John O’ConnorThis weblog is devoted to reflections on faith and culture, and it is dedicated to the concerns of the Cornerstone Forum. I have taken All Souls Day as an excuse for two personal reminiscences that congealed into verse of very modest literary merit many years ago. In future posts I will return to matters of more general interest, though I will report briefly on Liz's medical condition as I am apprised of it.
(Born: February 13, 1882)
Though grave-diggers’ toil is long,
Sharp their spades, their muscles strong,
They but thrust their buried men
Back in the human mind again.
William Butler Yeats
Too Irish to show, but with a wink, his love
And smelling of cigars and being awfully old
Were all the faults I knew him guilty of,
Though he thought it almost a man’s disgrace
To be so ill to need such kindnesses
From first his wife, then family, then the priest.
(On the porch one day he all but told me this.)
It seem a lingering darkness up ahead
He brooded on, though he had done no wrong
More grievous than the wrongs he might have done,
But the God the Irish love, the Irish dread,
So keep the Virgin’s statue by their beds.
And it was at such elbows I learned things
About the way men draw inside themselves
To find what’s God’s to keep on Judgment Day.
So I rehearsed for life, while he for death,
And my rehearsal took its cue from his;
What might have been my foil became my lead
As we improvised duets to make us strong:
I gave a sing-song chant and he a wink,
And each forgot if he was old or young.
Ours was the splinter party of irrelevance,
Off to the side of all that seemed to count,
For age excused us both from worldly things.
Ours was the inner circle of the cast
Offstage between the curtains: up or down.
(One waits the first; one waits the last.)
And while we wait, we wish each other well.
So when his coughing started I crept in
The room where frantic women did their best.
I tried to be unnoticed (and I was),
So I could watch the angels loose his fist
And relieve him of his gasping and his flesh.
I saw them whom the innocent can see,
None of my doubts have ever doubted this.
I learned from him how to use a rocking chair
To make the wrestling look like it’s but rest;
From me he learned he still had that to teach.
And to this day the play I play this life
Is taken from the things he showed me when
He rose up from that high-backed wicker rocker —
His brooding done — and gave a wink and nod,
And stepped upon the apron of life’s stage
And bowed, not to the crowd, but to his Maker
And gave himself in keeping to his God.
February 13, 1982
Thursday, November 02, 2006
All Souls Day - Part II
My grandfather died when I was 4 years old. I wormed myself in between his frantic daughters (my mother among them) to be at his bedside when he died. My father had been killed in World War II, so my grandfather gave me my earliest glimpse of what it means to be a man.