Fire this gentle

It’s been a while since I shared poetry I’ve liked, so here’s Las Animas by Dana Gioia:

Fire everywhere, soft fire of brushwood, fire
on walls where a faint shadow flickers
but lacks the strength to imprint itself, fire
in the distance rising and falling across the hills
like a bright thread through the spreading ashes,
fire in flakes from the trellised vines and branches.

Here neither before nor after its proper time,
but now that everything in this festive,
sad valley exhausts its life, exhausts its fire,
I turn back and count my dead,
and their procession seems longer, trembling
leaf by leaf from the first felled tree.

Grant them peace, eternal peace, carry them
to safety—far from this whirlwind
of ash and flame that twists choking
through the ravines, wandering the paths,
spinning aimlessly, then disappears.
Let death by only death, nothing other
than death, beyond struggle, beyond life.
Grant them peace, eternal peace, appease them.

Down there where the harvest is thicker,
they plow, they roll their barrels to the spring,
they whisper in the quiet transformations
of each hour. A young dog stretches out
in the corner of the garden for a nap.

A fire this gentle is barely enough, perhaps
not even enough, to cast light long
on this life’s undergrowth. Only another fire
can do the rest and then more—
to consume these remains, to change
them into light, clear and incorruptible.

Requiems from the dead for the living, requiems
in each flame for the living and the dead.
Stir the embers: night is here, the night
that spreads its pulsing web between the mountains,
now the eyes fail, but from the heat,
from the darkness, they know what remains.

(From the Italian of Mario Luzi)

Cato: A Tragedy

Reading Joseph Addison’s “Cato: A Tragedy.” A few of my favorite parts:

Juba:

Honour’s a sacred tie, the law of kings,
The noble mind’s distinguishing perfection,
That aids and strengthens Virtue where it meets her,
And imitates her actions where she is not

Sempronius:

Not all the pomp and majesty of Rome
Can raise her senate more than Cato’s presence

Portius:

I’ll thunder in their ears their country’s cause,
And try to rouse up all that’s Roman in them.
‘Tis not in mortals power to command success,
But we’ll do more, Sempronius — we’ll deserve it.

No lazy lover

I’m standing outside of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. Michael Novak’s funeral took place just hours ago in the Crypt Church, where I’d estimate some 400 or so came together to recognize death and to pray for a man they knew who has left the stage.

The funeral was also occasion to remember Fr. Richard Novak, Michael’s brother. I worked on a manuscript with Michael a few years ago, telling the story of Fr. Richard’s life through his letters. (We never found a publisher, but I hold out hope that the book will see life in some form in time.) Fr. Richard was killed in January 1964 in East Pakistan (Bangladesh) during sectarian conflicts between the Hindus and Muslims. Fr. Richard’s body was never recovered, but his chalice made it back to the states. That chalice was used during Michael’s funeral mass today.

In tribute to them both, I’m sharing some of Fr. Richard’s poetry:

I Am No Lazy Lover
Fr. Richard Novak, C.S.C.
1962

I am no lazy lover
With sweeping grandeurs
of small talk. Words, you discover,
are passing; love endures.

Proffered is no measured length
of the potential soul.
Rather, influence of strength,
corner-stone, cemented whole.

The senses know the form
and smile and eyes
of love, but the lover’s norm
is to pierce through this disguise

to spirit which is all things
does love intensify
to ripened being. Each day that sings
our love is more July.

Sand below and stars above
give instancy of me.
Mine is no lazy love;
come taste my love and see.

To keep Penn State great

I don’t know the author of the poem I’m sharing here, but I in light of the five year anniversary of Joe Paterno’s death I wanted to share it. I first received this in an email in July 2012, months after the coach had died and just as the (since repudiated) Freeh Report was making its impact. It was a dark time for Penn Staters, when a poorly managed crisis was leading to so much institutional destruction and heartache that continues to provide the basis for confusion. This captures a time that I’m thankful is behind us, though the rebuilding will take the rest of my life.

The witchhunt is over
The mob got their wish
To land a defenseless
Carcass on their dish

Because no one would stop them
No one would say
There are still unheard players
In this tragic play

So they asked for an arm
And a leg and a head
And were given a statue
While all our hearts bled

The hypocrites blathered
With hate and disdain
They wanted us dead
But they’ll still show our games?

But I know they can’t kill us
They can’t keep us weak
We will not be cowered
Because our leaders were meek

Penn state is just football?
Not on your life
It’s because we are more
That we will beat this strife

The professors will research
Will find the next cure
The students will party
Of that I am sure

Rose’s girls will keep spiking
Cael’s boys keep on pinning
And despite what “they” say
It won’t just be ‘bout winning

They’ll do it the right way
As has always been done
They can vacate the wins
But we know what we won

Tell it to MRob
Tell it to Poz
To Sean Lee and Connor
Then protect your jaws

Penn State’s about people
Penn State’s about pride
NCAA can’t govern
What we feel inside

They can’t kill our memories
Can’t take back our friends
And they can’t force our story
To a premature end

The haters can hate us
Our leaders can cave
But our student body
Can’t be made to behave

They’ll still dance for cancer
Their studies won’t cease
They will change the world
If not solve world peace

How to move forward?
JoePa knows that play
Written worlds only hurt
If you believe what they say

We all know the truth
Where the failings occurred
And won’t let our entire
Culture get slurred

Coach OB is staying
A man with some courage
Who faces a challenge
And won’t be discouraged

The fans back with a vengeance
Led by a great leader
Though they MIGHT be fewer
The wins will be sweeter

When each season is over
And the games are all played
The players can proudly say
I’m one who stayed

They’ll mean more in our hearts
Than any past team
Because they all hung tough
When Prez Rod made us scream

Kick us while we’re down?
Do at your own risk
Because we will be back
Like a tornadoes’ twist

You learn more about people
When you’re at your worst low
Who is behind me
As I get up and go?

Go harness your anger
Let it drive you each day
To keep Penn State great
And make our enemies pay

We will get our revenge
When we just won’t die
When we don’t limp away
To our bedroom and cry

The last chapter’s not written
We still own our fate
It’s up to us to decide
Are we still Penn State?

Prayer at Winter Solstice

Blessed is the road that keeps us homeless.
Blessed is the mountain that blocks our way.

Blessed are hunger and thirst, loneliness and all forms of desire.
Blessed is the labor that exhausts us without end.

Blessed are the night and the darkness that blinds us.
Blessed is the cold that teaches us to feel.

Blessed are the cats, the child, the cricket, and the crow.
Blessed is the hawk devouring the hare.

Blessed are the saint and the sinner who redeem each other.
Blessed are the dead, calm in their perfection.

Blessed is the pain that humbles us.
Blessed is the distance that bars our joy.

Blessed is the shortest day that makes us long for light.
Blessed is the love that in losing we discover.

—Dana Gioia

A little house, whose humble roof

A Thanksgiving to God, for his House” by Robert Herrick:

Lord, Thou hast given me a cell
Wherein to dwell,

A little house, whose humble roof
Is weather-proof:

Under the spars of which I lie
Both soft, and dry;

Where Thou my chamber for to ward
Hast set a guard

Of harmless thoughts, to watch and keep
Me, while I sleep.

Low is my porch, as is my fate,
Both void of state;

And yet the threshold of my door
Is worn by th’ poor,

Who thither come and freely get
Good words, or meat.

Like as my parlour, so my hall
And kitchen’s small;

A little buttery, and therein
A little bin,

Which keeps my little loaf of bread
Unchipp’d, unflead;

Some brittle sticks of thorn or briar
Make me a fire,

Close by whose living coal I sit,
And glow like it.

Lord, I confess too, when I dine,
The pulse is Thine,

And all those other bits, that be
There plac’d by Thee;

The worts, the purslain, and the mess
Of water-cress,

Which of Thy kindness Thou hast sent;
And my content

Makes those, and my beloved beet,
To be more sweet.

‘Tis Thou that crown’st my glittering hearth
With guiltless mirth;

And giv’st me wassail-bowls to drink,
Spic’d to the brink.

Lord, ’tis Thy plenty-dropping hand
That soils my land;

And giv’st me, for my bushel sown,
Twice ten for one;

Thou mak’st my teeming hen to lay
Her egg each day;

Besides my healthful ewes to bear
Me twins each year;

The while the conduits of my kine
Run cream, for wine.

All these, and better, Thou dost send
Me, to this end,

That I should render, for my part,
A thankful heart,

Which, fir’d with incense, I resign,
As wholly Thine;

But the acceptance, that must be,
My Christ, by Thee.

All things are vanity

Beautiful and true, from Saturday’s reading in Ecclesiastes:

Rejoice, O young man, while you are young
and let your heart be glad in the days of your youth.
Follow the ways of your heart,
the vision of your eyes;
Yet understand that as regards all this
God will bring you to judgment.
Ward off grief from your heart
and put away trouble from your presence,
though the dawn of youth is fleeting.

Remember your Creator in the days of your youth,
before the evil days come
And the years approach of which you will say,
I have no pleasure in them;
Before the sun is darkened,
and the light, and the moon, and the stars,
while the clouds return after the rain;
When the guardians of the house tremble,
and the strong men are bent,
And the grinders are idle because they are few,
and they who look through the windows grow blind;
When the doors to the street are shut,
and the sound of the mill is low;
When one waits for the chirp of a bird,
but all the daughters of song are suppressed;
And one fears heights,
and perils in the street;
When the almond tree blooms,
and the locust grows sluggish
and the caper berry is without effect,
Because man goes to his lasting home,
and mourners go about the streets;
Before the silver cord is snapped
and the golden bowl is broken,
And the pitcher is shattered at the spring,
and the broken pulley falls into the well,
And the dust returns to the earth as it once was,
and the life breath returns to God who gave it.

Vanity of vanities, says Qoheleth,
all things are vanity!