Sunday, December 22, 2019

But Her Eyes Called to Me

But Her Eyes Called to Me
“And coming forward at that very time, Anna gave thanks to God and spoke
about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem” – Luke 2:38

Over every throbbing ache
                                              in every finger
in my knees and back
                                       I have whispered
tell me why I remain
childless and feared
                                       they will not limn
their concerns or doubts
nod as if my eyes do not see even the glittering
dust that floats when the great veil is disturbed

Oh    I see   but cannot outpace
                                                      my deepest hunger
To know why
                            I am kept
                                                 even the old man will not
cross the barrier of the day
                                                    we bow
as best we can    and wait the interruption
from beyond
                         what grave is yet denied

And then    even my breath
                                               was pulled from me
when I turned

He stood behind   slightly bowed
could not move
                            but her eyes called me

Yes   I know
                        I finally know    I see
what I had not hoped
                                      yet hoped
and hungered for

(I will not say)
                                   I hold now
                                                        little one
shattering the silence    forever

until the last word is
                                    burned clean

I hold you now
                            little one

It is done
                     O God

It is done

-- Luke
22 December 2019

Saturday, November 9, 2019

"Samuel Remembers"

Samuel Remembers
For Fr. George Clements, Seer and Prophet

Each time
                    I sit here on the helping stone
I have seen the storm    used it to soothe their desires

And when my bones have ached with fire
                                                                     that was
the true voice  I tell them
                                            waking me
to rush to the elder and warn him of his sons

Wearing the robes   my mother wrapped around me
searching against my own heart’s whispers
                                                                      for a man
who would not satisfy their disturbed dreams
                                                                          and then
wandering into the far reaches  
                                                     yet again

I was the last of the old ones of the old ways
I am he who shaped the way it must now be

 By holding
                     a small bowl of oil
the beautiful boy
                              and sending him to dance
against the giants
                              rushing to grind us
into small beads of sorrow

                                             Oh  the promise
I felt
          and feel
                          and know 

                                             It was my mother’s
voice that sounded me

I sit here   knowing
                                 the storm
can be used
                        the fire can be  called

the ache can be

29 April 2019/for 3 May 2019
Anniversary of Ordination:  3 May 1957

            [“Ebenezer:  The Stone of Help”]

In celebration of the 62nd anniversary (May 2019) of his ordination to the Roman Catholic priesthood, this poem was dedicated to Fr. George Clements of Chicago. Beginning with his pastorate of Holy Angels Church in Chicago (1969-1991), George H. Clements reshaped the notion of “church” by calling into existence programs devoted to one-church-one child, one-church-one-addict, one-church-one-inmate. He was also one of the mentors and shields for the early development of the Illinois Chapter of the Black Panthers as they constructed some of their revolutionary work known as the “Rainbow Coalition.” Fr. Clements was also part of the group who founded the National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus in 1968 and remains a mentor to the members of the NBCCC and many other men and women religious and clergy, and lay leaders throughout the country. Much like Samuel in the Old Testament (1 and 2 Samuel), Fr. Clements sought out me and scores of others and called us to be courageous and focused and unafraid of the giants who would contend with us. On November 25, 2019, The Reverend George Clements died, in Hammond, Indiana.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

I Told Jesus It Would be All Right


We have the memory of

“Mary, what you gonna name
your pretty little baby”

being called every thing but
“A child of God”

boy bastard girl pig cow
fool nigger and so
on and on   the torrent
of filth  fell
upon the heads
of those who would stand
mute and

“think I’ll name him

Oh  yes  names are important and we do not need a seminar in linguistics to understand the reason. African Americans (or Africans? Or Americans? Or Colored? Or Negro? Or Colored Americans? Or Negro Americans? Or....?)  had/have only the luxury of grace, and the memory of the people of God when it comes to owning the name we/they are/were known by.


That something, they call it God’s Holy Fire, filled the void of meaning when the devastation of enslavement took the ground out from under the souls of the African men and women (there could never be a child in such a circumstance – not if childhood depends on innocence. The capture destroyed all innocence) who were cast upon the waters of greed and abasement. They searched the scriptures that were used as weapons of submission and found the names of liberators; the names of faithful servants; the names of warriors and kings and prophets and vision-seekers.  They found Deborah and Samuel, Daniel and David, Mary, Martha, Hannah and Elizabeth.

They spoke the saving names in the ears of the children, they sang the names (Moses, Joshua, Elijah, John, Paul, Peter and Samson) in the dances whereby they called down the divine power.  African women and men who were being called everything but a child of God, understood the story of Jacob better than many a theologian, then or now.

When the embodiment of God’s power, hereafter known as the Angel, confronted the dissembling, thieving, opportunistic Jacob, the hero faced, in the midnight hour on the plain of Peniel, his worst nightmare: his own weakness.  When the struggling, the sweating, the wrestling with the power of God was called to a draw, Jacob was halt and no longer what he had been. He encountered God and was not vanquished. What did he get out of it?  A damaged hip, the promise of countless descendants, and a new name.

The people of the new enslavement chose their God wisely.  They invoked the power and settled upon themselves names that carried the shimmering aura of the spirit-blessed. And you think it is an easy thing to take my name and “nick” it? You think it is a sign of friendship to slip your tongue under my inheritance and trip my name on your tongue until my reality stumbles on your presumption?

Oh, no. I told Jesus it would be all right if HE
change my name.

And Jesus told me that the world would hate me, scorn me, abuse and crucify me. I told HIM that it was a bargain worth the making, as long as HE
knew who I was and how to speak to ME
that no storm can assail, no tempest can assault.

The woman who cleans the filth of strangers day after day after day, walks into her church and is called “sister,” “daughter,” and “saint.”  On the street and in the homes and hearts of her neighbors she is called, Miss or Mrs.  And she knows the worth of her name, her calling.  So, too, the man who is “boy” and “nigger,” and “Sam” and joke, day after day in the street and on the job (if he has one, and is not known simply by a string of numbers). Oh, Lord, let him walk into the sanctuary, where he is “brother,” “father,” “elder,” “sir,” “deacon,” and “reverend.”  And revered are they all. It’s all in the name, the true name, the sweet name, the proper name.

“Don’t ever call me out of my name,” is shouted on the streets all over the African world of childhood.

Why? Because we have the memory of the homeland left only in our words, in our songs, in the ways that make us a “folk.”  And we know that we have to live up to our names, bestowed as they are by people who wanted to weigh us down with history, music and promises.

Every tongue-twisting name that shows up on the census and school record-book is a warning and declaration.  This child will have attention paid to her, to him. You may not want to waste a glance or breath on my baby, but you will, by God and his mama, take the time to say his name and to spell her wondrous identity correctly.

After all,  God told Adam and Eve to name everything set before them in creation, and whatsoever they name a thing, that would be its name.

So, I got a name, you got a name. Written in the book of life. I got a name that makes music on my mama’s tongue, that lights up my granddaddy’s eye when he says it.

Don’t even think about doing nothing about my name except
to make it a sacrament.

After all I am a child of God.  Thank you, very much.

[prepared for M. Annette Turner and the Archdiocese of Louisville Office of Multicultural Ministry. December 1997]

Sunday, May 26, 2019

To Wade into Tomorrow's Call

To Wade into Tomorrow’s Call
He enjoined them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for "the promise of the Father about which you have heard me speak...” Acts 1:4

We were told to wait
the promise
                      to stay cloaked
and still
                  for the days until
we would feel the fire
                                      He would

           And then send
                                     us into
a fire that could never consume
our souls   and dreams
after the whirlwind finally died
we would begin to walk
                                         one to Cana
or Capernaum   or sail  as far as Cyrene
or Carthage

But before
                    we would kiss our love
upon our brothers’ brows grown
smooth and unscarred by fear’s
vanishing    forever

                                    We stood at
the shore where we were first
called and fed
                         breaking our fast
by remembering
                              and by remembering

promising to wade
                               into tomorrow’s
                                             26 May 2019

Ordination to the Priesthood
Norman A. Fischer, Jr.    27 May 2000
R. Tony Ricard            27 May 1995
Joseph A. Brown, SJ       27 May 1972

Saturday, March 23, 2019

The Awakening Gaze

The Awakening Gaze
-- For Ricky; and for James and Bob and Emerson and all the others who are still hidden from view

She stood in the door
                                         the light in the room
no longer just from the sun coming in the window
had been quieted and browned by the yellow
fluids dripping from bags  the blue and red and white
blinking lights
                           the drawn curtain
                                                             the flat grey metal
cabinets   tables and poles

She watched the lights speak to no one
                                                                  when the nurse
and the other lady found her
                                                  they would be mad
she knew this

                              Squeezing the brown and white and
red and black stuffed dog she
                                                    came to the man and said


it was the only voice  the only sound  able to cut through
the whistling and hissing and clicking clacking of the sentinels
waiting for him to give over finally


             just this once  someone sees me and not the red
and purple and green camouflage my skin has become
         is not afraid
                                 to see me
                                                       and so
in her gaze I am able to remember

I was boy-long-before-remnant    I had a name   a laugh
and secrets
                                   Now, he remembers,
                                                                           I am disappearing
Into nothing but a flask for fluids   that distract
the nervous staff
                                               More of this   and
More of more of the same will comfort

        he will  be still

and we will lessen our scratching guilt


              Do you know a story   please?
If you will sing me
your favorite song
                                    I will tell you
a story

                     And when the nurse found them

she was singing    “go to sleep  baby mine”
the flickering machines stopped

to hold

his silence

                         -- Luke

AIDS Memorial, Carbondale Illinois
28 April 2013

Shared on the occasion of the 20th Annual AIDS Walk in Carbondale

Monday, January 21, 2019

"Go Down, Moses"

"Go Down, Moses"

On a day when we are called to remember and renew our calling, let us hear what a  real dream sounded like, a year before King was murdered.

From, The Trumpet of Conscience, Martin Luther King, Jr. Harper & Row, 1967:

“I have said that the problem, the crisis we face, is international in scope. In fact, it is inseparable from an international emergency which involves the poor, the dispossessed, and the exploited of the whole world.

Can a nonviolent, direct-action movement find application on the international level, to confront economic and political problems?  I believe it can.  It is clear to me that the next stage of the movement is to become international.  National movements, within the developed countries – forces that focus on London, or Paris, or Washington, or Ottawa – must help to make it politically feasible for their governments to undertake the kind of massive aid that the developing countries need if they are to break the chains of poverty.  We in the West must bear in mind that the poor countries are poor primarily because we have exploited them through political or economic colonialism.  Americans in particular must help their nation repent of her modern economic imperialism.

But movements in our countries alone will not be enough. In Latin America, for example, national reform movements have almost despaired of nonviolent methods; many young men, even many priests, have joined guerrilla movements in the hills.  So many of Latin America’s problems have roots in the United States of America that we need to form a solid, united movement, nonviolently conceived and carried through, so that pressure can be brought to bear on the capital and government power structures concerned, from both sides of the problem at once.  I think that may be the only hope for a nonviolent solution in Latin America today; and one of the most powerful expressions of nonviolence may come out of that international coalition of socially aware forces, operating outside governmental frameworks.

....Indeed, although it is obvious that nonviolent movements for social change must internationalize, because of the interlocking nature of the problems they all face, and because otherwise those problems will breed war, we have hardly begun to build the skills and the strategy, or even the commitment, to planetize our movement for social justice.

In a world facing the revolt of the ragged and hungry masses of God’s children, in a world torn between the tensions of the East and West, white and colored, individualists and collectivists, in a world whose cultural and spiritual power lags so far behind her technological capabilities that we live each day on the verge of nuclear co-annihilation; in this world, nonviolence is no longer an option for intellectual analysis, it is an imperative for action.”

[in A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings of Martin Luther King, Jr. Edited by James M. Washington. Harper & Row. 1967. pp. 652-53]

From, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? Martin Luther King, Jr. Harper & Row. 1967:

“We can no longer afford to worship the God of hate or bow before the altar of retaliation. The oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever-rising tides of hate.  History is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals who pursued this self-defeating path of hate.  As Arnold Toynbee once said in a speech: ‘Love is the ultimate force that makes for the saving choice of life and good against the damning choice of death and evil.  Therefore the first hope in our inventory must be the hope that love is going to have the last word.’

We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late.  Procrastination is still the thief of time.  Life often leaves us standing bare, naked and dejected with a lost opportunity.  The ‘tide in the affairs of men’ does not pause in her passage, but time is deaf to every plea and rushes on.  Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words:  ‘Too late.’  There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or our neglect. ‘The moving finger writes, and having writ moves on...’ We still have a choice today:  nonviolent coexistence or violent coannihilation. This may well be mankind’s last chance to choose between chaos and community.”

[in A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings of Martin Luther King, Jr. Edited by James M. Washington. Harper & Row. 1967. pp. 632-33]

21 January 2019