Sunday, October 19, 2014

Sunday jottings: October 19

Good morning, all, and happy Sunday!

I awoke at 2 this morning to a temperature of 55 degrees, heading downward before dawn. I'm hoping this means that the August-like muggies of the past week have dissipated entirely, have vanished quite!

I attended the poetry workshop this past Wednesday night and brought a small poem called "Chasing the Waves." I was immensely gratified that the participants of the workshop seemed to think well of it. It was also gladdening to hear everyone else's poems: vivid, adventurous, creative, alert.

Last Sunday I took myself to the emergency room for nagging chest discomfort. All the heart tests (EKGs, chest x-rays, and the like) were normal. So I was sent home after a few hours. But this week, Wednesday and Thursday, as a precaution, I am undergoing a bipartite nuclear stress test at the hospital in Cambridge.

Today I'm attending a coffee hour, a get-together for all the lectors and extraordinary ministers at my parish. (I am a lector, and have been since June of last year.) It starts at nine this morning. By that time, I will have already had more than a litre of coffee! But it will be nice to meet the other folks.

This year, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts will be electing a new governor, and neighbouring New Hampshire a United States senator. The Boston TV stations are, of course, saturated (one is tempted to say, infested) with political advertisements. The tiresome quality of most of these ads reinforces me in my tendency to watch little besides PBS and Boston's CatholicTV.


I wish I had something to say about the Synod of Bishops in Rome.

There has been much cause for concern in some circles. Will Pope Francis "cave to the progressives," Cardinals Kasper and Marx? Will he attempt to wrench Catholic teaching out of shape in order to placate a clamant minority within the Church?

I have to confess, I have been fretful of late. But then I recalled two vitally important things.

1. Papa Francesco loves Our Lady.
2. Our Lady loves Papa Francesco.

Recalling these two truths, I am serenely hopeful, secure in the knowledge that the Church -- even more so than drivers insured by Allstate -- is in good hands.


Recently, someone on the social media accused me -- the verb is correct -- of coming from a privileged background. I am, it would seem, rich and aloof from the concerns of common folk.

The fellow leapt to this egregiously mistaken conclusion, I believe, on the basis of two things: (1) my conservative, sporadically libertarian, politics; (2) my facility with the English language. In fact, when I jokingly retorted, "Oh, I am just awash in privilege!", the fellow groused, "Sure sounds like it."

Sounds like it? Do I sound privileged because of my politics? Because of my vocabulary? Perplexing! And silly!

I cautioned the fellow, "Make no assumptions, sir, about someone you don't know."

Privilege! From ages six to eighteen, I lived in an unassuming triple-decker on a small side street in East Boston. I didn't know the names of birds or beasts or flowers. I had fire hydrants for scenery, and airplanes overhead from nearby Logan International. My family was often impecunious, but we did the best we could.

But I am astonished by the assumption that a poor person cannot learn to use language at a level appreciably above functional literacy. If I pepper my obiter dicta in a comment thread with phrases like -- oh, I don't know -- "summum bonum," -- or for that matter, "obiter dicta" -- if I am prone, somewhat vaingloriously, to a Buckleyite flourish of rhetoric every now and again, does this bespeak "privilege"?

In a way, I suppose it does. The privilege of a solid high-school education, still obtainable by any Boston student capable of passing the exam that gets you into the Boston Latin School. No tuition. But lots of hard work. (At least, in my day, that's what you could expect!)

I am privileged inasmuch as I had many excellent teachers of English, of modern European languages, and of Latin, who helped foster and fortify my burgeoning love of the word.

But to assume that because I argue a conservative position at times, or because I do so using words and expressions that are a tad recherché, I must be financially privileged, or I must have no knowledge of what working-class folks go through -- a consummate absurdity!


Well, thanks for listening, dear Dark Speechers! Peace and blessings to you all.

Oh, and here's a selfie, taken yesterday.

Portrait of an eccentric tycoon.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Ordinary time?

Greetings, all!

Well, it's that time of year again! The summer hiatus is over, and the poetry workshop that I attend will be starting up again. This Wednesday evening, to be exact. This workshop is usually attended by between six and ten poets from the Boston/Cambridge area, all of considerable skill as poets, and as readers/critics, of profound charity and courtesy. I have benefited immensely from this wonderful workshop for the past year and a half. It is no small joy that it's up and running again!


October, November, December. My favorite time of the year. The trees, like priests dressed for the feasts of martyred saints, begin to blaze bright red! (There's still a lot of green in the Boston area, and some trees' leaves go from green to brown to off.) But yes, the weather will be almost preternaturally perfect (for me!) in the coming months.

And then, the long winter, a season of latent changes, a season which, as Auden says somewhere, is the right time for a look indoors. Although one can be inspired just as much if, during winter, one looks outdoors!


It's 2.23 am as I write and, yes, I am drinking coffee. Incorrigible.


In the Roman Catholic Church, today is called the 28th Sunday of Ordinary Time. "Ordinary" here means that we are in no "special" liturgical season, such as Advent or Lent. (I believe the Episcopalians calculate the Sundays "after Pentecost," and do not use the term "ordinary.") Of course, "ordinary" echoes "ordinal" -- our Sundays proceed in a more or less orderly fashion!

But if we cultivate the habit of gratitude, what business do we have calling ANY time of the year "ordinary"? There are sources of amazement, of "bright surprise" (Dickinson?), all around us! A full moon setting at sunrise. The fiery leaves of the trees near the two Arlington Center churches, St Agnes's and First Parish Unitarian. The bracing crispness of forty-five-degree air on an early morning walk to Gail Ann's Coffee Shop. The smiles of neighbours and of friends. The unexpected kind word.

A confession: I live in a state of worry most of the time, in self-created distress, anticipating all manner of conflict and even calamity. Well, perhaps not most of the time -- but there is always this undercurrent, by which I can become mightily discouraged.

But there are graces.

Graces in the past, and graces in the present. Who knows what trouble or turmoil the future holds? I look at my own life, at the "life" (if we can speak thus) of our nation, at the life of the Church -- and I am apt to perceive signs of stormy weather ahead. But of this I am fairly certain: God has not exhausted the divine supply of graces! And God delights in unexpected generosity.


A letter comes in the mail this week, informing me that the small magazine in Nebraska to which I submitted several poems has accepted one of those poems for publication in April 2015!


October may be the month of poets' birthdays: Estlin Cummings; Oscar Wilde; John Keats; Ezra Pound; Sylvia Plath; Arthur Rimbaud; Dylan Thomas. Those of you who have been following this blog from its inception know of my great love for Dylan Thomas -- to the extent that I blogged under the name "dylan" for nearly 10 years!

This year marks the centennial anniversary of Dylan Thomas's birth; the occasion falls on October 27th. A good time to delve back in to this tumultuous poet's very arresting work. He could be gross -- his early poems are replete with attempts to shock readers of Alice Meynell and Christina Rossetti! But when I discovered Dylan Thomas at age 16, it was as if I were reading English for the very first time. I reveled, delighted, exulted in his strangeness!

Before I knocked and flesh let enter,
With liquid hands tapped on the womb,
I who was as shapeless as the water
That shaped the Jordan near my home
Was brother to Mnetha's daughter
And sister to the fathering worm.

I who was deaf to spring and summer,
Who knew not sun nor moon by name,
Felt thud beneath my flesh's armour,
As yet was in a molten form
The leaden stars, the rainy hammer
Swung by my father from his dome.

I knew the message of the winter,
The darted hail, the childish snow,
And the wind was my sister suitor;
Wind in me leaped, the hellborn dew;
My veins flowed with the Eastern weather;
Ungotten I knew night and day.

Suffice it to say that my admiration for Thomas as stubborn, refractory craftsman -- as ornery blacksmith of the Saxon tongue -- as enfant terrible with a voice that even the good angels envy -- is pretty close to boundless. It pains me when people dismiss his work (although I can "see their point"; it is dreadfully overwritten at times, and maddeningly obscure). But Dylan Thomas is the reason I write poetry. I have never been so ineluctably magnetized by language, how enchantingly "foreign" his English sounds at first! But yet, how elemental, how necessary, how vital!

And to think that he had what Americans would term a tenth-grade education!

Never until the mankind making
Bird beast and flower
Fathering and all humbling darkness
Tells with silence the last light breaking
And the still hour
Is come of the sea tumbling in harness

And I must enter again the round
Zion of the water bead
And the synagogue of the ear of corn
Shall I let pray the shadow of a sound
Or sow my salt seed
In the least valley of sackcloth to mourn

The majesty and burning of the child’s death.


My Sunday morning will be without churchgoing, as I fulfilled my obligation with a vesperal Mass last evening.

But I have received an invitation from dearest Maugham (Mom) to have breakfast with her, and that I intend to do!


Have an excellent week, all you who incline your ear to this "dark speech"!

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

An anniversary


Today marks the 12th anniversary of this blog, originally called Tenebrae, later Tenebrae et Lux, later still more last than star. I like the name Dark Speech upon the Harp, and I think I'll stick with it!

In commemoration of this happy occasion, I'd like to post a video that I discovered last night. It features university students reading excerpts of St John Paul's Letter to Artists, a magnificent document with which everyone involved in the arts should acquaint himself or herself.

The video is beautifully done. Less than three and a half minutes long.  Enjoy!


Sunday, October 05, 2014

Matutinal salute

RIP Fr Benedict Groeschel. A valued guide to me throughout the 1990s, via his TV shows and his books. He got a bad case of EWTN-itis around 2008 or so, constantly emphasizing the negative, opening his Sunday night show with cranky 20-minute disquisitions about the iniquity of the New York Times and such. (I didn't disagree, but it wasn't something I needed to hear.) Then the unfortunate remark about the sex-abuse scandals. But these weigh as the tiniest granule of sand against the monumental good he did in his life for the poor, for women in crisis pregnancy, for the marginalized. An astute psychologist, and despite some surface crustiness, the most irenic and intelligent figure ever to have appeared on EWTN. May the perpetual light shine on him.


Some Jesuit on Twitter expresses an enthusiasm for "Dylan." Me too. I love "Fern Hill" and "Do Not Go Gentle," and that "Child's Christmas" story.

Oh. Oh, wait .... Oh, he meant that Zimmerman fellow. The Hibbing Horsefly.


As you can see from the time-stamp, I sleep wretchedly. The apnea, I believe, is to blame. And no, the machine (which I tried) doesn't help.

I actually like being awake at oh-dark-thirty. Time and space to think, to pray, to slowly sip at coffee.


Why would I daydream of going to Confession anywhere but Arch Street? That is the popular Boston moniker for St Anthony's Franciscan Shrine in Boston's Downtown Crossing, or, as I like to call it, the headquarters of the Boston Friar Department.

And in terms of confessors, I'd like to update Abbie Hoffman's famous dictum. Don't trust anyone under 80. I jest. But the oldsters are exceptionally genial and humane. Not softies, but irenically wise and profoundly charitable. (I'm looking at you, Fr Philip O!)


And a shout out to the Redemptorists! Fr Philip Dabney's homilies for the Perpetual Help Novena (available on YouTube at MissionChurchBoston) are so wonderfully sustaining. I cannot praise them (the homilies) or him (the homilist) highly enough.


Sunday. That means Mass! And I should probably shave my barbaric beard.

But first, coffee. And cogitations which, I pray, conduce to peace.

Have a great day, everyone, and a great week!

Friday, October 03, 2014


Blessed be the Lord,
who worked a miracle of unfailing love for me
when I was in sore straits.
In sudden alarm I said,
'I am shut out from thy sight.'
But thou didst hear my cry for mercy
when I called to thee for help.

Psalm 31:21-22 (New English Bible with the Apocrypha)

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Another Saturday night

Earworm of the moment, believe it or not: "Do They Know It's Christmas?" by Band Aid.

Hello, all! Very warm evening in the Boston area, for late September. Nearly nine and over 70 degrees. Emphatically not to my liking.

I'll be reading the Scriptures (except the Gospel, of course) at Mass tomorrow. I've been a lector, as some of you may know, for about fifteen months now.

Am optimistically expecting next week to be a good one. (The weather won't reflect that. Once we say goodbye to the heat, if the forecast be true, we'll be getting about three days' worth of rain.)

I haven't been writing a whole lot of poetry lately, but there are some new odds and ends over at The Crystal Tambourine.

Current reading:
The Reed of God by Caryll Houselander
The Road to Daybreak by Henri J. M. Nouwen
Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke

A confession to make. I've never liked Rilke. Maybe his work, universally admired, loses something in translation. Or maybe he's a mite too morose for my temperament (at least the poems I've read seem that way). The defect, I am sure, lies with me and not with the poet.

I've been wondering if I should resume my reading of The Monks of Tibhirine by John W. Kiser. It's about seven Trappist monks martyred in Algeria in 1996.

I've been wavering a little in my commitment to the Rosary. It seems that lately I've been asleep at my once-reliably-awake hour of 5 to 6 in the morning. If I don't get my rosary said during that hour, I am inclined to postpone, or even to forget. Our Lady, queen of angels, patriarchs, prophets, apostles, martyrs, confessors, virgins, all saints, pray for me.

I've also undertaken, of late, a sort of programme of self-improvement, but am beginning to bristle under the rigors. One thing's for certain: I need prayer. I need (of your charity, dear Readers) to be prayed for, and I need to pray.

I shall close this post with a photograph. Here is the Communion rail in the lower church of "Arch Street" (St Anthony's Shrine, Boston):


A blessed Sunday to everyone! Until soon!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Sunday miscellaneity

Oh, shoot. It's raining. The walk to church is going to be a wet one!

Warm overnight. Didn't dip below the mid-sixties.


Haven't written much poetry of late, save the stray three-liner, some of which have been submitted to haiku magazines. And some older poems have been accepted by a journal that has been hospitable to my verse in recent years -- thank you, editors, and thank you, God!


There really is nothing like coffee at 3.20 on a Sunday morning in late summer/early autumn. When even the crickets are asleep.


Chasing Francis by Ian Morgan Cron. A novel. Highly recommended. I do have a few reservations, based on imperfect knowledge of Catholicism on the part of the author, an Episcopal priest. Also, I'd've written the ending differently. However, a very compelling read, with many fun and fascinating characters, and a noble theme. (The Francis is the title is the Saint of Assisi, known nowadays as "oh, that Francis!")


I have received an invitation to Maugham's for a home-cooked breakfast. Am waiting for the phone call from Maugham, letting me know that she's awake.


Pray for me, please, of your charity, O readers of Dark Speech. I sense that I'm in a time of transition, maybe even at 45 a mid-life crisis. Two valued counsellors of mine have suggested that it might be an opportune moment for me to "go outside the box," and look for something altruistic or extrospective to do with my oceans of free time. There are a few notions along these lines that I find difficult to oust from my noggin, a few inchoate, gestating ideas, as to what this "going outside the box" might entail. It's odd to be pondering one's vocation at my quickly graying age, but in this sort of retirement, something more, something better, can be done.


I'll be back, I hope next weekend, with more miscellaneous jottings! Take care, everybody. Pax et bonum.