Thursday, August 19, 2021

August 19: Older Version of Myself, Sister's Death, Heart was Going to Explode

A blog post from August 19, 2015 . . . 


And then Ives blinked and found himself standing on the sidewalk beside his wife, across the street from the Church of the Ascension.  On the pavement, just by his feet, was a large piece of canvas, and under it a body, stretched out.   Then the officer lifted off the canvas and shined a flashlight onto the face to reveal the shocked and bewildered expression of his son.

My sister died this morning at 6:27 a.m.

When I saw her last night, she was breathing hard, each intake hitting her chest like a hammer.  I leaned over, said her name and then, "It's me.  Marty."  Her eyelid lifted, and she focused on me.  I told her about my long day of work.  I told her about classes starting next week.  Just before I left, I leaned over and whispered, "You don't have to be afraid, Sal.  You don't."

When I got to my parents' house at around 5 a.m., my sister was surrounded by the people who loved her.  My mother and father, siblings, nieces, nephews, and best friends.  We all stood around her, touched her hands and feet, told her how much we loved her.

Her breaths got slower, the spaces in between longer, and then she was simply gone.

I thought I was prepared for it.  I thought I was going to hold myself together.  I thought a lot of things.  But, in those moments following my sister's death, I felt an incredible emptiness enter me, as if I had been scooped out like a pumpkin at Halloween.  I wasn't prepared.

It has been about twelve hours since that moment.  I am still not prepared for a world without my sister.  For 17 years, I worked with her.  Eight- and nine- and ten-hour days.  I spent more time with her than any of my other siblings, and we knew each other deeply.  Trusted each other deeply.  Loved each other deeply, without having to say it.

There will be no cartoon tonight.  No laughter.

My sister once said to me, "You know, I wish I was as strong as you."

Saint Marty isn't strong tonight.  He's heartbroken.

98 from Bluets

by:  Maggie Nelson

Vincent van Gogh, whose depression, some say, was likely related to temporal epilepsy, famously saw and painted the world in almost unbearably vivid colors.  After his nearly unsuccessful attempt to take his life by shooting himself in the gut, when asked why he should not be saved, he famously replied, "The sadness will last forever."  I imagine he was right.

I miss your smile


I don't often go back to read old blog posts.  They unmoor me, drag me back to older versions of myself.  This version, in particular, is not one that I care to visit often.  But here's the thing--this model of me, from six years ago--was still breathing the same air that my sister had breathed.  It connects me to her for the space of a few paragraphs, a couple hundred words.

I still miss my sister a great deal.  For years, she was the glue that held my family together.  She was generous, kind, full of love.  She wasn't perfect, and she knew that.  But she tried hard to make a difference in the world every day of her life.  Not too many people can say that.

I still struggle with the meaning of my sister's death.  How it all fits into some divine plan.  Now, tonight, six years later, I am no closer to solving that mystery, and I probably never will.  Sometimes, you just have to embrace the ineffable.  Accept the limitations of your understanding.

My sister suffered a great deal the last year or so of her life.  Sometimes, I can still hear her last breaths in the middle of the night.  They stay with me, perhaps as a reminder never to take daily ordinary things for granted.  

Here is Thomas Merton coming to terms with a truth about Communion and sacrifice:

Faint gold fire flashed from the shadowy flanks of the upraised chalice at our altar. 

“Do you know what Love is? You have never known the meaning of Love, never, you who have always drawn all things to the center of your own nothingness. Here is Love in this chalice full of Blood, Sacrifice, mactation. Do you not know that to love means to be killed for glory of the Beloved? And where is your love? Where is now your Cross, if you say you want to follow Me, if you pretend you love Me?” 

All around the church the bells rang as gentle and fresh as dew. 

“But these men are dying for Me. These monks are killing themselves for Me: and for you, for the world, for the people who do not know Me, for the millions that will never know them on this earth ...” 

After Communion I thought my heart was going to explode.

Sometimes, the sacrifices we make in this world are small--the last piece of pizza.  Sometimes, they are huge and unavoidable--your sister with lymphoma of the brain.  And you think your heart is going to explode with love or grief.

Tonight, Saint Marty wishes he could hear his sister's voice again.  The universe made a little more sense with her in it, and it has been a lot darker since she's been gone.

A poem for my sister . . . 

Strawberry Picking

for Sally

You took me strawberry picking
once, drove out to a farm
where we paid to squat in green
beds laced with tongues of red.
I could feel my ears and neck
tighten under the punishing
sun as we filled Morning Glory
ice cream buckets with our
harvest, each berry looking to me
like some vital body part,
an organ or muscle necessary
for life. You sat on your haunches,
fingers staining red, as if you
were some battlefield surgeon
patching up the fallen with only
your hands. Every now and then,
you would lift a berry to your lips,
eat it in a hummingbird moment,
smiling the smile of the freshly
healed at Lourdes, where miracles
are common as empty wheelchairs
or dandelions in a July field.

The days since you’ve been gone,
I see strawberries everywhere,
in a welt of blood on my lip
after shaving, a stop sign,
a friend’s dyed hair,
my son’s sunburned shoulders,
oxygen in the gills of a perch.
Last night, I stood outside, under
ribbons of borealis, watched
them glide between the stars
like garter snakes in a midnight
Eden. The Bible says that, in the cool
of the day, Adam and Eve heard
God taking a stroll through
the garden. There were probably
peacocks nesting in the pines,
a stream talking with moss and stone,
the scurry of mole and spider
in the ferns.

That’s what I believe you heard
in your last moments of breath.
You heard peafowl screams,
brook trout leaps. Grasshopper wing
and corn silk. And you heard
his divine toes in the grass, walking
along. When he came to you,
he couldn’t resist. He reached down,
plucked you from the stem. You were
ripe. Sweet. Ready. He put you
in his Morning Glory bucket, continued
on into the dew and sunlight.

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

August 18: Outside of God, Pure Essence, Heart and a Set of Lungs

Merton encounters love . . .

O my God, with what might You sometimes choose to teach a man’s soul Your immense lessons! Here, even through only ordinary channels, came to me graces that overwhelmed me like a tidal wave, truths that drowned me with the force of their impact: and all through the plain, normal means of the liturgy—but the liturgy used properly, and with reverence, by souls inured to sacrifice. 

What a thing Mass becomes, in hands hardened by gruelling and sacrificial labor, in poverty and abjection and humiliation! “See, see,” said those lights, those shadows in all the chapels. “See Who God is! Realize what this Mass is! See Christ here, on the Cross! See His wounds, see His torn hands, see how the King of Glory is crowned with thorns! Do you know what Love is? Here is Love, Here on this Cross, here is Love, suffering these nails, these thorns, that scourge loaded with lead, smashed to pieces, bleeding to death because of your sins and bleeding to death because of people that will never know Him, and never think of Him and will never remember His Sacrifice. Learn from Him how to love God and how to love men! Learn of this Cross, this Love, how to give your life away to Him.” 

Almost simultaneously all around the church, at all the various altars, the bells began to ring. These monks, they rang no bells at the Sanctus or the Hanc igitur, only at the Consecration: and now, suddenly, solemnly, all around the church, Christ was on the Cross, lifted up, drawing all things to Himself, that tremendous Sacrifice tearing hearts from bodies, and drawing them out to Him. 

“See, see Who God is, see the glory of God, going up to Him out of this incomprehensible and infinite Sacrifice in which all history begins and ends, all individual lives begin and end, in which every story is told, and finished, and settled for joy or for sorrow: the one point of reference for all the truths that are outside of God, their center, their focus: Love.” 

I've been thinking a lot about love recently.  The love I have for my kids, my puppy.  The love God has for me, for the whole world.  I've thought about the permanence of love.  And the impermanence of it.  How some people claim love changes over time, dissolves or distills.  Becomes a disappearing breath or pure essence.  

I hold on to love.  Been holding on to love for a very long time.  Now, in the middle of night, when I should be going to sleep, I think about whether love is enough.  I mean, love doesn't pay the bills.  It doesn't cook dinner or take you to the doctor if you get sick.  It can't even put its arms around you if you feel like you're the last person on Earth.

You see, love needs to borrow arms and legs to do those things.  It needs to use a heart and a set of lungs.  Until love has all those things--until it sets up camp in a body--it's meaningless.  I can say "I love you" all day long.  But love without action isn't love.  If you tell someone that you love them, then leave that person hurting and isolated, that isn't love.  It's selfishness disguised as love.  That declaration of love is simply a way to make yourself feel better.  That's all.

I know this is probably way too deep for this late at night, and I'm tired.  Really tired.  If I were to finish this post tomorrow morning, when the sun is in the sky, I may find some light.  I know what love is.  It's my son not being able to go to sleep until I kiss his forehead, trace a blessing there.  It's my daughter going to the State Fair with her boyfriend and bringing me back a bag of kettle corn because she knows I love it.  It's my puppy sitting next to me on the couch, letting me scratch her belly until she falls asleep.  That's love in action.  With arms and hands and heart and a wet nose.

So, find those moments every day.  Hold on to them.  

Saint Marty wishes all of his disciples love.  Real love.

Saturday, August 14, 2021

August 14: Choked Me with Love, Bigfoot Conference, Mystery

Merton encounters mystery . . . 

How did I ever get back out of there, into the world, after tasting the sweetness and the kindness of the love with which you welcome those that come to stay in your house, even only for a few days, O Holy Queen of Heaven, and Mother of my Christ? 

It is very true that the Cistercian Order is your special territory and that those monks in white cowls are your special servants, servitores Sanctae Mariae. Their houses are all yours—Notre Dame, Notre Dame, all around the world. Notre Dame de Gethsemani: there was still something of the bravery and simplicity and freshness of twelfth-century devotion, the vivid faith of St. Bernard of Clairvaux and Adam of Perseigne and Guerric of Igny and Ailred of Rievaulx and Robert of Molesme, here in the hills of Kentucky: and I think the century of Chartres was most of all your century, my Lady, because it spoke you clearest not only in word but in glass and stone, showing you for who you are, most powerful, most glorious, Mediatrix of All Grace, and the most High Queen of Heaven, high above all the angels, and throned in glory near the throne of your Divine Son. 

And of all things, it is the Rules of the Religious Orders dedicated to you, that are loudest and truest in proclaiming your honor, showing forth your power and your greatness obliquely by the sacrifices that love of you drives men to make. So it is that the Usages of the Cistercians are a Canticle for your glory, Queen of Angels, and those who live those Usages proclaim your tremendous prerogatives louder than the most exalted sermons. The white cowl of the silent Cistercian has got the gift of tongues, and the flowing folds of that grey wool, full of benediction, are more fluent than the Latin of the great monastic Doctors. 

How shall I explain or communicate to those who have not seen these holy houses, your consecrated churches and Cistercian cloisters, the might of the truths that overpowered me all the days of that week?

Yet no one will find it hard to conceive the impression made on a man thrown suddenly into a Trappist monastery at four o’clock in the morning, after the night office, as I was the following day. 

Bells were flying out of the tower in the high, astounding darkness as I groped half blind with sleep for my clothing, and hastened into the hall and down the dark stairs. I did not know where to go, and there was no one to show me, but I saw two men in secular clothes, at the bottom of the stairs, going through a door. One of them was a priest with a great head of white hair, the other was a young man with black hair, in a pair of dungarees. I went after them, through the door. We were in a hallway, completely black, except I could see their shadows moving towards a big window at the end. They knew where they were going, and they had found a door which opened and let some light into the hall. 

I came after them to the door. It led into the cloister. The cloister was cold, and dimly lit, and the smell of damp wool astounded me by its unearthliness. And I saw the monks. There was one, right there, by the door; he had knelt, or rather thrown himself down before a pietà in the cloister corner, and had buried his head in the huge sleeves of his cowl there at the feet of the dead Christ, the Christ Who lay in the arms of Mary, letting fall one arm and a pierced hand in the limpness of death. It was a picture so fierce that it scared me: the abjection, the dereliction of this seemingly shattered monk at the feet of the broken Christ. I stepped into the cloister as if into an abyss. 

The silence with people moving in it was ten times more gripping than it had been in my own empty room. 

And now I was in the church. The two other seculars were kneeling there beside an altar at which the candles were burning. A priest was already at the altar, spreading out the corporal and opening the book. I could not figure out why the secular priest with the great shock of white hair was kneeling down to serve Mass. Maybe he wasn’t a priest after all. But I did not have time to speculate about that: my heart was too full of other things in that great dark church, where, in little chapels, all around the ambulatory behind the high altar, chapels that were caves of dim candlelight, Mass was simultaneously beginning at many altars. 

How did I live through that next hour? It is a mystery to me. The silence, the solemnity, the dignity of these Masses and of the church, and the overpowering atmosphere of prayers so fervent that they were almost tangible choked me with love and reverence that robbed me of the power to breathe. I could only get the air in gasps.

Merton is thrown into the deep end of monastic life feet-first in the above passage.  No monk is there to guide him, whisper in his ear, tell him where to go or what to do.  He simply follows the crowd without question as the church bells toll in the dark morning.  He will either sink or swim or tread the mysterious waters all around him.

Today, I did something that I've never done before.  I went to a Bigfoot conference.  Now, that may sound ridiculous to many of my loyal disciples.  An ice arena full of people, wearing Bigfoot tees, trading Bigfoot encounter stories, browsing vendor booths, eating pizza.  And, above all, embracing the mystery that is about eight- or nine-feet-tall and smells like rotten cabbage.

I have been working on my Bigfoot poetry collection for close to six years now.  In a way, that has been a process of learning to live with mystery.  I can't say that I firmly believe in the big guy, but I can say that the universe is a much more interesting place when the possibility of Bigfoot exists.  So I say, listened to the speakers, and let myself be swept away by the world of Squatch.

It was sort of wonderful.  Like being at Hogwarts for a day, waiting to be sorted.  Bigfoot wasn't even the strangest attendee.  There were Mothman and Dogman and UFOs.  Disembodied lights floating in midnight forests.  Ghosts and the Loch Ness Monster.  By the end of the day, Bigfoot seemed pretty tame by comparison.  

I am tired verging on exhausted right now.  Ready to go to bed, like Harry on his first night as a Gryffindor.  I can't say that I'm a Bigfoot convert now.  However, I did meet several people who opened that door a little wider in my mind.  People who were like me--skeptical, yet open.

Saint Marty hopes he makes the Quidditch team tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

August 10: Deep Silence of the Night, Kalahari Resort, Power of Love

Merton enters the Trappist monastery for the first time . . . 

The driver of the car did not go to the bell rope by the heavy wooden door. Instead he went over and scratched on one of the windows and called, in a low voice: 

“Brother! Brother!” 

I could hear someone stirring inside. 

Presently the key turned in the door. I passed inside. The door closed quietly behind me. I was out of the world. 

The effect of that big, moonlit court, the heavy stone building with all those dark and silent windows, was overpowering. I could hardly answer the Brother’s whispered questions. 

I looked at his clear eyes, his greying, pointed beard. 

When I told him I came from St. Bonaventure’s, he said drily: 

“I was a Franciscan once.” 

We crossed the court, climbed some steps, entered a high, dark hall. I hesitated on the brink of a polished, slippery floor, while the Brother groped for the light switch. Then, above another heavy door, I saw the words: “God alone.” 

“Have you come here to stay?” said the Brother. 

The question terrified me. It sounded too much like the voice of my own conscience. 

“Oh, no!” I said. “Oh, no!” And I heard my whisper echoing around the hall and vanishing up the indefinite, mysterious heights of a dark and empty stair-well above our heads. The place smelled frighteningly clean: old and clean, an ancient house, polished and swept and repainted and repainted over and over, year after year. 

“What’s the matter? Why can’t you stay? Are you married or something?” said the Brother. 

“No,” I said lamely, “I have a job...” 

We began to climb the wide stairs. Our steps echoed in the empty darkness. One flight and then another and a third and a fourth. There was an immense distance between floors; it was a building with great high ceilings. Finally we came to the top floor, and the Brother opened the door into a wide room, and put down my bag, and left me. 

I heard his steps crossing the yard below, to the gate house. 

And I felt the deep, deep silence of the night, and of peace, and of holiness enfold me like love, like safety. 

The embrace of it, the silence! I had entered into a solitude that was an impregnable fortress. And the silence that enfolded me, spoke to me, and spoke louder and more eloquently than any voice, and in the middle of that quiet, clean-smelling room, with the moon pouring its peacefulness in through the open window, with the warm night air, I realized truly whose house that was, O glorious Mother of God!

I love Merton's description of the peace he feels when he first experiences the silence of the Abbey of Gethsemani.  There is something holy in the absence of sound, especially when a person is used to constant aural stimulation--traffic and voices and slamming doors and such.  People noise.  When that distraction is removed, you can hear other things that are normally drowned out--inner things.  Call it conscience, id, superego, the voice of God, or, in Merton's case, the Virgin Mary.

Yes, I am still alive.  No, I have not given up on blogging or forgotten all of my disciples (who's numbers are rapidly dwindling because of my recent long absences).  In the week since I last posted, I have been working on other things--new poems, special events for the library, and final grading for the summer semester at the university.  I have also experienced moment in my personal family life that caught me a little off guard.  Not something bad.  Just surprising.  And I'm still sort of adjusting.  (If that's too vague for you, I'm sorry.  It's not my place to talk about this event.  My place is simply to trust in God and love.)

Currently, I'm at the Kalahari Resort in the Wisconsin Dells.  A much needed vacation brought about by a request from my daughter.  Since Sunday, I have experienced two water parks, an amusement park, and an arcade the size of a small midwestern town.  I've also eaten at Cracker Barrel, Pizza Ranch, Qdoba, and Outback Steakhouse.  

None of this helped me experience the kind of silence and peace that Merton describes in the passage above.  My ears are still hearing the screams, bells, horns, and beeps of the arcade.  And it sounds as though there is a small herd of moose on the floor above our hotel room.  Yet, I have found some peace these last few days.  

I love being with my family.  Love sitting at a table eating dinner with them, talking and joking.  And I love making my kids happy.  For me, it's one of the greatest pleasures of my life.  My son went swimming with a virtual whale this afternoon.  (The whale was courtesy of special underwater VR goggles.)  My daughter and her boyfriend collected over 3,000 tickets at the arcade these past two days.  With their winnings, they purchased a board game, a computer something-or-other, and a Bob Ross gummi maker.

Now, everyone is asleep or almost asleep, and I'm typing this post in bed.  Tomorrow, we pack up and return to life and work and school.  All the struggles I left behind these last few days.  They're waiting for my return.  Merton's troubles didn't disappear when he walked through the gate of the monastery.  They were transformed, became smaller, less significant.

I'm not experiencing that kind of diminishment.  Not yet, anyway.  But, thanks to my daughter, I have been reminded of the power of love to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles.  This past week, she has restored my faith in the goodness of the world a little.

And for that, Saint Marty gives thanks.

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

August 3: Pax Intratibus, Let It Go, Pay That Price

Merton is knocking on heaven's door . . .

So when we entered Cincinnati, in the evening, with the lights coming on among all the houses and the electric signs shining on the hills, and the huge freight yards swinging open on either side of the track and the high buildings in the distance, I felt as if I owned the world. And yet that was not because of all these things, but because of Gethsemani, where I was going. It was the fact that I was passing through all this, and did not desire it, and wanted no part in it, and did not seek to grasp or hold any of it, that I could exult in it, and it all cried out to me: God! God! 

I went to Mass and Communion the next morning in Cincinnati, and then took the train for Louisville, and waited in Louisville all the rest of the day because I did not have the sense to take a bus to one of the towns near Gethsemani and buy a ride from there to the monastery. 

It was not until after night fell that there was a train out to Gethsemani, on the line to Atlanta. 

It was a slow train. The coach was dimly lighted, and full of people whose accents I could hardly understand, and you knew you were in the South because all the Negroes were huddled in a separate car. The train got out of the city into country that was abysmally dark, even under the moon. You wondered if there were any houses out there. Pressing my face to the window, and shading it with my hands, I saw the outline of a bare, stony landscape with sparse trees. The little towns we came to looked poor and forlorn and somewhat fierce in the darkness. 

And the train went its slow way through the spring night, branching off at Bardstown junction. And I knew my station was coming. 

I stepped down out of the car into the empty night. The station was dark. There was a car standing there, but no man in sight. There was a road, and the shadow of a sort of a factory a little distance away, and a few houses under some trees. In one of them was a light. The train had hardly stopped to let me off, and immediately gathered its ponderous momentum once again and was gone around the bend with the flash of a red tail light, leaving me in the middle of the silence and solitude of the Kentucky hills. 

I put my bag down in the gravel, wondering what to do next. Had they forgotten to make arrangements for me to get to the monastery? Presently the door of one of the houses opened, and a man came out, in no hurry. We got in the car together, and started up the road, and in a minute we were in the midst of moonlit fields. 

“Are the monks in bed?” I asked the driver. It was only a few minutes past eight. 

“Oh, yes, they go to bed at seven o’clock.” 

“Is the monastery far?” 

“Mile and a half” 

I looked at the rolling country, and at the pale ribbon of road in front of us, stretching out as grey as lead in the light of the moon. Then suddenly I saw a steeple that shone like silver in the moonlight, growing into sight from behind a rounded knoll. The tires sang on the empty road, and, breathless, I looked at the monastery that was revealed before me as we came over the rise. At the end of an avenue of trees was a big rectangular block of buildings, all dark, with a church crowned by a tower and a steeple and a cross: and the steeple was as bright as platinum and the whole place was as quiet as midnight and lost in the all-absorbing silence and solitude of the fields. Behind the monastery was a dark curtain of woods, and over to the west was a wooded valley, and beyond that a rampart of wooded hills, a barrier and a defense against the world. 

And over all the valley smiled the mild, gentle Easter moon, the full moon in her kindness, loving this silent place. 

At the end of the avenue, in the shadows under the trees, I could make out the lowering arch of the gate, and the words: “Pax Intrantibus.”

Pax Intrantibus--this translates loosely as "Peace to those who enter."  In some way, that Latin phrase contains both a wish and a promise.  The wish is that whoever is entering through that gate arch will find peace.  The promise is that peace is available to anyone who is looking for it.  In essence, all the responsibility is laid pretty much at the feet of the peace seeker.

And that's pretty much true for anyone who wants any kind of peace in their lives.  It's available, but you have to do the hard work of letting go before peace is possible.  Letting go of worries and angers.  Of stress and ego.  Pretty much, if it causes you to lose sleep, you need to let it go.

That doesn't mean that you should stop paying your bills or taking care of your kids or elderly parents.  You can't do that.  But you need to transform those worries.  Remember the food in your refrigerator.  The good, clean water running from the tap.  The furnace rumbling in the winter.  The day your first held your infant child.  All the meals your mother or father made for you.  All the late nights your mother or father worked.  Then, instead of losing sleep, you'll give thanks for those blessings.

Peace isn't something that descends on you like spring rain.  (It happens like that sometimes, but not often.)  Usually, peace of mind or heart or spirit is hard won.  Lasting peace is a lifelong process, with many deviations and renegotiations and new treaties.  And remember, peace comes after war.  Battles and casualties and body counts.  Peace comes with a price.  If you aren't willing to pay that price, you're going to be in the trenches for the rest of your life.

Today, I am willing to pay for peace.  Instead of digging in stubbornly and refusing to compromise, I am opening my fists and letting go of things that I've been holding onto tightly.  I'm feeling the blood returning to my fingers after this release.  I may wake up tomorrow morning with my fists clenched again.  That may happen.  Then I will have to pry my hands open.  Again.  And again.  And again.

Saint Marty may earn a Nobel Prize for peace instead of literature by the time he's done.

Monday, August 2, 2021

August 1-2: My Heart Was Full, Difficult Time, "First Morning, After Joy Harjo"

Merton on his way to the rest of his life . . . 

I had to slam the book shut on the picture of Camaldoli and the bearded hermits standing in the stone street of cells, and I went out of the library, trying to stamp out the embers that had broken into flame, there, for an instant, within me. 

No, it was useless: I did not have a vocation, and I was not for the cloister, for the priesthood. Had I not been told that definitely enough? Did I have to have that beaten into my head all over again before I could believe it? 

Yet I stood in the sun outside the dining hall, waiting for the noon Angelus, and one of the Friars was talking to me. I could not contain the one thing that filled my heart: 

“I am going to a Trappist monastery to make a retreat for Holy Week,” I said. The things that jumped in the Friar’s eyes gave him the sort of expression you would expect if I had said: “I am going to go and buy a submarine and live on the bottom of the sea.” 

“Don’t let them change you!” he said, with a sort of a lame smile. That meant “Don’t go reminding the rest of us that all that penance might be right, by getting a vocation to the Trappists.” 

I said: “It would be a good thing if they did change me.” 

It was a safe, oblique way of admitting what was in my heart—the desire to go to that monastery and stay for good. 

On the morning of the Saturday before Palm Sunday I got up before five, and heard part of a Mass in the dark chapel and then had to make a run for the train. The rain fell on the empty station straight and continuous as a tower. 

All the way down the line, in the pale, growing day, the hills were black, and rain drenched the valley and flooded the sleeping valley towns. Somewhere past Jamestown I took out my Breviary and said the Little Hours, and when we got into Ohio the rain stopped. 

We changed stations at Gabon, and on the fast train down to Columbus I got something to eat, and in southern Ohio the air was drier still, and almost clearing. Finally, in the evening, in the long rolling hills that led the way in to Cincinnati, you could see the clouds tearing open all along the western horizon to admit long streaks of sun. 

It was an American landscape, big, vast, generous, fertile, and leading beyond itself into limitless expanses, open spaces, the whole West. My heart was full! 

Merton knows somehow that his life is about to change forever.  Instead of running for the hills like Jonah does when God tells him to go to Nineveh, Merton listens to God, gets on the train, and sets out for Kentucky.  And he is overflowing with happiness.

If you can't tell, I've been having a difficult time blogging and writing recently.  I've tried to write early in the morning.  And in the afternoon.  Late at night.  Each time I sit down at the keyboard to pound out a post, exhaustion sort of overtakes me.  My mind gets foggy.  And it's over for the day.

Right now, it's past midnight, and I am ready to give up again.  This past weekend, as part of a writing challenge with a good friend, I did get almost 20 pages of poetry written.  An entire chapbook.  It felt great to sort of be back in the saddle.  I'm not saying every single poem I wrote was good.  In fact, I'd say I've got a few stinkers in the manuscript.  However, I did it.

And that fills Saint Marty's heart.  For the first time in a long while.

One of my new poems . . . 

First Morning, after Joy Harjo

for Celeste

by:  Martin Achatz

I think of that first morning I held you
after a night of wind, ice, snow, the world
clear, fragile as a pane of Windexed glass.
As you settled into my elbow, I told you
my arms were forever, that you would be
part of me until my lungs gave up
their last pocket of air, my heart said
your name one last time before going silent.
There have been 7,547 mornings since,
each stitched with tiny acts of surrender,
seeing you take those necessary steps away
from that first morning, with you pressed
to my chest until our breaths, hearts joined,
and I couldn’t tell where you ended,
I began. On this morning, another necessary
letting go, you into another person’s waiting
arms, I want you to know I still hold all
your breaths, every note your heart has sung,
like constellations in the Milky Way of my body.