Friday, December 18, 2020

"What Little Hope We Have"

 These demands stab at what little hope we have

left buried in the soil of our prayers    Pay now

go there    stop that   Bow down   die

How like we are to the soon exhausted oil left

sputtering in the darkness

                                             Them   forcing us to register

away from here    when all will be ignored before any

return is finished   step madly into the water    and drown

who will even notice


they have come back


Some dark cloud seemed to cover her as

they came to each of us that morning

 When they left for his forced reckoning

                                                                  I doubted

their place would wait that journey’s close

Nevertheless we left it locked against intrusion

Something between them seemed so trusting and

so calm that they gave us just enough morsels

to sustain us

                                  But now

 there is     yes   there is   oh my   this  

she is holding a child    and he is holding her hand

and the guiding cord for the mule

                                                                  a child

I am going to the road

                                             and so are the others  to see

what is  pulling us into their path    what    yes  oh

yes   she is looking at each of us

                                                            and he too  is holding

us with a gaze so fierce as to begin us humming

just to find our breath

                                               yes   oh yes

a child is here

                                to tell us  

                                                       why the light must flare        


-- Luke

Christmas. 2020                                 

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

"My Arms Are Empty"

My Arms Are Empty: A Song of Lamentation
for Ahmaud Arbery
When I saw him die
                                      I no longer
cared about the trembling    the tears
no one  walks these streets    except
the very few
                         and the solitary runners
choke me    I cannot breathe against
the rhythm sorrow beats into my

             I moved into the morning and I will
sit   against this tree
                                        seven days   they say
seven days of tattered shirts    I no longer
care    let the holes be seen   seven
times seven   I have found this place   and I will
         No    I cry   and   no    I whisper
and no one
                       cares that I am
become the Pietà without a child
even that  
                    even that
                                        And I hum   ‘Oh, Mary,
Don’t You Weep”  and she is now
                                                         here with me
saying    No   you will    you must   drain your heart
until the others come
                                    and the others will

This tree is not shelter   not from
the devouring fire    it burns
forever   and our scars
with the rage that cannot sound

when the others come
                                       I will
know that we will
                                  then unclench
our swollen fingers

Our hands will drum our sorrow
into this ground
                                Yes    I see
you glance at me    yes    I am
the one who whispers each
child’s name   if I cannot hold
them to my breast    I will
hold them with my song
live   child   you live
                                     and this
tree and I  will be the place where
no lie can live


Thursday, March 19, 2020

"I Grew to Trust the Dreams": The Feast of St. Joseph

At a time when many people were rejoicing in my ordination to the priesthood, albeit for myriad, sometimes competing reasons, I had to respond to one invitation after another of being asked to “come [somewhere] and say Mass.”  “People need to see you,” was the usual theme of the invitations. In the spring of 1973, the oddest invitation of that ordination year came from a nun who was teaching at the old north St. Louis Catholic grade school, St. Bridget, in the shadow of the Pruett-Igoe Housing projects. The nun asked me to come to the grade school and preside at a Mass for 8th-graders, on March 19, the Feast of St. Joseph. The invitation would have been sufficient, in that simple statement; but as is often the case, she could not leave well enough alone. “If you can, please emphasize the role of ‘St. Joseph the Worker’ – most of these children don’t know the value of hard work; since they don’t see many people with jobs.”

It was enough to make me believe in God. Either that or walk away from it all.  So I said, yes.  At the beginning of the homily, I asked the students if they knew why Joseph was a saint.  The usual fidgeting and glancing eyes were the immediate response.  Finally, I said, I think we must understand that many people have focused on the fact that Joseph was a carpenter. But we don’t know any more than that. “Is this not the carpenter’s son?” is all we are told in scripture. We don’t know if he was a great, mediocre or merely competent carpenter. So I don’t think that is the reason for his obvious sanctity.  I think the real reason we honor Joseph with the title of “Saint,” is that, when his girlfriend told him she was pregnant, and it wasn’t his child, he did not panic. He did not reject her. He did not turn her over to the authorities in the temple.  He accepted her. He protected her. Because he listened to the voice of God which came to him in his dreams.”  Further, I said to them, “lots of people will say that many of you don’t know the value of hard work. But I know better. You have seen your fathers and mothers and uncles, aunts, grandfathers, grandmothers and neighbors, get up every day and hustle, one way or another, to bring something into your home. And they struggle, out of love for you and your family. They work as hard as they are able to. But it is their determination to remember that all children are gifts from God that makes us admire them and love them.”

As soon as I was finished with the Mass, a young woman asked me if I was going to come back soon. The nun who had invited me moved as quickly as the wind and came to the front of the room and told the students that she regretted that I wouldn’t be able to come back to the school, since I had such a busy schedule.

Two years later, when I was doing a Mass at St. Francis Xavier High School on the St. Louis University campus a young woman walked up to me and said, “You don’t remember me, but I remember you. You came to our school two years ago and said Mass. I remember what you told us…”

Thank you, Sister.

Today, just before the Feast of St. Joseph ends, I am offering this poem from the past. Like the other poems about Joseph that appear in “The Sankofa Muse” (entries #31 and #39), the poem supplies words from the mind of the most silent of saints.  The dreams, the responsibilities, the spirit-capture that changed his life. And the eyes of the child and the child’s mother:  The man listened beyond what was known and changed his world; and ours.

“I Grew to Trust the Dreams”:  Christmas:  1984
"When he arose, he took the young child and his mother
by night, and departed into Egypt."

there have  been no further dreams no other warnings
no more men who come crowding out the air  pushing
through a cloud of whisperings  no
no dreams come that last poised moment when
I would reach to turn my world towards what
is now
forever shattered
                                        I grew to trust the dreams

this boy  and her  the mother  all I learned
(what  to need  to accept   oh   to carry into hiding)
that night when every child in the world began to die

the dreams   the dreams suddenly vanishing
I cannot be blind to the blood without them
I cannot bind my fear without them
I cannot mute the howling wind
                                                                                when I hold
this child   he grows heavy  I look at him
touch him
                                  press my lips to his eyes   his ears
his hands   his heart

                                                oh  he is my dream  replaced
nightly   every child I see is him and every dream
his life  will be filled with

                                                      the telling of the day
the children began to die

                                                         you must live an anointing
you must bring them back
haunting my dreams  have found their flesh

I feed you child   a sea   a field   a night sky of
children blenching into silence

grow heavy with them