Our Lady of Lourdes

“What kind of coffee do you like?” he asked me
and I had to ask him what he meant
because my heart is flighty
and loves Brazil and Costa Rica with an equal love
and espresso and pour-over,
caffé breve, americano,
with a fervor that waxes and wanes
with the rains,
but “no,” he said, “I don’t know:
latté? mocha? americano?
What’s the difference anyway?”

So it fell to me then
to complete an education
sorely lacking in the caffeinated arts.

An Americano, I began, is what you make
when it is 8:55 and class is at 9:00,
and there is a test for which you have not studied
looming like a dark figure down the road
probably harmless but you never know
and though in your body and soul
you have just celebrated the Holy Sacrifice
in your mind it is still the feast of the Dormition
and what you really
need
is a lungo shot and a cup full of boiling water
to scatter the fog.

A latté, I explain, is a suitable drink
for the later hours of the morning,
a drink for daylight hours, after-class hours
round about Tierce,
a sitting and laughing with your brother drink,
a celebrating Marian feast days drink,
a “What do you want? Never mind—like I have to ask!” at the cofeeshop drink,
an unnecessary drink, like poetry is unnecessary.
A drink to linger over.
An immaculate choice on the day of Our Lady of Lourdes.

And a mocha, I beseech the barista
with the metal T-shirt and lip ring:
no, make it two.
Because a mocha is a drink to make friends over,
a sweet drink to share bitter memories over,
a hot drink for a cold afternoon—
for espresso is laced in the chocolate just as grace is.
A mocha is love, and like love
it opens our eyes:
a mocha is providence,
an unexpected turn that is the only way
things could have gone.


This is day 2 of Labia Munda, a series of forty poems during the forty days of Lent. 

Ash Wednesday

The rush and the splash of God’s breath
play on his face
like the face of the waters,
ruah—cold like the ocean and swift! she lifts
the skirt of a scapular, worn at the hem,
ruffles the ears of her poodles.

Rushing-spirit of God! rushing
like reeds rush, hushed rustle
in the needles and fingers of the Jerusalem cedar,
hovering over the face
of a spilt-coffee puddle,
stirring the heft of the grass-blades.

I was restive and willing myself to feel her,
willing and wishing and longing and craving
for silence and stillness and air
but my heart was made brittle, like waxwork
cast in an imperfect mold.

Wind through the bricks, wind
through the gaps in the moulding.
How can the breath of God batter my soul?
My heart beats, that same beat,
like the hand quivers on a stopped clock,
forever 12:00.


This is day 1 of Labia Munda, a series of forty poems during the forty days of Lent. 

Peace and Love

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.” (1 John 4:18)

An email from my brother
is a mundane reminder
of a meeting
with a bullet point agenda,
such as might be sent by any teacher,
colleague, corporate executive,
but for the closing line:

“Peace and Love”

where another might sign off “sincerely,”
or “yours,”
or “cheers,”
or “thanks!”

None of these.

But only love, and peace.

And as I read these words
and as I read them again
my heart leaps and I
laugh
read them aloud
have to sit down because
what a wonder!
contained in these words
behind and between them
lives everything worth saying at all.

Peace: we go together as pilgrims
on the camino to the altar
to receive the one body
and the one blood,

and we share a hug in the pews
in that heavenkissed moment
after the Paternoster
just before the Agnus Dei.

Love: we kneel together as brothers
in an unused classroom at 9pm
in a little sea of candlelight and guitar chords
before the image of the cross

and whisper “come, Holy Spirit”—
lay hands on our brothers’ shoulders‚
hear him lay down his deepest struggles,
let God speak through our lips.

Peace: a holy hour
spent in perfect silence
side by side before the One
who made us both.

Love: an hour spent
speaking frankly to God
side by side with your sister
who feels so far from him.

What better way to end
an email
or a conversation
or any old thing
than a reminder
and an exhortation
and a prayer
and a promise

to lay down our lives for each other
(for there is no greater love than this—)
to have no fear
(for perfect love casts it out—)
to think of whatever is true and pure and pleasing
(for then the God of peace will be with us always—)
to feed his sheep
(for he knows how much we love).

Pro Me Pati

A white-back stutter-wing beetle
cuts through the still and somber air
with the suddenness and the subtlety
of machine gun fire—
and the directness
and the velocity.
It hits the wall with a too-loud smack,
and pauses
as if to say, “did you see that?”

“I see you,” says my soul: “I am watching.”

And after a pregnant moment it
comports itself
with many little feet and the probing of antennae
across the expanse of wood
up to the cross
where it pauses again
in the shadow of that
round which turns the world.

“You have my full attention.”

And slowly now
testing treacherous waters
it stalks the length of the beam and the side
of Him who was pierced by the lance-blow
antennae waving
and calling
or mocking
I cannot say.

First to mount the wood of the Cross,
then the flesh of the Lamb,
flesh not living
but carven and gold-leafed,
passing under many little feet
uncomprehending
that here is the crux of the world
and of all that is and shall be.

“You are a disgusting creature,” I whisper: “noxious—grotesque.”

In my mind
I take a Kleenex and brush it away,
take a corporal and wipe clean
the body of Christ.
In my mind I am John at the foot of the cross.
I forget
even John could not protect the One he loved
from the indignity of bleeding
and the buzzing of flies.

Two, three, four: like sins
they multiply,
one dropping out of sight
behind the tabernacle,
one down the altar’s leg.
One crawls across the floor where I lay prostrate,
as if to say,
“even here.”

In image as in life,
Jesus does not lift a hand.
In life, as in image:
the Body hits the floor,
is pierced; crumbles,
is forgotten.

What humility:
the cross and the lance-blow
the scourge and the thorns!
God to be made man,
to be dead,
to be made bread,
and to be crushed in bone and crumb
and spat upon
and suffer the crawling of beetles.

And yet, what dignity perdures.
What strength is in the scandal of surrender—
What power in his pitiful condition!
What dignity no man nor beast can take away.
What otherworldly light shines from that Cross!

It is love, that which endures all things,
which is to say
that which is patient,
which is to say
that which must suffer—
the greatest suffering!—
for it has known
knows and will know
now and forever knows and will know
the greatest joy the human heart can hold.

Communio

Like an acorn knows the warm earth
like a window knows the sky
like a votive candle knows the vastness and the breadth of its smoke
and where it goes

Like a glance between brothers bears volumes of knowing
like whether you are now paying attention
like whether you slept well the night before
and why not

Like a question not asked and not answered
which just hangs there
sucking up all the air

Like the breathless moment before a
crescendo

then

Like a kiss foreseen and all the sweeter for it
Like a moment dreamed of and better than you dreamed
Like hands brush across the vast divide of concomitant realities

Like steam rises onto your face from a faucet left running
Like 2,238 miles in one and one-eighth inch
Like the oceans in a mouthful
in a morsel
and more than all the oceans all at once

Like warm light pierces clear glass
and falls haphazardly on cool grass through branches

Like collapsing into an embrace saying
and hearing
or knowing
like the heart knows its beating
“I love you”
and again
“I love him”
and at once
“you love him”
“he loves you”
“he loves me”
all quite identical

Like in the end and now
one plus one equals
infinity.

Sanctus

“Deep is calling on deep,
in the roar of waters:
your torrents and all your waves
swept over me.”
—Psalm 42:8


I remember you in the backseat
of an old friend’s old suburban
driving south to St. Anne’s parish for a meeting
of priests and men who would be priests, one day
(or wanted to be
or might want to be, one day)
and you told me unabashedly what you really
really wanted to do
was build Lego structures.

A familiar voice on the radio sings a song I love.
“What do I know of holy?”
Addison Road, she sings, Addison Road,
for a few minutes. Then
silence.

I remember you kneeling beside me
in a church youth center,
that rare place where couches and crucifixes coexist:
the couch and the crucifix and the big TV and
God
universe-maker, father, king beyond all comprehension
Love who made you, made me
brother
who was man like you were, I am, who was
bread.

We talked face to face
and you leaned on me
and I leaned on you.

Two candles burn in a darkened room.
“Are you fire? Are you fury?”
Prayers rise like smoke from a burning wick until you
breathe out,
breathe it
out.

I remember you with me in an upper room
a dark and drafty room filled with sleeping bags
filled with sleeping boys.
You told me you thought your house was haunted.
It strikes me now
all of our houses are.

I remember you on a bus in a field on a waterslide in a dorm at Gonzaga U and
again
in the presence of God
in as unlikely a place as an auditorium
with the lights down low. They sang,
“You lead me out upon the waters.”
Jesus walked up and down the aisles where we knelt and adored.

A hug lasts as long as you like.
Ten seconds? Fifteen?
“What do I know of you?”
(“Why am I smiling?” he sings. “And why do I sing?”)
It never lasts long, never long
enough.

And I remember, though I was not there,
the look on your face as the roar of the waters swept over you
and the chill of the depths closed in
I remember the terror, what consuming
what raw
what waterfall-wild
terror
must have torn your heart I remember
your struggling
your stretching out your hand
your best friend who grabbed it
to pull you free.

I remember you dancing.
“Singing in the rain,” you sang,
“singing in the rain.”

And I remember, though I was not there,
the moment when you knew this was the end.
Jesus spoke softly to you then
deep calling on deep in the roar of waters
and you surrendered to him then
with the same easy joy you always have.

Two hands held tight against the beat of many waters,
against the beating, even,
of your hearts.

The smoke rises when the light is extinguished.
To live forever, all you need to do is die.
“Where have I even stood, but the soil along your ocean?”
My soul will rest in your embrace
when oceans rise.

Alleluia a Quattro Voci

I. Calix

The world receives the sun as by intinction,
as dipped once in blue-heavenloft seas,
and delicately placed on her fog tóngue.
Night blurs into day without distinction.
Light gathers in dawn-patterns, morning breeze
suffuses dream-dark, bells’-strings plucked, are rung.

Men walk like sheep asleep in twos and threes
alone, some from one house and some another,
straggly rows all going one way despite
the whole meadow wide open at their ease.
Sheep follow their shepherd; man, his brother.
They go down, they go down, out of sun’s-sight.

Two hands aloft a golden chalice hold
to catch the drops of heaven-blood which fall
from open wounds which time will never heal
and styptic never staunch. “Ecce.” So told
the mouth of Christ, the man, the all-in-all.
See priest, see victim. Behold, and kneel.

A paradox: that the most intimate,
sweet communion, deep unto deep calling,
softest, warmest light, the bright, white-fiéry
love!—Hearts’-flame from heaven imminent
should come to men open-mouthed and fallen
and fill them up with Christlight, quietly.

II. Coeli

The wounds of Christ are five: hands, feet and side,
and from the lance-blow blood and water gushed,
and from the furnace of his Sacred Heart
where in waterfall-wildness love abides—
on that day flowed forth, with a roar out-rushed!—
Blood, water, breath, his love and light impart.

His light, all light: sun and moon and starlight.
His the waters, storm and flood and dawn-dew!
His every moment! Every spirit his!
Everything that falls, gathers, shines in flight,
that laughs, dances, sings out its name to you,
Lord Jesus, yours, by gift and right it is.

The skies at a paradox-pitch let fall
all at once light and rain and heaven-breath
and praise you, Lord! all creation praise you,
as at Calvary when the Father called.
Sunshowers, strange as giving life by death,
as strange and beauteous, as perfect, true.

I am darkness. I am sin and heartbreak.
By your grace, Lord, I am heartloft, airlight!
Your Sacred Heart beating in me, your blood
in my veins flowing, in your light awake,
in the water from your side my stains washed white,
your grace, my life, alive, in You, my flood!

III. Caritas

And it is not easy, self-surrender.
What He gives is ever his to take away.
Soaring heights of love, joy, brotherhood,
the closeness, Lord, by your leave engendered,
now ten days mine. My heart oft goes astray.
(My desire, to desire what I should.)

In Lenten-time, you marked me with ashes.
My life is not my own. (Heart, you forget!)
I belong to you, mind, soul and flesh.
Lord, I long for faith that breaks me, crashes
with a flame and fire in me! Lord, beget
your will in me! In me your will refresh!

I long for you, Lord, and you thirst for me.
What cruel paradox: we cannot be one
until time’s ending, until you perféct
in me my soul and lift me to your glory.
Those here in whom I find your love you run
afar from me. I know why: to redirect

what lingers of eros all to caritas.
I give myself into your hands, O Jesus
(as, Lord, you give your body into mine)
I kneel to kiss your feet beneath your cross
(I savor all your sweetness, all that pleases)
and wait the day my soul is one with thine.

IV. Crux

Sweet Eucharist! Far more than I deserve,
yet less, somehow, than heart’s-desire
(or if not less, at last, then other-than.)
I kneel, tasting of you, and I observe
my brothers one by one in you catch fire:
man in receiving God is made more-man!

They drink from the chalice of salvation—
I drink with them—together, we are lifted,
drawn together, to a greatness, close to you.
O bright mystery of this vocation!
On our own less than nothing; as one, gifted:
a gift to you, our lives a gift renewed.

What fount of love and joy you have revealed!
Who am I, Lord, that you should have called me
to a life so perfect, life so full?
My heart-wounds in your patient grace you heal,
My weary soul in your vast and wild sea
of charity you soothe with flames wool-warm.

Make of me, Lord, I beg, all that you will.
I am at the foot of your cross, all yours.
My heart is weak and longs for passing things.
Refine me, Lord, with fire and anvil-
crash! You will be victor of the wars
deep within me, emerge in me as King.

A sonnet for David

The Earth sends forth her spirit in gold-blooms,
sweet perfumes, let loose to rise to Heaven:
fràgrance of marigold and pine assumed,
Earth’s offering to Father of that leaven

which is our joy and makes mens’ spirits rise!
In Joseph-month, cool-lemon-sunlight season,
God’s grandeur: our inheritance and prize!
His love, hearts’-fire and the air we breathe in.

The noon-day devil whispers, “Vanity—
love given lavishly more love engenders.
To be alone must be insanity—
no hand to hold? no one to love you tender?”

Hold fast the blessèd Lady-chain which moors!
Feel the tend’rest touch of Mary fairest!
“I am always with you,” says the Lord.
Laugh, and hold her hand, and devil-darest.