A Mother’s Dreams

The final poem in this Mother’s Day trilogy was written over a decade ago and speaks to the strength of a Mother’s Love in spite of fears and in spite of circumstances. No matter how tired the best mothers get, they persist and that must be respected.

Your dreams do not predict the future,
Be relieved they process the past
So you can function this morning.
Your fear still burns
The sweet blood in your veins,
It contaminates your heart.

Your dreams wake you in a sweat.
The anxiety you felt when he refused
To rebuckle, the dread you felt when he
Ran past the play ground into the crowd,
The terror you felt when the car broke
Just a fraction too close.

Your dreams are not real,
But real enough:
A girl swept up by adulthood
By things she cannot control.
Tired, nevertheless,
She does persist.

One Prolonged Blast (For Grammy)

I continue my Mother’s Day series with a reflection on my Grandmother. Joseph Campbell writes about the stages of life’s journey and draws upon the myths and stories told throughout time and cultures for illustration. Pointed Home is about telling this journey, stories and poems to understand where I have been, where I am at, and where I am going.

The summer of 1991, while overseas on summer training, my girlfriend at the time got very sick and was hospitalized for several weeks, the report was that she was in critical condition. I felt helpless. In those pre-internet days, the best I could was arrange for flowers to be sent to her via a friend. As I worried, the young officer assigned to be my running mate on the ship listened to me tell how I never wanted to be at sea when one of my family died.

The past decade has seen the loss of many of the great influences of my youth, including in 2010, my beloved grandmother. After 100 wonderful years, she finally passed away as my ship pulled out of Boston in 2010. Out at sea, I could not attend her memorial and I had failed to honor my young self’s wish. About a year later, a sailor on my next ship lost his grandmother. I invited him into my cabin and listened to him tell me about her and then give him a quiet place to get his bearings.

Later that same night, my family and I attended the double feature of the final Harry Potter movies. When Harry is preparing for his final battle with Voldemort the spirits of his dead parents and his mentor visit him while he faces his fears of this final confrontation. They tell him that he has all the strength he needs because he carries a part of them with him – it is because they loved him that he became a great wizard. It is that love that gives him the courage to face his mortal enemy.

Strange thing, fate. On that day, a sailor and Harry Potter gave me a path for healing the loss of my grandmother. A part of her remains with me today. In therapy as I struggled through the most dire moments of personal crisis, the therapist urged me to remember one person who loved my unconditionally, with whom I always felt safe and imagine a specific moment where I felt this way. I remembered sitting on the floor of her home at the foot of her chair playing and the unconditional love she always offered. I knew that she would wrap her arms around me and tell me everything would be okay, that she loved me. I wept.

When ships leave Boston, they transit through Cape Cod Bay, a refuge for what remains of the Right Whales. We have been trained to transit slowly and keep a close watch for these great creatures of the sea so as to not cause any more harm. When my Grandmother passed away, I was on my ship in Cape Cod Bay. A pod of whales surfaced very near to us. As the last one dove back into the Bay it raised its fin as if to wave goodbye.

One Prolonged Blast

4 to 6 second pull on the ship’s whistle
Announces to others in the harbor
The romance of sea:

“Underway! Shift colors”

The Ensign now flaps from the mast.
Jack folded into a tight triangle
Stowed away until:

“Moored! shift colors.”

Engines, rudder, tugs: controllable forces
Overcome uncontrolled winds and currents –
We lift from the pier into Boston Harbor.

The track followed past monuments,
The other side of the Freedom Trail,
Logan Airport, the haunts of Poe.

He thinks again,
“I will never wash the red dust of Fenway
From my white shoes.”

Into Cape Cod Bay,
He heads below
To check news from ashore

Not expecting this:
“Her suffering has come to an end, Son.
We were blessed with her 100 years.”

He chokes on his tears:
Can a ship’s Captain cry?
Returns topside to breathe.

Protected Right Whales,
Surface in every direction –
Then dive –

The last one
Raises its fin as if to say,

A Prayer to Mother (1988: Age 18)

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
Blesses you
Carries you
Supports you
Feel her golden gaze.
One breath
She will guide you.
One prayer
An everlasting embrace.
One love
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.

Rev. Charles L. O’Donnell, CSC