June 6 – Summer break

Monday,   June 6   “. . . amongst all natural things
I could live or not live;  it does not matter
to be one stone more . . . “

The last days of this year’s time on Pine Ridge Reservation filled up with soul friends and familiar places waiting for me to come find them.   So I could stand still and pay attention to five decades of beauty.   I had planned to write the last poetry post out there, close to June 1, but here I am back home at Six Mile Road on June 6, savoring Pine Ridge days and tasting Detroit rebirth at the same time.

A soul friend sent me Pablo Neruda’s “Oh, Earth, Wait For Me” a few months ago. a poem that a childhood friend hand-copied for her long ago.   I’d been waiting for a day that makes space for Neruda’s grace: stillness and presence in the world.   Today’s pretty good for that,  an invitation to trust the pace of summer and risk breathing slowly.   Best to read out loud,  with pauses.

Back in early August.    Have a blest summer.


john sj

Today’s Post,  Pablo Neruda

Oh, Earth, Wait For Me
By Pablo Neruda

Return me, oh sun,
to my wild destiny,
rain of the ancient wood
bring me back the aroma and the swords
that fall from the sky,
the solitary peace of pasture and rock,
the damp at the river-margins,
the smell of the larch tree,
the wind alive like a heart
beating in the crowded restlessness
of the towering araucaria.

Earth, give me back your pure gifts,
the towers of silence which rose
from the solemnity of their roots.
I want to go back to being what I have not been,
and learn to go back from such deeps
that amongst all natural things
I could live or not live; it does not matter
to be one stone more, the dark stone,
the pure stone which the river bears away.

~Pablo Neruda

(Poem excerpted in “The Wood Wife” by Terri Windling, pages 130, 131)



Wikipedia is not always eloquent.  These two paragraphs, though, from Neruda’s short bio (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pablo_Neruda) are well written.

“Years later, Neruda was a close advisor to Chile’s socialist President Salvador Allende. When Neruda returned to Chile after his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Allende invited him to read at the Estadio Nacional before 70,000 people.[5]

Neruda was hospitalised with cancer at the time of the coup d’état led by Augusto Pinochet but returned home after 5 days when he suspected a doctor of injecting him in the stomach with an unknown substance for the purpose of murdering him at the order of Pinochet.[6]Neruda died in his house in Isla Negra on 23 September 1973 six and a half hours after that injection. Although it has always been reported that he died of prostate cancer/heart failure, on November 5, 2015 the Interior Ministry of the Chilean government issued a statement acknowledging a Ministry document from March of that year indicating the government’s official position that “it was clearly possible and highly likely” that he was killed as a result of “the intervention of third parties”.[7] Pinochet, backed by elements of the armed forces, denied permission for Neruda’s funeral to be made a public event. However, thousands of grieving Chileans disobeyed the curfew and crowded the streets.”

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“Enough. These few words are enough.” David Whyte

Friday May 27  –  “Enough. These few words are enough.”  David Whyte

“Remember sunscreen” —   Pine Ridge, SD is about 3400 ft above sea level,  sun shines more directly here than in Motown at 300 ft elevation.   In most years, about a week after commencement and Eastern Market Flower days, I pack for a week on the Pine Ridge Lakota Reservation.  It sits in western South Dakota; you can see the profile of The Black Hills 70 miles off to the north and west;  you can stand still near wild Badland formations, created mostly by wind.  Improbably with desert-like terrain,  you can also stand still to listen to meadowlarks, and frogs, in marshy water holes 100 yards across.   It’s because I lived here a long time that this particular beauty melts my soul and refreshes my spirit.

So do conversations with soul friends of 40 years or more.  I come to Pine Ridge to renew the origins of my adulthood in this place of beauty and laughter and grief.  It slows my steps and my breathing.  And reminds me that the normal work year has ended and summer has begun.  There’s  still plenty of work time but the pace is different.   For you too, I hope.

I looked for a short poem that reminds me of why I come out to Pine Ridge each year.

David Whyte wrote the poem, “Enough.”  Readers of the list have heard it before.   Below the poem are 3 wisdom sayings learned on Pine Ridge over the years.

Have a blest weekend.


john st sj

Today’s Post

Enough. These few words are enough.
If not these words, this breath.
If not this breath, this sitting here.

This opening to the life
we have refused
again and again
until now.

David Whyte, Where Many Rivers Meet


a wisdom-saying born on the Pine Ridge Lakota Reservation

“Time spent baking bread follows the pace of yeast”

“Motorcycling alone; I move as a  tiny person in a vast world”

“If I pause long enough, I  hear the sound of grass growing,  and trees, each at its own pace.”

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May 13 — your child growing up

Friday, May 13 “Young as she is, the stuff

Of her life is a great cargo, and some of it heavy”

Which is more challenging? to notice beauty, delicate, stirring wonder . . .  and then to go to the beauty . . . and then to stand still in the beauty?
or it is more challenging? to notice grief, wrenching, . . .  and then to go to the grief . . . and then to stand still in the grief?
or more challenging? to notice fear, . . .  and then  to go to the fear . . . and then to stand still in the fear?
or more challenging? to notice joy, that wants to open me deep down . . .  and then to go to the joy . . . and then to stand still in the joy?

Strong poems raise these kinds of questions, re-open us into our capacity for depth and inner attention.  I think that is why we read poems, are happy when we’ve taken time to give a poem access to our inner selves.  I think that is why people write poems too.   Perhaps like today’s poet, Richard Wilbur, standing as a parent where many hundreds of this list’s readers have stood, standing in a place that a celibate like myself has stood too.  Is this a poem about parenting or about beauty, grief, fear, and joy?   Strong either/or questions always invite the same answer, “yes.”

Have a great weekend.

john st sj

Today’s post   “The writer” Richard Wilbur, 1921

A good friend read Wednesday poem “To a daughter leaving home” and wrote this to me:

“I also want to thank you for the marvelous poems and commentary.  I’m so glad to be a part of your blog.  Apropos of today’s poem ‘To A Daughter Leaving Home,’ the most moving poem I know on a similar theme is Richard Wilbur’s, The Writer.”

“The Writer”  Richard Wilbur

In her room at the prow of the house
Where light breaks, and the windows are tossed with linden,
My daughter is writing a story.

I pause in the stairwell, hearing
From her shut door a commotion of typewriter-keys
Like a chain hauled over a gunwale.

Young as she is, the stuff
Of her life is a great cargo, and some of it heavy:
I wish her a lucky passage.

But now it is she who pauses,
As if to reject my thought and its easy figure.
A stillness greatens, in which

The whole house seems to be thinking,
And then she is at it again with a bunched clamor
Of strokes, and again is silent.

I remember the dazed starling
Which was trapped in that very room, two years ago;
How we stole in, lifted a sash

And retreated, not to affright it;
And how for a helpless hour, through the crack of the door,
We watched the sleek, wild, dark

And iridescent creature
Batter against the brilliance, drop like a glove
To the hard floor, or the desk-top,

And wait then, humped and bloody,
For the wits to try it again; and how our spirits
Rose when, suddenly sure,

It lifted off from a chair-back,
Beating a smooth course for the right window
And clearing the sill of the world.

It is always a matter, my darling,
Of life or death, as I had forgotten. I wish
What I wished you before, but harder.

     richard wilbur  March 1, 1921  –


About Wilbur’s poems, one reviewer for The Washington Post said, “Throughout his career Wilbur has shown, within the compass of his classicism, enviable variety. His poems describe fountains and fire trucks, grasshoppers and toads, European cities and country pleasures. All of them are easy to read, while being suffused with an astonishing verbal music and a compacted thoughtfulness that invite sustained reflection.”  {poets.org}

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May 11 “To a Daughter Leaving Home”

Wednesday May 11

Once again, a friend sent me a poem.  Linda Paston is subtle, delicate, and surprising.   I think you will like it.

Middle of the week after commencement.



john sj

Today’ Post  Linda Paston   (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linda_Pastan)

To A Daughter Leaving Home – Poem by Linda Pastan

When I taught you
at eight to ride
a bicycle, loping along
beside you
as you wobbled away
on two round wheels,
my own mouth rounding
in surprise when you pulled
ahead down the curved
path of the park,
I kept waiting
for the thud
of your crash as I
sprinted to catch up,
while you grew
smaller, more breakable
with distance,
pumping, pumping
for your life, screaming
with laughter,
the hair flapping
behind you like a
handkerchief waving

Linda Pastan

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May 16 – rules are meant to be broken sometimes

Monday May 16 — rules are meant to be broken sometimes

Usually, you shouldn’t repeat the same poet’s work too close together.  Going to do it anyway — Joy Harjo two Mondays in a row.   Before I decided about today’s post, I sent an email birthday card to a soul friend who loves Joy Harjo’s poetry.  I love today’s poem too.  Whenever I read “She had some horses,” it feels new to me.  For you too, I hope.

Blessings on the week — for us here in motown, the week just after commencement.

john sj


Friday August 29, 2014  — Joy Harjo “She had some horses”


Reading my own poetry feels like looking into a blurred old mirror at an antique shop. I can’t tell if I look good or pale and pasty. I can’t figure out if it’s my writing or my self-criticism that is falling flat. But lately that’s been changing. I’ve been writing poems that aren’t cast in a massive shroud of self-judgment and I think it’s because I found Joy Harjo.

I discovered “She Had Some Horses” while preparing for the poetry class I teach at an elementary school in San Francisco. Harjo’s poems ache with grit, grief and nature. They feel like that moment of insomnia when twilight breaks. Her lines are curt and heavy but they construct delicate stories. I thought She Had Some Horses would be perfect for kids this young, whose imaginations are still lush and wild. To them, horses are still spirited creatures, not farm workers.

My students are eight through eleven years old. Some of them are at their grade reading-level, some are above and a few still can’t spell. My students don’t have the compulsion to analyze or to second-guess themselves. They’re quick to voice their instincts. But at the same time, they’re terrified of being wrong. Some days I feel like I’m a teacher, and others I feel like I’m just a referee hopelessly demanding that kids stop teasing, stop yelling, stop throwing pens.

At many schools, teachers have to adhere to a curriculum predesigned by a corporate education company. I am lucky that I get to make my own lesson plans. We’ve read Carl Sandburg, Rita Dove, Pablo Neruda and Luisa Valenzuela untranslated. Every kid in my class speaks Spanish at home and English in school; their brains are racing to simultaneously master two languages. Their poems are often a composite of Spanglish.

I can’t teach poems that have words with too many syllables, or poems about sex or violence or drugs. Although most of these kids already know about that stuff, and the meanings of the words they’re not supposed to hear or say. I must pretend that they don’t and that their minds are wholesome and pure.

She had horses with eyes of trains.
She had horses with full, brown thighs.
She had horses who laughed too much.
She had horses who threw rocks at glass houses.
She had horses who licked razor blades.

We only read the first half of part one of the poem, and I ask if anybody has any thoughts about it.  “The horses are magical,” says Silvia, a fourth-grader.
“The horses are supposed to be something else,” says Emanuel, a fifth-grader.
“Yes, perfect!” I say, this is probably the most in-depth analysis the class has made about any poem we’ve read.  I tell the class the horses mean more to Native Americans than they do to us. I explain that they are supposed to be a feeling, that they’ re something important to her, they’re her community. The repetition of “she had horses” is to express their significance.

She had horses who danced in their mothers’ arms.
She had horses who thought they were the sun
and their
bodies shone and burned like stars.
She had horses who waltzed nightly on the moon.
She had horses who were much too shy,
and kept quiet
in stalls of their own making.

“I don’t get it,” mumble a few students. I falter. I realize I was being too conceptual.  Then I tell them these horses are horses but they’re also everything and everybody that she loves or make her feel sad or happy.  I could say more but I’m always afraid of saying too much. The poem is a gorgeous chant that swims laps in my mind. It’s about horses and it’s not. It’s something that I read over and over again just to bury myself deeper into its staggering meaning.

She had some horses she loved.
She had some horses she hated.
These were the same horses.

It’s time to write. I put on Stevie Wonder and a few kids rock in their seats to the music. I instruct them to write about something or someone that is important to them, and define them using Harjo’s style of repetition. But instead of “she had horses…”, to say, “my sister…” or “my dog…”. Some of the students almost get it, but really just end up writing physical descriptions, “my turtle is small, my turtle has a hard shell…”

But, Kimberly, a fourth grader has got it:
My sister when she uses a red marker she thinks about blood.
My sister is plenty of books.
My sister people thinks she is my aunt.
My sister she loves to study
My sister her eyes sparkle like a star.
My sister she sings like a jazz singer.

Kimberly’s is an ode to her sister just like Harjo’s is an ode. The repetition in both is a comforting reinforcement.  In the introduction to her book, She Had Some Horses, Harjo says, “it’s not about what the poem means, it’s ‘how’ the poem means.” And maybe that’s what helped turn poetry around for me. A poem is just the flight of colors and the collision of stories. No scrutiny needed.

Everybody raises their hand to read first. I declare every poem “awesome”, “beautiful”, “amazing”. I dole out compliments like the guy who hands out flyers that say “COMPRAMOS ORO” down the street. Sometimes I am surprised by my own generosity, but to me it is perfect, beautiful and amazing when anybody can be this vulnerable and proud.

Julie Morse lives in San Francisco and is a poetry teacher.


 Today’s post:  Here’s the whole poem.

She Had Some Horses
She had some horses.
She had horses who were bodies of sand.
She had horses who were maps drawn of blood.
She had horses who were skins of ocean water.
She had horses who were the blue air of sky.
She had horses who were fur and teeth.
She had horses who were clay and would break.
She had horses who were splintered red cliff.

She had some horses.

She had horses with long, pointed breasts.
She had horses with full, brown thighs.
She had horses who laughed too much.
She had horses who threw rocks at glass houses.
She had horses who licked razor blades.

She had some horses.

She had horses who danced in their mothers’ arms.
She had horses who thought they were the sun and their
bodies shone and burned like stars.
She had horses who waltzed nightly on the moon.
She had horses who were much too shy, and kept quiet
in stalls of their own making.

She had some horses.

She had horses who liked creek Stomp Dance songs.
She had horses who cried in their beer.
She had horses who spit at male queens who made
them afraid of themselves.
She had horses who said they weren’t afraid.
She had horses who lied.
She had horses who told the truth, who were stripped
bare of their tongues.

She had some horses.

She had horses who called themselves, “horse”.
She had horses who called themselves “spirit”; and kept
their voices secret and to themselves.
She had horses who had no names.
She had horses who had books of names.

She had some horses.

She had horses who whispered in the dark, who were afraid to speak.
She had horses who screamed out of fear of the silence, who
carried knives to protect themselves from ghosts.
She had horses who waited for destruction.
She had horses who waited for resurrection.

She had some horses.

She had horses who got down on their knees for any saviour.
She had horses who thought their high price had saved them.
She had horses who tried to save her, who climbed in her
bed at night and prayed as they raped her.

She had some horses.

She had some horses she loved.
She had some horses she hated.

These were the same horses.

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Commencement Days — a shout out for faculty, deans, and all other mentors . . . . and for their students and their families

Friday, May 13  — Gerard Manly Hopkins, sj  —  beauty & courage

Today and tomorrow our university holds three commencements  (School of Dentistry at 9:30 today,  School of Law at 5:00 this afternoon,  the Main Campus  1:30 tomorrow).  It’s important to taste the courage within the excitement and wonder in people across many ages, dressed to the nines as they watch their graduate walk, and shake the President’s hand, and receive their diploma from him.   Gerard Manly Hopkins sj captured courage-beauty as well as any poet I know.  I’m posting “The Windhover” this morning as an homage to years of bravery.

Early this week I came across the notes I wrote when the university asked me to celebrate the McNichols Campus Baccalaureate Mass on Saturday morning May 10, 2014.  The words limp but they may remind us of what we do these two days.


john sj

Baccalaureate Homily notes   2014

Some of my fellow graduates used to call it the years of fraud, as in “People think I know some important things, that I am competent now that I have a PhD, but . . . they probably see through me and my degree and suspect what I suspect,  that I am a fraud.  Pretending to know things worth saying.”    Little by little that goes away, the fear that I didn’t really didn’t learn anything at my university.

It is one of the strong emotions at commencement.  It requires courage and perceptive remembering of what I did in that time of learning that my degree records.  One set of allies are still there for me, my teachers who mentored me,  kicked my butt when I wasn’t meeting their standards, wasn’t meeting mine either.  And who kept mentoring and challenging and encouraging me to stretch, to not be overwhelmed by my fears of inadequacy.  Who, finally, at the end of a semester, recorded a grade about my accomplishment and that grade is a public statement about me during that time of challenge and courage and stretching.   The grade sticks around as a marker of me and my mentor.  Remembering all my challenges and all my mentors is remembering the beauty and courage of the process of learning.

St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits understood the need for remembering.  In his great teaching about how to pray, The Spiritual Exercises, he says we should approach our future by remembering our past with respect and affection.  Affection for my consolations and my desolations, respect for my life as one whole human grace.   He suggests that I spend pieces of time paying attention to the specific life-events that led me to where I am now, and to trust them as worth my reverence and deep affection.

Catherine McAuley, the founder of the Sisters of Mercy, lived this same wisdom while leading an astonishingly brave group of women who risked joining her in taking on the brutal poverty of Ireland in the 1800s.   Deep poverty is always brutal, today and in the 1830s.  Reading her new biography by Mary Sullivan I kept meeting Catherine at someone’s death bed,   too young to die, heartbroken to let her people down by dying, recognizing that the one keeping her company was heartbroken too.  Catherine’s signature graces in the face of seemingly endless death and poverty, famously offered over and over at hard times?  Playful jokes and strong tea.

Today’s Post  –  “The Windhover”  To Christ our Lord

I caught this morning morning’s minion, king-
dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in
his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy!  then off, off forth on swing,
As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl
and gliding
Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird,–the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!

Brute beauty and valor and act, oh, air, pride, plume here
Buckle!  And the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!

No wonder of it:  shéer plốd makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, a my dear,
Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion.


Gerard Manley Hopkins, sj

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May 11 – Mary Oliver

Wednesday,  May 11   “One day you finally knew / what you had to do, and began,  / though the voices around you /  kept shouting  / their bad advice”

Readers often introduce me to poets I’d not met, and sometimes re-introduce an already well-known poet with surprise from that poet’s work.  That happened this week.  A soul friend and  list reader wrote on Monday about Joy Harjo’s birthday and the poem “Grace.”  S/he told me about a Mary Oliver poem, new to me, which offered grace during a decision-making moment in her/his life.

“In any case, I do love to read Joy’s poems on your blog, as well as Mary Oliver’s.  I don’t read a great amount of poetry, but I do love both of those poets. And your blog has introduced me to many other amazing poems and poets.  One day I need to tell you of how my mother sent me a poem when I was on a personal retreat – ‘The Journey’ by Mary Oliver – which helped me greatly in my process/decision making then.”

Readers often surprise me with stories about a poem or a poet and stories about insight and decision in the reader’s life.  Sometimes the stories take me back to September 2013 when this list began during some hard times in the city and on campus.  The hard times became an intuition that led to this list, c. 350 posts ago.  The original wording appears at the top of the archive blog where all previous posts appear.  I re-read it now and then to remind me of the origins.    Check it out.  http://blogs.udmercy.edu/mission-and-identity/

Best to read Mary Oliver out loud, with pauses.


john sj

p.s. Detroit Mercy’s Commencements are this week — Law, Dentistry, McNichols campuses.


Today’s Post “The Journey”

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice —
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voice behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do —
determined to save
the only life that you could save.

Mary Oliver


September 10, 1935

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May 9 – Joy Harjo in 1968

Monday May 9   Joy Harjo’s birthday,

Every year on May 9, I remember how we met in 1968, both of us a lot younger then, not knowing then that a long friendship was beginning.   For one semester this young teacher and this watchful teenager worked together.  The amazing Director of The Institute of American Indian Arts, Lloyd Kiva New, had asked me to tutor Joy,  a promising young woman who wasn’t helped much by the standard IAIA English classes.   During those days, hindsight says we worked to find pathways to where her voice lived.  We lived moments of wonder.   Then the term ended, we said goodbye as teachers and students do, and disappeared from each other for twenty years.  But did not forget, it turns out.  When we met again in 1987, we found that our memories were alive and waiting for us.

Readers of this list probably already know which of Joy Harjo’s poems I would choose for her birthday.  I’ve posted “Grace” several times and never grow tired of reading it.   During Holy Week, 2014, reading “Grace” brought me back to one of my earliest teaching moments five years before Joy and I met in Santa Fe.

Best to read “Grace” out loud, with pauses.

Have a blest week,


john st sj

April 14, 2014   “The Servant Song”  (Isaiah 42: 1-4)

“Here is my servant whom I uphold
my chosen one with whom I am pleased

A bruised reed he shall not break,
and a smoldering wick he shall not quench
until he establishes justice on the earth.”

I began learning to teach, a 24 year old kid, at Holy Rosary Mission on Pine Ridge in South Dakota.  My life daunted me pretty much every day. So much I didn’t know about teaching, or about Lakota culture, or about the violence of Western culture as it dismembered Lakota culture over a century and a half. One of my jobs in that 7-day-week boarding school was to take care of the K-8 boys from their various bed times until they left the dormitory for school the next morning, c. 110 boys ages 5 to 14 in double and triple deck bunk beds. I took the K-4th graders up an hour before the older boys, got them ready for bed, tended scrapes they had acquired through the day, and told them a story once they were in bed. As they fell asleep, I walked among the bunk beds. I understood that some of these beautiful children would not make it into a durable adulthood; and some would, no knowing which. It broke my heart to see them sleeping in a safe place within an unsafe world. During those nights these 2 lines from Isaiah befriended me.

“A bruised reed he shall not break,
a smoldering wick he shall not quench.”

I began to imagine that The Servant of God about whom Isaiah spoke would not be frightened off by violence in the world. It’s one reason why I love Joy Harjo’s poem about the coming of spring after a terrible winter in a racist prairie town.  I repeat it today because “Grace” reminds me of “The Servant Song.”

Today’s Post  –  “Grace

I think of Wind and her wild ways the year we had nothing to lose and lost it anyway
in the cursed country of the fox. We still talk about that winter, how the cold froze
imaginary buffalo on the stuffed horizon of snowbanks.

The haunting voices of the starved and mutilated broke fences, crashed our thermostat
dreams, and we couldn’t stand it one more time.

So once again we lost a winter in stubborn memory, walked through cheap apartment
walls, skated through fields of ghosts into a town that never wanted us,
in the epic search for grace.

Like Coyote, like Rabbit, we could not contain our terror and clowned our way through a
season of false midnights.

We had to swallow that town with laughter, so it would go down easy as honey.

And one morning as the sun struggled to break ice, and our dreams had found us with
coffee and pancakes in a truck stop along Highway 80, we found grace.

I could say grace was a woman with time on her hands, or a white buffalo escaped from

memory. But in that dingy light it was a promise of balance.

We once again understood the talk of animals, and spring was lean and hungry with the
hope of children and corn.

I would like to say, with grace, we picked ourselves up and walked into the spring thaw.

We didn’t; the next season was worse.

You went home to Leech Lake to work with the tribe and I went south.

And, Wind, I am still crazy.

I know there is something larger than the memory of a dispossessed people. We have seen it.


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Friday May 6 – An obit for Dan Berrigan

Friday,  May 6
“ . . . a thin navy blue backpack, “light as a feather,” his niece Frida Berrigan said. He brought it everywhere.”

Perhaps it’s the time of night (late by my standards).  I find Jim Dwyer’s  New York Times obit for Dan Berrigan, who will be buried this morning in his city, eloquent, very moving.  Dwyer takes the reader into DB’s life through the experience of his niece, Frida Berrigan.  Less a poem than a contemplation and celebration and a goodbye.

Friday morning.   Have a blest weekend.

john st sj


Today’s Post    Remembering Daniel Berrigan: A Penniless, Powerful Voice for Peace

By  JIM DWYER  – MAY 5, 2016

The Rev. Daniel J. Berrigan outside St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York after leading an antiwar Mass on the sidewalk in 1972. CreditLibrado Romero/The New York Times

On his last day alive, the Rev. Daniel J. Berrigan wore pajama bottoms that had belonged to an older brother who died last year. In Father Berrigan’s closet was a thin navy blue backpack, “light as a feather,” his niece Frida Berrigan said. He brought it everywhere.

“Dan owned nothing,” Ms. Berrigan said on Thursday. “He carried nothing. Whenever I traveled with him, to conferences, speaking engagements, retreats, family occasions, he’d bring that little backpack of nothing. I’d pick him up and ask, ‘Is that all you have?’ He’d say: ‘Yes, that’s it. Let’s go.’”

Father Berrigan, a Jesuit priest who died last week at 94 and whose funeral will be held on Friday in New York, filled his life to the brim with poetry and protest, preaching and witness.

Deeds, not things, made Father Berrigan one of the best-known Roman Catholic priests of the 20th century: His physical possessions barely filled the modest room in the Jesuit infirmary at Fordham University in the Bronx where he spent his final years. He departed indifferently penniless from a world that often seems to keep score in gilded ink.

“My cousin Carla and I got married 15 years apart,” Ms. Berrigan said. “He wore the same shirt to both weddings.” Last week, five years after the second of those weddings, it was still hanging in the closet.

“He had two kinds of clothes: threadbare, translucent from wear, and things that he had never worn,” she said. “He had a shiny old black raincoat that he wore to every demonstration. Just Google the images of him.”

With his brother Philip and other Catholic peace activists, he led protests against the Vietnam War that were intended to shock. At Catonsville, Md., in 1968, the Berrigans and seven others walked into a draft board office, carried out armloads of records and burned them in the parking lot with homemade napalm. In 1980, Father Berrigan, Philip and others climbed into a General Electric plant in Pennsylvania and hammered at missile warheads, evoking the verse in the Book of Isaiah about a moment of revelation when people beat “their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.”

In their early years of activism, the Berrigans and others of the Catholic left worked at the edges of the institutional church. They were a prophetic force. Since then, the church has become one of the world’s most consistent, prominent voices against wars. Into his late 80s and early 90s, Father Berrigan continued to speak from a distinctly Catholic perspective against war, capital punishment, abortion, bigotry and indifference to the poor. He also managed to keep being arrested.

When a network television reporter noted in 1981 that he was not getting as much attention as he once had, Father Berrigan replied, “I don’t think we ever felt our conscience was tied to the other end of a TV cord.”

Ms. Berrigan and others kept vigil with him in his room last week. As he became frail in recent years, she said, he was tenderly cared for by his brother Jesuits and the staff at the infirmary. By choice, he had no computer. The television was never on. Yet the space was not empty or quiet. “There were piles and piles of books,” she said. Visitors read to him.

On the walls were watercolors by the peace activist Elizabeth McAlister, the wife of his brother Philip; they are the parents of Ms. Berrigan. Father Berrigan once did a commercial for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream with other social activists, and occasionally boxes of stuff with logos would arrive. One item became a favorite: a red stocking cap with a goofy cow on the side. “It was like something a kid would wear,” Ms. Berrigan said. “He wore it all the time.”

After he drew his last breaths on Saturday, Ms. Berrigan said, they sat in his room. She opened mail for his birthday, May 9, and laughed at gimmick cards that chirped out songs. Those would have hit him on the silly bone, she said.

Father Berrigan drew inspiration from Dorothy Day, who helped found the Catholic Worker Movement in 1933 to bring fresh, radical life to the church’s teachings on social justice. Among other things, Catholic Worker communities across the country feed, clothe and shelter those in need.

On Friday morning, a march of peace will begin at 7:30 from Maryhouse, on Third Street between First and Second Avenues in Manhattan, one of two Catholic Worker homes in New York. It will go to the Church of St. Francis Xavier on West 16th Street, near the Avenue of the Americas, for Father Berrigan’s funeral Mass at 10.

During the offertory, which is part of every Catholic Mass, gifts of bread and wine are brought to the altar. When those offerings are blessed, Catholics believe, the bread and wine become the substance of the divine; when they are passed to the congregation, all can then eat and drink of the goodness of God.

At the Mass for Father Berrigan, in addition to bread and wine, other gifts will be brought to the altar. A plowshare. A hammer.

“And that shirt,” Ms. Berrigan said. “The one he wore to the weddings.”

Correction: May 5, 2016 

An earlier version of this article, using information from family members, misidentified the birthday of the Rev. Daniel J. Berrigan. It is May 9, not May 7.


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Re: May 2 – Dan Berrigan, sj ✠ April 30, 2016

Dear John and all,

Thank you for sharing Dan Berrigan’s poem, and thanks to Nick Rombes for the links to old newspaper articles.

A friend mentioned to me that Dan’s funeral mass will be simulcast by America magazine, starting tomorrow (Fri) am at 10 am:


I also want to mention to others that there is a very good book on Dan Berrigan, Anna J. Brown and James Marsh (Eds.), Faith, Resistance, and the Future: Daniel Berrigan’s Challenge to Catholic Social Thought, Fordham University Press, 2012. I was happy to contribute a chapter to this book, that focused on Dan Berrigan’s practice of courage.

And there’s another more recent Detroit connection to Dan. He gave a poetry reading at the Scarab club in 2002. I wrote about it in:

“Dan Berrigan Reads his Poetry in Detroit,” On the Edge: A Detroit Catholic Worker Newsletter (Autumn 2002), pp. 3, 11.

I’d be glad to share the whole review (3 pages) with anyone who writes me. But in the meantime here are three paragraphs from it, two from the poetry section, and another from the Q and A session at the end.

Dan’s brother Phil was in prison as Dan was sharing his poetry with us, so he read several poems about prison: ‘One poem, called “The Wreck that Was,” was for poet Jim Lewison who spent a life sentence in jail, where he ran poetry workshops. He reflected on the frustration of a prison set by the sea, where prisoners could smell the sea water, and see the gulls, but could not see the ocean itself due to a large wall.  He read another poem about prisoners waiting to receive a package. Regarding a prison sentence his brother Phil was serving, in the poem “Penalties,” Dan brought to mind a sight he had seen on the streets of New York City one day (there, one is bound to see amazing sights on a regular basis): a dog with only two legs, one foreleg, one hindleg, being walked on a leash. Reflecting on his brother’s time behind bars, he commented that often life is only “half a loaf.”’

‘Dan read several poems in memory of people whose lives were inspiring to him, or who taught him lessons. One poem was in memory of the recent death of John Howard Griffin, the reporter who had written Black Like Me. One poem expressed the spiritual insights of Julian of Norwich, who saw God as a woman. One poem was in memory of Anhel Quadrad of Cuba, who was imprisoned for his poetry and released only on condition that he recant his poetry. The poem was called “Hope and Pray that This Doesn’t Happen to You.” Filled with metaphors of poets getting their fingers hacked off and their tongues cut, he highlighted the precarious position around the world of those who dare express truth that angers the “powers that be.”’
More upbeat, during Q and A: ‘One young activist from Oakland University asked Dan how the message of peace can be better heard these days. Dan said that he thought the best way was to tell the truth, and to share one’s own story. This kind of approach works much better than “debate,” his least favorite method. In a debate, each person pretends that they are ethically superior to the other.  Instead, story-sharing is “disarming, evocative.”  He shared his experience accompanying veterans committed to peace who went to talk to a Catholic veteran’s group.  When it was mentioned that Phil was a decorated officer in World War II, who had a change of heart, and has since spent over ten years in jail for his actions of conscience against war, the veterans assembled there were visibly moved. So, Dan counsels us to tell others about our convictions in a clear and non-aggressive manner.’

Sincerely, Gail

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