They begin speaking the words they had been collecting from their stories.
Words that no longer have any real meaning, because,
Perfection cannot know everything.
I pause to ask God, “Choose one or the other:
Omniscience or Perfection.”
He says, “One or the other, Friend?
For you, I chose to be a man;
Though it was a woman you wanted, right?
So perfection seems to be too much,
But I do know what you really need.
This broken conversation that you knew would
Have it, though,
Like a debt that needs paying.
Someday you will know everything, too
And agree that nobody’s perfect.
Something so obvious,
Those who know nothing at all
God giggles as he meanders away.
Then they continue the conversation
Looking for meaning in their story,
In honor of Mother’s Day, I share a poem written for my Mom during Freshman year after receiving a letter telling of my family’s legacy at Notre Dame. She didn’t tell me before I left home, but wrote… “My father always wanted a boy, so he could go to Notre Dame. He was so proud of his Uncle Charles… he would be so proud of you.”
November 12, 1988
Open my soul to the music of the wind.
“The Virgin Mother
Feel her golden gaze.
She will guide you.
An everlasting embrace.
She will remember you.”
Oh, Madonna watch over me
“A precious heart lives forever with hope-
The presence of your eyes is fulfillment
Of our forgotten dream
Their eyes in eternity watch with you,
A smile on their resting souls.”
I always connected with the words “At Notre Dame” written by my Great Great Uncle, Fr. Charles Leo O’Donnell, CSC one of the finest Catholic poets of his generation. “Another singer down these paths may stray” he writes, someone who hears “Some whisper of a song in these old oaks” and who “may remember that I passed this way.” My songs may never match yours, Uncle Charles, but I hear you and I remember you.
Once a year I would hike to his modest grave at the Holy Cross Cemetery and say a quiet prayer for him, for the grandfather I never knew, and for my Mom. Now, Father Charles, Mom has been the singer who calmed a soul’s unrest after the grief of summer’s undoing. Grandpa Francis, I am grateful for her and I know that your eyes are smiling on her as she gives your grandson the strength he needs to bear the weight of his winter. For many more years, may I breathe brave air and whisper my songs, until, perhaps, some graced newcomer hears their faint echo.
At Notre Dame
So well I love these woods I half believe
There is an intimate fellowship we share;
So many years we breathed the same brave air,
Kept spring in common, and were one to grieve
Summer’s undoing, saw the fall bereave
Us both of beauty, together learned to bear
The weight of winter. When I go other where —
An unreturning journey — I would leave
Some whisper of a song in these old oaks,
A footfall lingering till some distant summer
Another singer down these paths may stray —
The destined one a golden future cloaks —
And he may love them, too, this graced newcomer,
And may remember that I passed this way.
To the beginning son, go back with me
Remember how I stood beside you when…
No, you only remember my absence.
Here we return with precision, an arrow
Fired by the great Tell who reveals us.
The apple on our heads, the gift of Eve
Who saw in us the beginning of Love.
On a hill in Wales, Father enters me
Not with punishment, but with his sadness.
Fills me with a beauty that consumes me:
Simple sheep graze on green grass on green hills,
Too many verdant hues to name. The blue meets us
Compassion like the sky hosts metamorphs:
Clouds, lurking innocent children of beasts
Whose anger gave us this green, gave these sheep.
Gave us wool that warms us in winter.
Gave us mutton that fills our hunger.
Beauty these gifts represent enters
Me like Father returning to the land
Of his own. “Get on your knees, son, sorrow,
You must feel it now. These gifts given you
Lie in waste like blood in scaled veins. Look up!
Through tears, I show you once again! This time,
I will humble you and you will know Love.
With it, do good like storm begets spirit.
Rise up, face the life I called you to live.”
I got off my knees and climb the mountain
To toss the precious that ruled like a curse
Masking my Soul, invisible to me,
Led me to the river to steal fish
From mouths needing food,
Kill those whose only crime:
The place of their birth.
I became Monster
A monster does not know exists
The mirror sees past the blush,
Through the mascara of a mask painted
In green rooms of youth only to be smudged
By the tears of life’s stage.
Now, the Father
Who returns to me, kneeling in supplication,
“Get up! Climb, son, climb. Go find the path
To treasure granted by breath that fills lungs,
Breathe out songs only one Soul will echo,
Love that will be the melody of Life.”
When the doll broke, shattered on the floor
What did she find inside the dusted shell?
Did daddy leave a note tucked away in the leg –
Some words that would remind her of a love
He promised would never fade like the linens
The doll wore everyday, no matter the occasion.
By the time she discovered it, would her heart be
Repaired well enough to beat a regular rhythm
When she saw his name or remembered his picture
Turned down on the dresser with the other dolls
Collected on his travels, now just dust-laden?
The good book talks about dust to dust, and this
Dust feels like the blood from his heart when it
Was admitted to the floor of a life left with crumbs
Of a plan, of a hope, of a stitched patchwork claim
Of promises long ago tossed in a barrel over the falls.
Now he walks down the path that had the better claim
Having blazed the trail back to that divergence
In the yellow wood. He stared down both again,
With a deep sigh, saw the trodden one and turned
Away from it, choosing instead the one his heart
Called him to take when he wasn’t listening, when
He thought its regular beat could not be trusted.
Image: Girl Accident Broken Doll by Henri Guillaume Schlesinger (German painter, 1814-1893)
Tonight the sun sets over the bridge tunnel
Leading up river
Leaving behind gentle purple
And kind orange glows as gifts
Like Greek gods finally calmed
Leaving behind their warring heroes
To sit and drink fermented ambrosia.
What they do next,
takes your imagination to swans and other creatures
Humans adore, us fragile-hearted beasts.
They play inside the colors
Just beyond our reach
Until we open our reds, whites, roses and browns
To try and catch them
In our fuzzy mind,
As fleet as our fragility
Tomorrow the sun will rise as it did today
The glowing pink down river
Equal in gift
To the night
We have but one choice,
A step into the colors
That black yielded
Like a bridal vail
To kiss life
I think it was in between Carver and Dostoevsky
When I understood what Dylan Thomas meant by
The light breaks where no sun shines, so I
Found a heart where no beating had been felt.
The blood rushed back like a flood, heart raced
Like a youth chasing fireflies around a field.
My mind, its natural foe, tired from the fight
Sat down on the floor and said “You are right.”
This time, it was the mind who let her inside.
It opened the window to all of her ideas
And dreams and fears like it had a small racing
Heart of its own and finally met its counterpart
To fill it with the throbbing it had always felt.
She became my heart’s secret agent, so I sat
Down on the floor with all of them, undefeated,
But thankful for the rest. This red beast
Had carved respect by showing up every day.
But it fought dirty. All it did was sing.
A melody washed me like Ennio Moriconne
On a Mission to show how strong it had grown.
Its return to battle this time, like Thomas wrote,
Where no sea runs, the waters of the heart push
In their tides. Bones take on flesh. Soil proves fertile.
The candle finally becomes the fire it meant to be
All along. The tiny red heart the mind thought its own
Simply was my heart itself, infiltrating to be heard
Like the melodies of crickets wooing in the morning
When I finally woke up and chose to be.