Monday, August 19, 2019



There was a great love song that my mother often sang as  she went about her daily household work. She had a great voice and she loved to sing It was one of my favorites made popular by Nelson Eddy
and Jeanette MacDonald

Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life

Ah! Sweet mystery of life
At last I've found thee
Ah! I know at last the secret of it all;
All the longing, seeking, striving, waiting, yearning
The burning hopes, the joy and idle tears that fall!
For 'tis love, and love alone, the world is seeking,
And 'tis love, and love alone, that can repay!
'Tis the answer, 'tis the end and all of living
For it is love alone that rules for aye!
Love, and love alone, the world is seeking,
For 'tis love, and love alone, that can repay!
'Tis the answer, 'tis the end and all of living
For it is love alone that rules for aye!
Source: LyricFind
Songwriters: Rida Johnson Young / Victor Herbert
Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life lyrics © Warner Chappell Music, Inc, Music Sales Corporation, BMG Rights Management

JOAN CHITTISTER explores the mystery of aging and the passage of  our time here on earth

So, mystery, the notion that something wonderful can happen at any time if we will only allow space for it, takes us into a whole new awareness of the immanence of God in time. God comes, we learn now, when we least expect it. Maybe most likely of all when we least expect it.

The Gift of Years by Joan ChittisterIn age, mystery comes alive. Nothing is very sure anymore. Everything speaks of maybe and perhaps, might and possibly. I might still be here. And I might not. Like children, we learn to wonder again. We learn that getting up every day can be fun, can be wonder-full. Something will surely happen. What will it be?

Then, as the years go by, we learn to trust the goodness of time, the glorious cornucopia of life called God. And who knows? At the end of life, the mystery waiting for us there, finally visible under the glare of time, may be more than the soul can hold.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Thinking of my sister Janie


With those words my mother changed my life.

I have mentioned in earlier blogs my sister Janie.  She was my older sister who had Down Syndrome August 4th was her birthday in 1939 and August 29 1998 was her  day of death. So in August my thoughts turn to her.

Since she was  4 years older than me, I found her a perfect older sister.  She was always ready to play with me and seemed to never tire no matter what I wanted to do. I never saw anything wrong with her,  until  other children made fun of her when we were out together.

But  my mother often said that children can be cruel.  That was what she said, and I stopped telling her about the incidents since she seemed to worry about us going out alone. But after the birth of my  younger sister Sheila in 1946, she had little choice. 

I was suddenly in charge of Janie and would walk her to Prospect Street School each day and  then return and wait for her with the crossing guard and then walk her home.  I have written of this before, and it seemed like an enormous responsibility to me. I was both proud and afraid-- more than a little over whelmed.

Sometimes I was frightened because kids would throw stones at us.
I learned which  boys and houses to avoid. But  I also learned to load my pockets with stones, so that I could crouch behind a car and retaliate if the attack became too fierce.

Janie--God Bless Her--  never told my mother of our battles or other  exploits. Janie always was ready for adventure and she never squealed.

For example,  Janie would  help me steal pears, but she was slow at climbing fences, and we got caught by an angry owner on Linwood Avenue. She caught us by our wrists and hauled us home with the evidence in Janie's lunch bag.

My mother heard us screaming and came out  to us on the street.
She took the  bag of pears and told the woman to let go of Janie--"she is a complete innocent" The woman who spoke just a little English released us both. "This little one is the leader." she said  shaking me one last time. 
"Yes, I guess she is, someone has to be in charge," my mother  responded in a voice  filled with pride and a little regret.

Later inside the house, my mother  washed the pears,  all ripe and golden with a rosy sheen and put them in  her best bowl on the table. She took one and cut it into four parts and shared it with us,
"Norma," she said, "you know a good pear when  you see one."

When I read Saint  Augustine's Confessions in college, I  laughed and marveled at how he reported that he had stolen pears as a child.
My goodness if I confessed sins like stealing pears, I would have never  left the confessional.

I guess I am finally coming clean here,

Monday, August 12, 2019


Recently Richard Rohr has written about MYSTICISM
Mysticism is a  controversial topic  and was even  ridiculed in the pre-Vatican 2  years of my Catholic  upbringing.  Those were stern and  unrewarding years with emphasis on doctrine rather than on direct experience of the Divine in our Human  lives on earth.

In recent years Richard Rohr has brought once again to the foreground the whole topic of mysticism.

"It’s not enough to have wonderful theories about God. Authentic mystical encounter radically changes us and our way of living—our politics, relationships, economics. Otherwise so-called mysticism is just metaphysical rumination. Beverly Lanzetta, a contemporary theologian and monk within universal spirituality, shares the practical implications of mysticism:
"We may imagine mysticism or contemplation to be the privilege of monks and mystics, saints and prophets, and of the cloistered and the devout. But, to this I add: you are made both of and for contemplation. It is the secret longing of your being. And because this is so, each and every one of you contains the seed consciousness and the archetypal reality of its hidden ways. . . . It is in the wilderness of your heart that you discover a reality beyond every religious form."
 Notice that wonderful phrase  --the wilderness of  your heart--
This is in sharp contrast to the ways that some of the nuns teaching us religion in the 50s  heaped scorn on the idea of MYSTICISM.
I  recall here one particularly harsh definition:
Mysticism  begins in the  mists.  It is

 centered on I and it often ends in


Where does a child who sees heaven in 

the clouds at sunset go with that?

Saturday, August 10, 2019


2 Chronicles 9:21 "For the king's ships went to Tarshish with the servants of Hiram. Once every three years the ships of Tarshish used to come bringing gold, silver, ivory, apes, and peacocks."

I am preparing a collection of poems that I have written in the past two years that use traditional forms.  They include sonnets and sestinas and villanelles and some  Eastern forms like Haiku and sijo.

For some reason the above phrase from the  Bible and the  mention of Tarshish stayed in my mind for months.  I  know that this is an exotic reference but I wanted to use it in the title of my collection. I no longer ignore these promptings or strange associations.  They mean something I just do  not know what--not yet

Perhaps it is  a symbolic figure for using old forms to  carry my treasures like the Ships of Tarshish carried the treasures of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.
My treasures are  my poems and so  I am thinking of calling the volume that I am preparing--


Tuesday, August 6, 2019



There are many levels of witness that poetry fulfills in  this world.
1.  There is the poetry that witnesses the  beauties of nature and praises them--think of Wordsworth

2.There is the poetry that bears witness to human suffering and pain and  brings it to our attention and commiserates with it and sometimes condemns it.
Think of the poems of Nazim Hikmit or Pablo Neruda. or Leroi Jones.

3.There is the poetry that bears witness to the daily pains of life and existence. Think of the songs of the blues singers like Robert Johnson.

4. There is the poetry that bears witness to the humble daily joys and sorrows that we all share in daily life.  That is where Galway Kinnell bears witness in his work,

5.  There is the poetry that  bears witness to the sacramental nature of  the created world. Poets like Hopkins, Shelley and yes again, Galway Kinnell

6, There is the poetry that cries out against the tyranny and atrocity that an oppressive political  regime can impose on an entire society. These poets risk imprisonment and death to tell truth to power,
Think of the brave  work of Nazim Hikmet  and Garcia Lorca. Perhaps the greatest playwright and poet of witness in  Bertolt Brecht
 Bertolt Brecht:

In the dark times, will there also be singing?
Yes, there will be singing.
About the dark times.

A contemporary poet Carolyn Forche has written about her experience of the Poetry of Witness.

How did she come to be a poet of witness?

"Well I was very troubled in childhood by learning about the Holocaust. And I read and read.
 I suppose like all little girls it began with Anne Frank’s diary, but it led to much more. I was
 deeply disturbed by this event and I read more than other children did about it. I imagined
, I tried to imagine, what I would have done had I lived in those times. And I wanted to 
imagine that I would have opposed it at risk of my life. I wanted to imagine that."

I wondered how she moved from imagination to action.
"When the civil rights movement happened in the United States I was a teenager. I was born in Detroit
, and I lived very near Detroit. It was impossible to escape knowledge of the utter lack of civil rights
in the United States, and the utter rightness of Martin Luther King Jr.’s movement. And I, of course
, lived in a community, a rural – somewhat suburban, but mostly rural – white community; and I was
 shocked to realize that there were classmates of mine who were openly racist. So I fought them
 in school. And I got in a lot of trouble with my classmates because they didn’t understand me,
 and I didn’t understand them.
Then comes the Vietnam War, and my classmates are among those who fight in the war. And I go
away to college because of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society Program, which allowed people
without means to go to college. And when I arrived at university of course the anti war movement
 was flowering. It was 1968 and I was a freshman. I had not been exposed to antiwar movements
 before and I linked them to civil rights movements and linked the whole thing to the Holocaust
 and linked the dying Vietnamese to the people who died in the Holocaust. It was all linked together
, I felt that – so I joined the antiwar movement.
I didn’t understand the war in Vietnam. It took years of reading before I understood the utter 
nihilism that must have afflicted our leaders to take us into the war and prosecute the war in that way.
When the war was over, everyone seemed to disappear. It seemed to me that the millions of people
 in the streets, the tens of thousand protesting the war, the great mobilization had vanished
. Suddenly we were going on with our lives and everyone was gone.".

Some more lines from Brecht underscore the  feelings of isolation that all  poet witnesses can feel also.

"This, then, is all. It’s not enough, I know.
At least I’m still alive, as you may see.
I’m like the man who took a brick to show
How beautiful his house used once to be."

No witness is complete --we are all  able
 to  make a contribution -- new ones must come.

Friday, July 26, 2019


No not the aftermath of earthquakes but  a basketball team in Wichita

Last night  I came upon a pretty good basketball game--not from the past but being played live.
I found it because each night when I go to bed -- very little stamina these days-- I  must find something that Yash will watch.  There is really only one thing--BASKETBALL.

Usually he settles for whatever I find.  Old finals NBA games on the NBA channel or WNBA  happening live. Or even old dunk contests.  He watches them contentedly.

But sometimes  I have  chanced on something called BIG 3 Basketball and even Yash draws a line there.
These are teams it seems with only 3 men playing on each side and  playing only half court and moving very slowly.  These  I have learned are retired NBA basketball players who can still lumber around.
But I find it dispiriting I want to remember them in their glory not  moving so slow. I want to believe that old NBA champs age better than me.

So finding CBT was a treat. It seems to be a small league of  college  Alumni and they  still  move well and have good shots.
The game last night was in Wichita  which is the home of the SHOCKERS so AFTERSHOCKS is a pretty clever  name for Alums. Some interesting variations--in the  fourth quarter they
shut down the clock and they  set up a number and announce that the first  team to get to that  goal is the winner.

More like a pick up game of 21.  Also it seems that they will play seven games in the next few days and the winning team gets  2,000,000 dollars. YES TWO MILLION DOLLARS.
Look for the games on ESPN. See what you think.

Monday, July 22, 2019


I am not the first poet to doubt my  mission.
Rereading Frost
by Linda Pastan
Sometimes I think all the best poems
have been written already,
and no one has time to read them,
so why try to write more?
At other times though,
I remember how one flower
in a meadow already full of flowers
somehow adds to the general fireworks effect
as you get to the top of a hill
in Colorado, say, in high summer
and just look down at all that brimming color.
I also try to convince myself
that the smallest note of the smallest
instrument in the band,
the triangle for instance,
is important to the conductor
who stands there, pointing his finger
in the direction of the percussions,
demanding that one silvery ping.
And I decide not to stop trying,
at least not for a while, though in truth
I'd rather just sit here reading
how someone else has been acquainted
with the night already, and perfectly.


Acquainted with the Night

I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rainand back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.

I have looked down the saddest city lane.
I have passed by the watchman on his beat
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.

I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
When far away an interrupted cry
Came over houses from another street,

But not to call me back or say good-bye;
And further still at an unearthly height,
One luminary clock against the sky

Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right. 
I have been one acquainted with the night.

Yes, reading other poets is a thrilling and a humbling experience.  I stayed  for many years an adoring reader of Yeats  and Keats and Byron. They had done it all. I  hesitated to share my work with anyone or to submit it for publication. 

  I remember a  teaching colleague, a poet who was an acerbic and sometimes abusive critic of student work  boasting that he often said to students --"why do you want to add another  bad poem to the world."

Pastan's poem  takes up that cruel teacher's  challenge and answers it.
Sometimes in my office giving academic advice, I would meet  a former  student of his who had been crushed into silence. It took much coaxing and   pushing to  set the student back on the path of exploring her own creativity.

 I wondered why he felt he should slam the doors of poetry on any one. One less rival, perhaps.  Or did  he think that  women's work was elsewhere? 

Language is one of mankind's great gifts and we  only learn how to use it and stretch it by  trying it. 
Every human being  needs to have more of a sense of our own uniqueness now scientifically  proven by our DNA. Each of us is different, and each of us may find a way to express that difference in our writing. But only if we  keep on writing.

Why not try at least to  find out what it is that you and only  you can say. AND SAY IT!