, fly over! Land in Winthrop Park:
table for two, my treat,
at Grendel's Den!

In '90s Boston

In '90s Boston
I found several
religious bookstores,
holy nooks:
Sheehan's, Cowley,
Mass. Bible Society.

I'd spend
endless hours
browsing their shelves,
ogling the latest
from Paulist Press,
Alba House,
St Vladimir's,
Orbis Books.

I believed
I could read myself
to heaven!
I'd soak my brain
in books
to stifle doubt.

I won't lie:
these were not
my best days.
Angry at life,
I sought relief
among tomes
of theology,
books of
"inspiration."

Back home,
on my street,
the lady in 48
would shriek abuse
at her kids.

Then there was
her boyfriend
with the radio.

I'd read and brood,
surly thirtyish slacker,
and pray for quiet
or listen to jazz

as I looked,
impatient,
for the tender
mercies of God.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Essay: When I Don't ...

When I don't feel like praying, when beads and booklets fill me with distaste, I often make myself "do a psalm."

When I'm unable to muster even the scraps of a lyric, I drink two mugs of coffee, black and unsweetened, and lower my standards.

When I'm debating politics on Facebook with Jim, incorrigible but friendly jacobin, I tell myself, stay calm, don't waver, and keep it light.

But when I lose that effervescence which delights in the daily mysteries, that laughs at my mistakes and those of others, then I’ve lost the whole shebang.

Aren't we more merciful to others when we can perceive the ridiculous quality in our own missteps, when we can banish worry to some closet or attic, when we can play and jest and laugh?

Do we really suffer from too much laughter? Is it a crime to listen?

When propagandists would fix in my head a cartoon of the human being as irredeemable fiend, more wolf or beast than woman or man, shouldn't I just throw the papers in the trash, ignore the internet, switch off cable, talk to a friend—a vulnerable human being who lives and breathes and anguishes and loves?

Sunday, May 3, 2015

My Work

What is my work?
It is listening to the birds
whose names I do not know,
whose language
I can never understand.

It is writing a poem
over the second cup
of morning coffee.

It is planning the day:
phone calls, pharmacy,
confession, lunch.

It is learning to rejoice
as the first Christians did
at the first Easter.

My work is correcting my faults,
and bothering less
about the faults of others.

To accept whatever comes.
To change complaining
to gratitude.

My work is learning how.

My work is not to teach.
My work is not to preach.
My work is not to inveigh
or to compel.

My work is listening.

My work is an hour of solitude
at the start of the day,
in communion with the wounded world,
in communion with the holy ones
who have gone before.

My work is clearing the front yard of pine-cones.
My work is raking leaves.
My work is placing stone upon stone
and building a chapel.

Springtime Singer

Springtime singer, friend of butterflies,
farewelling "snows that wither and frosts that sting,"
you live, you love, you praise, and you surprise.

Who would have known, who'd have dared to surmise,
the grace you'd give to every living thing,
springtime singer, friend of butterflies?

As riotous blossoms that delight our eyes,
as the proud bounty of long-hoped-for spring,
you live, you love, you praise, and you surprise!

In these bright days when chilly prudence dies,
you teach deaf ears the art of listening,
springtime singer, friend of butterflies!

Obliterating cowardice, slaying lies,
with joy that overwhelms our reasoning,
you live, you love, you praise, and you surprise!

Graybearded sonneteers cannot disguise
elation as the barn-swallow takes wing:
springtime singer, friend of butterflies,
you live, you love, you praise, and you surprise.