Oct 29 – Ancient Airs and Dances

Wednesday – October 28  -  Denise Levertov  ”Greyhaired, I have not grown wiser, unless to perceive absurdity is wisdom.” 

Work week’s middle;  Autumn’s about 1/3 finished (if you count from the equinox in September to the winter solstice in December);  lots of leaves still around but more of them are blowing around our feet.  Weather.com says there will be brisk clean winds coming out of the West/Southwest at a good clip (12-14 mph); mostly cloudy with peeks of sun; no rain.  Yesterday afternoon’s surprise;  bright sunshine as I walked back from a meeting c. 5:15.  I stopped out in front of Lansing Reilly, struck by wind gusts playing with the taller trees behind the chapel’s tile roof.    The chapel blocked my view of their bottom 2/3rds and made it seem as if the tall trees were great sailboats surging across the skies.  I stood still a little while, taking what the earth and trees and chapel roof had on offer.   Someone who knows me came up behind me:  “looking at those leaves I bet.”   “You bet,” I answered.

Why does all this mid-work-week beauty remind me of Denise Levertov’s poem about falling in love as an elderly woman?   The poem is as improbably playful as the leaves riding the wind gusts.  Maybe that’s why I stopped; or maybe it was that bright sun.

These are busier than usual days;  it’s good to stop and breathe a little.

Have a good day.


john sj

today’s post


Ancient Airs and Dances


I knew too well
what had befallen me
when, one night, I put my lips to his wineglass
after he left–an impulse I thought was locked away with a smile
into memory’s museum.

When he took me to visit friends and the sea, he lay
asleep in the next room’s dark where the fire
rustled all night; and I, from a warm bed, sleepless,
watched through the open door
that glowing hearth, and heard,
drumming the roof, the rain’s
insistent heartbeat.

Greyhaired, I have not grown wiser,
unless to perceive absurdity
is wisdom. A powerless wisdom.


Shameless heart! Did you not vow to learn
stillness from the heron
quiet from the mists of fall,
and from the mountain–what was it?
Pride? Remoteness?
You have forgotten already!
And now you clamor again
like an obstinate child demanding attention,
interrupting study and contemplation.
You try my patience. Bound as we are
together for life, must you now,
so late in the day, go bounding sideways,
trying to drag me with you?

Denise Levertov – Evening Train

Denise Levertov

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Oct 27 – Art McGovern’s tree

Monday  October 27

After  yesterday’s Sunday noon mass in the Ignatius/McAuley C&F chapel, walking home past the energy of parking lots packed in for the Detroit high school cheerleading competitions,  I stopped in my tracks in front of the tree we dedicated in 1999 for Art McGovern, sj.  It’s leaves were still solid green, contrasting with the yellows of older trees around it.   Sheer beauty surprise me into seeing it fresh.   I went to my room, got my digital camera, and came back to contemplate Art’s tree with the help of a pretty good lens.

For those of you who never knew him, Art was a soul friend for my first twenty years here at Six Mile and Livernois.  He was soul friend for many people,  more beloved, perhaps, than any person who taught and worked here until he died too young of bone cancer at age 70.   In his last months at the Jesuit Colombiere Center in Clarkston,  the staff told us  he set records for the astonishing number of people who came to tell him goodbye.

We planted a tree for him before he died.    Most days I just walk by and  I doubt that bothers Art at all.   Yesterday the tree found me.  “It’s gotten so big!” I whispered.

Stillness and beauty, the blessings of autumn.

Have a good day.


john sj

today’s post

I wrote this poem during grad school in Southwest Philly when another tree woke stillness in me for a while.

For the dogwood in our yard, middle of October c. 1977
Autumn’s russet colors
Age without solemnity
Earthy and simple, they linger
Not for grandeur
Nor from fear of the dust they will become
Their affection for this place
These ripening moments
Even me the beholder
Slows the pace of changing.
Let me be won by this warmth
To slow my chosen pace
To ripen affectionately.

ps. Art’s tree yesterday



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Carl Sandberg – “no beautiful thing lasts”

Wednesday,  October 22  “Vanity of Vanities, all is Vanity”

Carl Sandburg paints autumn’s stunning, passing beauty in a few blunt words.  To which I am inclined to add, “Nothing wrong with grief over the passing of exquisite beauty.”   Further down, Qoheleth (in Ecclesiastes) joins Sandburg in singing an old lament – one worth repeating.  Good reading now and then to respect the human capacity for gloom on hard days.

Have a great weekend.  Regular posts begin Monday.


john sj

Carl Sandburg: “Autumn Movement”
Posted by Phyllis Cole-Dai on Oct 15, 2014 12:00 am


I cried over beautiful things knowing no beautiful thing

The field of cornflower yellow is a scarf at the neck of the
copper sunburned woman, the mother of the year, the
taker of seeds.

The northwest wind comes and the yellow is torn full of
holes, new beautiful things come in the first spit of
snow on the northwest wind, and the old things go,
not one lasts.

Carl-Sandburg“Autumn Movement” by Carl Sandburg. Published in Poetry (October, 1918).  

Art credit: “Yellow Cornflowers,” photograph taken at Brisbane City Botanic Garden, Australia, November 7, 2010, by Hopeisland.

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Tuesday October 21,

This is cheating a bit.  No poem today, just a personal thanksgiving for sheer beauty with some stillness.

john sj

p.s.       from the last days of my retreat  at the home of a life long soul friend,  Connie de Biase, where I’ve come to be still for c. 25 years.

I wrote this journal note 2 years ago almost to the date from the same back porch where I sat this morning.  Marsh and estuary = stillness.

“I can see Amtrac at the edge of the marsh. It feels like a true privilege to live where one sees an ancient estuary winding through its marsh and can pause now and then to watch people from Boston and upper New England heading south and people from Pennsylvania, New Jersey & New York heading into New England.  People aiming at purposeful destinations gliding past a marsh older than they.  Older than I too.”

blessings from the Sound.

Retreat CT1Retreat CT2


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Oct 15 quiet time Tagore

Wednesday Oct 15  -  “The works I have in hand
I will finish afterwards.”

I’m in the Philly airport, which was very new when I lived here as a grad student in the 1970s.  They’ve kept up with its aging process pretty well though and, when something takes me here I feel immediately at home — the south Philly accent especially.   I just finished 2.5 days with my peer Mission & Identity officers from the Conference of Mercy Higher Education, and I’m heading up to Connecticut for my annual retreat.  Unless I am smitten with some flash of beauty for a post, I’ll follow the guidance of Rabindranath Tagore in his #5 (Gitanjali) & not post until I get home at the end of next week.

Have good days.   Best to read the poem out loud, a couple times.

john st sj


Today’s Post 

I ask for a moment’s indulgence to sit by thy side,
The works that I have in hand
I will finish afterwards.
Away from the sight of thy face
my heart knows no rest nor respite,
and my work becomes an endless toil
in a shoreless sea of toil.

Now is the time to sit quiet,
face to face with thee
and to sing dedication of life
in this silent and overflowing leisure.

Tagore 5

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Oct 10 – dance around the world

Friday,  October 10  -  time for dancing

I’m at a board meeting (Regis University) in Denver.  And I’ve been posting a fair bit about grief and fatigue.  Here’s a change of pace that you may have seen before on youtube.  It’s 4:53 minutes.  I was skeptical before opening it.   And began bopping around the place. Maybe just right for the Friday before the Columbus Day class schedule long weekend.

I’ll be making retreat next week (Long Island Sound, Connecticutt shore) until Oct 22.  Prayers would be welcome.


john sj

Today’s Post

To match Matisse 1909 & 1910, try this 4:53 youtube  “Where the hell is Matt?” 2012   Treat it like a poem.   Probably an ad you have to click through first.

Matisse 1909                                                        Matisse 1910Matisse1909Matisse1910

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Oct 8 – “groaning in one great act of giving birth”

Wednesday, October 8  “about being pregnant”

The guiding assertion of these work day posts is that words matter.  Our fatigues, when they get hard enough, suggest gloomy word choices;  the beauty we encounter, if we pay attention, opens the fatigue to resilience and reminds us that beauty runs deeper.  Does any beauty run deeper, and surprise us more, than giving birth?   That’s not all there is to living for sure, but birth might prove the best of all metaphors.    In The Letter to the Romans, Paul of Tarsus chose a specific Greek verb for groaning, the word that means a woman’s labor pains.     It’s one of my favorite scriptures.  What if all our fatigue and groaning  were labor pains?   All were absolutely worth it?  Now that’s a daring idea, no?

            “I think that what we suffer in this life can never be compared to the glory, as yet unrevealed, which is waiting for us  . . . .

            From the beginning till now the entire creation, as we know, has been groaning in one great act of giving birth;

             and not only creation, but all of us who possess the first-fruits of the Spirit, we too groan inwardly

            as we wait for our bodies to be set free. . . .   “ (Romans 8)


Chemistry professor Dawn Archey witnesses birth pangs in students like all of us do,  groaning all around the place some times.   In late September she sent me a poem she wrote c. 5 years ago during pregnancy.    Reading it ove these last couple days is what brought Paul’s Letter and the university to mind. I am in her debt.  Bet you will be too.

Best to read the poem several times with time for breathing in  between.

Have a good day.


john st sj

Today’s Post

Making Humans

Kudos to you, Lord God,
for making humans in only
six days.

I’ve been working on one for eight weeks now
and all I have is a proto-human
the size of a raspberry.

In six days you made
two full-sized humans.

Its hard work, God.
Even you had to rest on the 7th day.
Makes me feel a little better
about being tired all the time.

Dawn Archey

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Oct 6 – Nancy Toth + 1958

Monday,  October 6  —  “How I was glad he’d stopped me there”

Making oatmeal and tea this morning I felt sad.    Several good friends have lost someone too young to lose;  others have been orphaned while keeping watch with someone much older.  Some soul friends carry wounds lodged in their flesh and memories.  Me too.   How many of the 1612 members on our list woke today close to grief?  How many woke fresh with the beauty and the play of life?   Or maybe both.  Or maybe we just grunted a little, got out of bed, and prepped for a work day.  No matter how we woke, it’s a safe bet that we are more beautiful than we usually notice.

It happens that, on this day,  A woman died who is beautiful to me.   In October 1958, I spent a month working at a hospital in Oshkosh WI, part of ordinary training for baby Jesuits.   Nancy Toth  met me there.  Cancer was stretching her gaunt and tired and near death.   I was a teen-ager trying to manage cathaters and bed pans and closeness to sick people.   It amazes me still, that  she found the inner energy to welcome me.   I wonder what she made of that earnest 18 year old boy,  searching for an identity?    I like to think she sparkled with amusement and affection, no matter her deathly fatigue.

Have a good day even if those Lions and Tigers lost yesterday.


john sj

Today’s Post

I came across a poem about a turtle trying to cross a road.  Feels like good stuff for the 1st day of the week.   The poet’s boy car driver reminds me of Nancy.  Dying she was, but she found a way to stop me in my tracks and show me the human.

“An Interruption”

A boy had stopped his car
To save a turtle in the road;
I was not far
Behind, and slowed,
And stopped to watch as he began
To shoo it off into the undergrowth—
This wild reminder of an ancient past,
Lumbering to some Late Triassic bog,
Till it was just a rustle in the grass,
Till it was gone.
I hope I told him with a look
As I passed by,
How I was glad he’d stopped me there,
And what I felt for both
Of them, something I took
To be a kind of love,
And of a troubled thought
I had, for man,
Of how we ought
To let life go on where
And when it can.

Robert S Foote  The Hidden Light: Poems (2012)


“Turtle Crossing Road” photograph by Malcolm MacGregor , May 22, 2013


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Oct 3 – Wild Geese, Mary Oliver

Friday October 3 — “the world offers itself to your imagination”

I missed Wednesday’s list-post. Some good, strong listening Tuesday in the Santa Clara Valley among Advisory Board members for the Center for Science, Technology and Society. Then a Red Eye back home, a morning nap and plenty of ordinary work from then until now. Friday feels fresh, gusty rain and an embarassing Tigers blow-out notwithstanding. It’s the first week when driving around the city, flashes of color & early fallen leaves blowing stop me in my tracks. You too I bet.

There are 1612 people on this list as of yesterday from UDM and around the rest of the world; we human beings carry our burdens, are surprised by beauty, and sometimes get cranky. Autumn’s wild geese, the poet reminds us, have a thing or two to tell us, pointing us to our place in the family of things. “The world offers itself to your imagination.”

Have a great weekend.

john sj

Today’s Post

Best to read the poem out loud and then breathe slowly for a little while.

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting -
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.


You can listen to Mary O read her poem at this link but you’ll have to put up with an ad for 15 seconds or so:  some new action shoot-em-up thriller while I waited for Mary’s voice this morning.   Even with the ad, it’s worth it.


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Sept 29 Joy Harjo “Perhaps the World Ends Here”

Monday, September 29 “Our dreams drink coffee with us”

A refreshing weekend for me; a good friend came in from out of town spending time with her family in Trenton. Tigers squeaked out a Division Win. Lions won. Packers won. “Hope springs eternal” as sports fans say. The 9th or 10th straight day of clean, crisp days; an early sprinkling of trees changing their leaves. “A good way to begin a week,” I thought this morning, “I bet there’s a poet who is coming close to the surface of attention.” Joy Harjo. The Poetry Foundation rewarded me with a poem I’d not read before. Kitchen table as earthy mysticism.

I hope you like it; I hope it gives you a good start to this week when September turns to October and October begins to enchant us with its breezes and its colors.

Have a good day.

john sj

Today’s Post

Perhaps the World Ends Here
The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.
The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.
We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.
It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.
At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.
Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.
This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.
Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate the terrible victory.
We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents for burial here.
At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We pray of suffering and remorse. We give thanks.
Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite.

Joy Harjo from The Woman Who Fell From the Sky by Joy Harjo. Copyright © 1994







Crazy Brave, W. W. Norton & Company. 2012. ISBN 9780393073461.

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