Posted by: Peadar Ban | April 28, 2022

The Dying Gaul

  THE DYING GAUL

It has been a cloudy, cold, rain splashed day

And I, standing at the glass, watch rain fall

On the river “running down to the sea”;

Water on water running to water.

A man might think everything is water!

And then I turn away and see the rest:

The rocks, the trees, the bright budding flowers,

Chipmunks, birds, the rest including us

The only ones who are able to think

About all this, or simply to wonder.

At water’s edge, gone a full quarter mile,

A fallen tree lies in full death agony

At the land’s slowly disappearing edge —

Victim of the unrelenting river’s

Force and its endless march to sea.

Still on the shore, I see the dying tree

Nor yet, nor ever, will it reach its heights

Or know bright dawn, deep night, the seasons,

The years that will pass before its life ends.

The hurtling stream made sure it won’t be so.

How strange!  I am moved by this dying tree!

I see no tree but “Dying Gaul,” fallen

Victim, offering, a figure of Christ!

There are other such, thousands never seen,

Swept away in silence.  Begun, then done !

How should I think of these unfinished lives

Pulled out, carried on a cruel current

To the deepness of never having been.

I will no longer see a helpless limb

On the river float slow to the sea

Without seeing nor without mourning all

Whose lives, before they ever drew breath

Are broken in the womb and tossed away.

A great sadness entered me and will stay.

In this sweet world we have sour sorrow sown!

And no more will trees or running streams seem

Ought but fear to me and deep pain.

Such dark things should never have to be

But have we not made so that very thing?

We end life without a single thought now

And drop its remains down into the deep,

Turn and walk away.  Life’s lost, and we sleep!

Alone, who sees all, for all his children,

 The FATHER weeps!

                                  FIN

We were in Rome some longish time ago.  And that is where we saw the statute which is called The Dying Gaul.  The photo here is of a “dying” tree in the river near my home.  I walk past it practically every day, and watch it sink, lower and lower, every day.  It reminded me of the statue, especially when I thought of the place it was in.

PEG

April 27, 2022

Posted by: Peadar Ban | April 8, 2022

THE LEAF I HOLD

I walked out to “taste” the air two days ago.
Oh, it was “Bitin’ Cold!” as Granny would 
Have said.  “The wind will fierce bite your face!”
She was right, of course, and I came soon back
Inside where I was warmed and welcomed.

Not until I had become warm again
Did I notice I now had company:
A fallen leaf; an old leaf from last year
Which had endured winter’s frigid beatings
And lay inside at my feet, bent and still.
I look down seeing one once beautiful
Now become a mere ghost of such a thing,
Thinking, I swear now, how cruel nature is.
Not for what I saw, but what had been done
To the Innocent Leaf there at my feet
Once Wind-Dancer, dawn to dusk, each bright
Whirl a feast. each and every one a feast, a gift!
The almost musical wind, the trees, the leaves
In their never ending, their timeless, dance..

So, I bent close to this one at my feet
Once just one on the thousand trees
Over my head, now alone, brown and dead.
The thousands, gone. The colors, gone.
Just this one here at my feet, cold and still.

And, I wondered. Was this once bright thing dead?
Were they gone, those bright treasures of the green
Dances, day after day all spring and summer long?

I bent and lifted the torn wrinkled leaf 
To my eyes, and saw the face of age,
The signs of wear and work I see on all 
Who like the Dying Leaf have served us well.
And I remembered them, there, as I stood,
The leaf in my hand, and they, all of them
There, with me, inside my house that morning.

And, standing some minutes remembering,
I came to know what I must always keep,
What must be always kept, this of all things
I took to heart, that day of the dead leaf:

No thing; no one, dies; or just fades away.
All that ever was, still is.  And we know where!

Peadar Ban
April 5, 2022
Posted by: Peadar Ban | April 8, 2022

I and the Day

“What are you doing?”  “Writing a poem!”
I told myself sitting down at my desk chair
Where I spend no small amount of my time.
And where I sit now, a pen in my hand
Staring through an open door at the day.

I was just outside, preparing for a walk,
When a short rain persuaded me other!
That rain is gone elsewhere. And I sit blank,
Empty of ideas, not a single thing
To write and show to everyone waiting.

Now, the sun that called me out so soon ago
And just as soon disappeared behind rain
Shines bright on jeweled glittering roads, and trees
Gaily dancing in the bright evening breeze.

Oh, I am torn and tempted by the sight.
The sky is a sapphire blue as singing birds
Leap from tree to tree I think just to mock me.
I will try again just once more in hope.

Pray then, please, I am right; just not a dope.

Peadar Ban
April 3, 2024    
Posted by: Peadar Ban | March 28, 2022

ELEANOR (a.k.a. “Nell”) Rita Downs Gallaher

Mom

I cannot remember ever using her name, I mean the one above, unless I was fooling around with her.

The name I was most familiar with was “MOM”.  I am pretty sure, though, that it wasn’t the first name that I made use of.  I can only guess now, remembering what my own children first called their mother whose name was Sheila.   When infants they called her “Mama”, possibly not a name at all. I kind of think that a name develops into a name from little more than a cry; a sound from which language grows, words coming later.

It’s just an idea, a very recent one to me, because I don’t remember, at all.  I am sure, though, I could not have known my mother’s name was Eleanor.  She was Mom.  Just Mom.  Nor was she ever Mother.  I think my mother was the kind of person who would have blushed to be called “Mother” by any of her children, of whom there were eventually three.  Before she became “Mom”, I am certain she was “Mommy”, and our father was “Daddy” until he became “Dad”. They were happy in their names, and never thought it necessary that they be known by us as anything but Mom and Dad.  Funny, now that I think of it — they were always known, thought of and mentioned in conversation in that order:  Mom and Dad.

I was a young boy, I guess, when I learned that her “official” name was Eleanor.   It must have been about the time I was “working” on names.  You know, that time when we grow from infanthood into childhood; a short but definitely a real point in growth.  It was then that I learned that she also had a last name, later next to last.  And it was Downs, a name belonging to a whole bunch of others who weren’t called Gallaher, but were still part of me.

There’s even more.  Besides being Eleanor, and Nell, she had a middle name, or two (I think).  I have long thought that there were two such middle names, and have only lately learned I may be wrong in that belief from my younger sister, Stephanie.  She tells me that Mom’s full, real, name was Eleanor Rita Downs.  I still want to hold out for Marie too, wondering if that might have been her confirmation name?  but …  Eleanor Rita Downs remains my mother’s official maiden name.

We are the children and grandchildren of Irish immigrants.  No one on either side of this diaspora has kept complete and well-documented track of who, where, how and when they left and came.  But, here I insert some scraps and suggestions about their journey.  (My sister Stephanie is the source of most of what appears here.  I am responsible for little more than spelling, punctuation and grammar.)

Eleanor was born in lower Manhattan on November 18, 1908, the second of four children who survived.  Her mother, whom I only ever knew as Nanny, had lost, my sister tells me, seven other pregnancies before the first came to term. 

Nanny’s real name was Ella. That strikes me as a good one for some reason — a kind of Queenly name, at least for a first sentence.  And her name did not end there but continued on:  Ella Mae McGowan, also born in Manhattan, on the Lower East side.  At that time, the Lower East Side was, how shall I say, not the best place.  But then there was very little in the way of “best” or even good places, for poor Irish folk to get born, live or die, in New York City back in 1877. 

It would seem that Nanny married some “palooka” from that “hood”, as it might be known today.  I don’t know where, nor when.  At any rate, she birthed perhaps as many as eight or even ten children of whom only four survived.  First came my mother’s elder brother Ed, then Eleanor herself, then her sister Violet Augusta, whom we knew only as RiRi [pronounced rye-ree], and finally the youngest brother George, entered the world to be raised by their parents in a place we would surely call a really “tough neighborhood,” these days, though to them it was, simply, home. Most of the area’s residents were Irish immigrants or their first generation descendants  — and, to a person, all were either poor or, if that were possible, still poorer.

I remember both Granny (Dad’s mother) and Nanny, the latter of whom may have been an “instrument” when Mom wanted to go into the convent as a younger girl, spending much of their time in later years praying.  I remember, too that Mom was never one to “chew the fat” with neighbor ladies!  Yet, of all Nanny’s four children our Mom was the only one to marry.  

Years went quietly by, until somehow, at some time, and in some place, Nell met and married  Edmund John Gallaher, my father.  He was eight years, or ten, her junior.  If I have been told of their meeting and courtship, I have forgotten.  It isn’t the kind of thing boys are interested in, and such things men quickly forget, I imagine, in favor of how many World Series championships the “team” has won …

With Ed, my father, Mom brought us, the three children, into what was, at first, a wonderful life, I can attest.  It became less so as the years piled on for them both.  Ending sad and grey.  Never reaching a sunset gold.

Those early years, from her marriage in the tail end of the depression until the middle 1950s were, I would testify, the best part of Mom’s life:  The Happy Days.  That’s when she and dad brought us all into being, beginning with Tommy in 1939, following up with me in 1942, and finishing with our little sister Stephanie in 1944.

In no time they had settled into what was our home, four rooms on the ground floor, in the back, at 2820 Bailey Avenue, Bronx, New York, my father in the Post Office, and Mom, at home with the three of us. One would think it was the best place in the world to be.  Tight behind the house was a big empty lot, protected by a fence from little legs.  And in front of that stretched paved ground running from one side of the building to the other, about 100 feet.  This was our back yard, and Mom’s porch.

As I remember those young years, Life With Mom was good.  In fact, now that I think about them, the years, as long as they were with Mom, were all good years.  What troubles, hardships, problems and woes befell us along the way came from other events, people and places; and from Dad’s own problems with life and his weakness and inability to handle them and himself in the midst of them.

And during this time, this long descent, Mom never seemed to change.  There was no air of resentment, or stoicism, or any such thing.  Nor was there any atmosphere of rebellion.  Now that I think of it our own “Long Day’s Journey” never reached its night.  And that was perhaps because Mom was there with us, with all of us, at once participant, witness, and a kind of guardian angel.  

Yes!  That is the best, the only way I can explain my mother during the last darkening years in the apartment house where I grew up.  My mother, Eleanor Rita Marie, was what she had always been, some form of angel, guide and a kind of nurse for and to us all there.  Of course, that’s no different than simply being a mother, what every mother worth the name is, after all!  Quietly, she kept doing what she had intended to do all along, and would do until the very end, walk with us; walk with him, her spouse, until the very end.

Saints have not done differently than “Mom” did, than any mother worth the name does.  The more I think about it the more I begin to understand it.  My mother was being a mother to the whole family as well as to each individual:  her children and her husband, who was slowly breaking down and sinking into some sick infantilism; giving up.  She was all that and so quietly, so much a reminder in the silence that there was something else, something more, beyond what was visible ­­­here.

What is right in front of our eyes, I have come to know from, first, my mother and then a longish life, isn’t all there is to see.

I know others like her in that way, some very close to me.  An, I know some who try, but fail.  The way is very hard.

But THIS is what I thoroughly believe. I believe that my mother never “went away” as some might say.  And as some do when life becomes too hard, or too dark.  She never withdrew during the long, and sometimes rather dark, years in our family.  In a way only God, Himself, knows she became, at the same time, witness, victim and sacrifice for all of us: her husband, her children, and yes, herself; the offering for us all.  Else she would not have been able to assume both roles when my father’s collapse was, after years of steady descent, complete, becoming both “Bread Winner” and “Chief Cook and Bottle Washer”. She wasn’t the first, or the only such one in my neighborhood.  And, sadly, she will surely not be the last.

She went out to work after nearly thirty-year of being a home keeper — in all senses of those words.  And when her work day ended she became the Mother at home for her little flock, children and husband both, the latter ever more unable.  Several things I remember about this time.  My father had become so ill that he was bed-ridden, and unable to get up.

Mom called a doctor who told us to get him to a hospital, and so we did.  I cannot remember its name, nor does it matter, since he only stayed a mere week or two.  Tom, my big brother had taken him to the hospital, and when it became necessary for him to leave, I called our parish priest, the same man who had baptized my own children, Father Eugene O’Sullivan.  With his help, Dad moved to his last “home,” a place operated by the Hawthorne Dominican Sisters on New York’s lower east side.

He would die there in a few months. In no small way, that was where my mother’s life ended, also.

I remember taking her down to see Dad after he had been there for several weeks, she who would ask about him whenever one of us kids had been in to visit.  Looking back on it now, I can truly believe that her suffering was as great as his during that time.  So, my wife Sheila and I drove Mom down to the hospital.   I think all of us were there that day:  my sister Stephanie, our brother Tom and Mom.

If I remember things as they happened, and it has been many years, Tom and I went upstairs first, and found Dad very quiet in his bed; one of about six in the room, the room he had been in for at least a month.

I have no clear memory at all of our visit.  Dad was very weak and quiet, but aware that we were there. We went back down. When we returned, it would have been Mom’s time to visit Dad, with Stephanie, but  — she could not go!  Not that she refused.  No, that wasn’t the reason.  She just couldn’t go upstairs, saying, “I cannot! I love him too much to see him as he is.”

I understood then, and I understand now about a half century afterwards. 

There are many, many, memories I have of my parents.  Good memories and not so good memories, and that’s just normal.  We all have them, those memories.  But this last one is my most vivid for them both.

He knew that she was there.  That was all he knew, and it was enough since it was (as a friend often says,) what it was.  What also was, for them both, and for me, a very poignant and loving farewell to each other.

It was the last time.  And I have no doubt that they were together.  He died shortly after this last visit.

At his wake, Mom wanted me to take a photo of Dad in the coffin because, “He looks so good!”  I tried, but the thing has been lost.  I understand why she wanted that photo.  She was almost ten years older when they married, and he a foot taller, strong and with bright red hair.  A pretty good-looking fellow, I have been told.  She was keeping the faith until the end, protecting the man in her heart.   Anyone would!

PEG (Peter Edmund Gallaher)

Copyright 2-14-2022

Posted by: Peadar Ban | August 4, 2021

The Little Wren

“Hope is that thing with feathers!”

Too close to winter’s end for my comfort
But not for his, the busy wren began
His work -- the tiny house my neighbor 
Had left for him with a view of the river.
With great industry, confidence and hope 
He worked from sun’s first light until the night.
Devoting day to work, to twilight he gave song
Of hope and joy to mommy, soon to answer full.
By his companion too work was still needed
For the fledge to come, the hope
Begun in song answered in sweeter sound
Of young life, the promise of life and joy.
I listened to the tiny calls inside 
While watching as both sped in and out, about
The work that really tires one,
Work begun before time itself was born,
Thinking mine, the while, were these little ones.

There came a morning though some few weeks on
When no soft sound of tiny life was heard
Nor did I see the busy two about their work,
Observing with increasing wonder,
What might have caused such monkish silence there!
Smiling, but still, unsure that all was well.

(How sweet the time before they roam away!)

Too soon learned. The nest had been destroyed
And all but one chick there lay dead below, 
The survivor living just one day longer dying
Inside the now empty, once song filled, nest
That sad place, where bright song spread, too quiet now,
In silence deep to mourn, to mourn the death now dealt!

And so I heard and hearing recalled
When, long ago, we had named “Susan”
In hearts and hopes we would someday hold,
Whom in both our hearts we already loved.
But, she never did come forth to us 
Though in our one heart was as true 
There as in her mother’s womb
Was always!  Though three short months allowed 
Which one night of tears removed, memory
And love remained, which never die at all
Against one night of pain and tears 
Love wins.

Susan, here so little time, was gone. 
I know much more.  I know time is no master
Before it seems even yet, to have come,
So long has love lived. Muse longer it will
Beyond, beyond all boundaries love is
A gift hidden is a gift more precious,
A growing joy the longer is the wait.
I also know that love is never lost,
Is rooted deeply, deeply, strongly, fast
To soils and souls.  And love always grows.

Sometimes I think I’ll not see but will be shown
Who waits for me when finally I come home --
A time I ever more eagerly anticipate.
There is no one I know who has never 
Been; such a one can never be. Never will!

But even more fiercely, deeply, I know
What God in Heaven creates still lives on,
Good in every sense.  By love is it made
And, so, for love, to love, is it purposed.
As all conceived, so are all and all born
And all born good will never not be!
Whom Love makes, where Love lives, 
Have life 
Everlasting.

POEMSCRIPT:

I hear the little Wren
Now sing his still sweet song.
And, so I do sing my own,
No end to life Long.

Posted by: Peadar Ban | May 25, 2020

Between Aisles

We have just returned from doing a little shopping.
While wandering around a not so full, nor yet quite empty supermarket, in search of things that we really didn’t need, but could not live without, and momentarily separated from my Beloved Spouse, busy with the Asparagus, I happened to notice a gentleman doing the same thing I was doing, wandering aimlessly and wondering great wonders.
He was dressed for doing that. In fact, I think he was the best of all dressed men in the store with me. I confess that I was not a little jealous of the way in which he was dressed.
Because, you see, it was his shirt which made the man in this case, and not at all the other way round. It was such a shirt as every man these days should own, He should not limit to one the number of such shirts he owns, but have many, each of them in a different color to match different occasions, public occasions of great meaning; as well as private or small occasions of almost casual, or no meaning whatever; and moods lively, tender or solemn.
He was walking towards me in the vegetable aisle; the one covered with lettuces and squash just across from the beans and tomatoes. And as he got closer to me I made up my mind to comment on his choice of garment, and how much it mean to me.
And, I did!
I spoke, well, just slightly more forcefully than I had intended, but, for heaven’s sake, didn’t the occasion warrant some public acclamation?
“I love the shirt you have on,” I said, “It is the best I have seen in no little time. Thank you.” Several heads turned in the aisle and stared. He, the man himself inside the shirt, stopped still and looked at me. Then he understood what I was saying and why. He smiled broadly and nodded at me. We walked on, two men understanding each other.
He was happy, I have no doubt, to be understood. And so was I. He was pleased to meet, perhaps at long last, someone who understood what too few people understand. And, I was delighted to let him know he was not so terribly alone in the world.
He had company. We all need that.
You are entitled to ask about the shirt he wore. It was a simple gray cotton short sleeved t-shirt. It was the message emblazoned across his chest which made it immortal:
Every Day I Wake Up And Do Nothing!
Posted by: Peadar Ban | April 27, 2020

A Kellogg’s Good Morning?

 

I don’t pretend to anything beyond what I am, truly, the kind of fellow who fits the song whose opening verses begin:   “Lazybones, sleepin’ in the sun! How you ‘spec to get your day’s work done?”

The correct answer(s) to the question might be, ” I doan much care.”  or “You? You gonna do it, Suh?”  Directly below you will read what I think is one of the many “money quotes” to use a  phrase favored by a fellow I know who lives now in the very strange state of Washington, a few hundred miles north of that part of the country I am thinking about now.   He has a passing knowledge of the people and the place.  I have very little of either, and less of what is done there, and why and how, and whether or not it is of any lasting good, as might be a strong team of bullocks, and a well made plow.

I have been in Washington.  (It seems to me to be a lot like California, which is, I think not at all like any place in the universe.  But, that’s just me.) That was a long, long time ago, my sojourn in Washington.  And, it was in Seattle.  I was only there long enough to get off a ship, and get into a bus that took me home, in five long days, to New York, the town where I was born, where I grew up; the town I used to love.  The town I used to love no longer exists.  Quite a few of those things don’t.  For heaven’s sake, the world I used to love no longer exists.  Well, bits and pieces of it still do.  I am in one of them now writing this thing.  It’s four rooms on a small hill looking down on a small river, if you must know.

If you read this far, if I haven’t annoyed you too much, continue please, if time permits, to the longish article you’ll find at the link just below the excerpt:

“Silicon Valley increasingly draws the same kind of soul as Hollywood does. Or perhaps one might say that math nerds never before had a shot at mass adulation and glamour, Silicon Valley gives it to them, and many try to grab it. The motivations—fame, power, money, sex—are scarcely different from those impelling people to flock to Tinseltown, or the nation’s capital, for that matter. The main difference is that the rewards in Silicon Valley are vastly greater, for the few who manage to claim them. More wealth, more power, and more fame—certainly in combination—than any mere movie star or politician could ever dream of.”

The Frivolous Valley and Its Dreadful Conformity

After this, you may, return here.

My wife and I took a very short two night trip to that area almost two years ago.  She had been recruited by some doctors at one of the medical schools in Stanford University who were interested in the kind of cancer she had, an interesting kind and “tricksie”, to use a word made famous by Tolkein. They payed, so we went.

The first time I went to that neck of the woods was shortly after I left high school in 1960.  I remember, water, a large bridge, a small island still open for business  I have been back there several times, the last time being to say goodbye to my brother who had to die.  He was doing that in Healdsburg which was both in the opposite direction from Stanford and on fire.  In addition to that, my wife had not yet become an item of interest for the doctors at Sanford, so she stayed home, and my sister accompanied me.

During those fifty or so years, the whole place changed.  You will have learned that from reading the article I recommend.

I remember that Stanford had a decent football team, some time ago.  And, I remember when the Giants left New York and moved to SF.  And not much more.  Well, there really was nothing to remember.

Several things impressed me about this trip.

The weather.  Lovely.  But, monotonous.  I might have enjoyed a nice blaze engulfing a few thousand square miles.  At least the caravans of fire trucks would have made the excruciating traffic surrounded by thousands of slow moving vehicles costing tens of thousands of dollars; and built for speeds in the near tens of thousands mph I suspect might have made driving more interesting.  Well, maybe not.  I was able to rent a very zippy and almost totally automated, very expensive, up to the minute German car, at a drop dead cheap price.  I was scared out of my life driving the thing.  Life on the road in California is different.  Well, life in California itself is different.

So: The traffic:  Utterly horrible.

I suspect the traffic is a result of the size of the industry that has taken over from farming down in the Valley.  I can tell you that aside from the airport, the cleanest and neatest little thing I have seen, I saw little else that might be called industrial architecture in the place; unless that term takes in the manufacture of bits and bytes.  I was surprised to learn that the drive from our hotel to Sanford was perhaps two dozen miles, and took, both going and coming, at least two hours.  A mule could have done better.

There were an awful lot of restaurants, though.  They served an awful lot of stuff I had never heard of before.  And, I have been about everywhere but the South Sandwich Islands; even Hoboken.  I thought about that driving back from Stanford to our hotel in San Jose.  I thought about everything else I have ever thought about, I think.

And when the plane taking us back to Los Angeles, another place that doesn’t know when to stop; perhaps the first such place, I gave thanks to Almighty God I was going home.

Posted by: Peadar Ban | April 14, 2020

Reading at the End of the World

With not much else to do, I have begun to read two novels by two different authors, both of which oddly enough deal with Far Eastern cultures and their interactions with the West, specifically with the good old USA. Neither one, especially in our current parlous circumstance, is about a walk in the park.
One of them is Philip K. Dick’s “The Man In The High Castle” which lent itself to a close to terrifying TV series, a weird mixture of alternate history and out of this world sci fi, all wrapped up in Japanese cruelty, Nazi cruelty and American defeat, and treachery and fear. I am only about a ten or twenty pages into this tale of dread.
The other book is John Hersey’s “White Lotus”. I bought the book about forty years ago, and only picked it up last week. The thing is nearly 700 pages long, and is no day at the beach, which does not mean it isn’t worth reading and thinking about.
For one thing they both deal with this country and it’s people after a crushing defeat, and great loss. And the difficulties of life in the aftermath is interesting to contemplate, and compare within each of the books, and with the difficulties we face now…quite small compared with the fictional ones…And the ones we may face in the not too distant future. In many ways neither book is too good, right now anyway, for the active and easily disturbed imagination. And, at the same time, both books couldn’t be better.
Has anyone read either of these, or both of these interesting novels? If not, you may want to get hold of either one; better yet, both. After all, you ain’t doing much else, but sitting, wondering and worrying.
Posted by: Peadar Ban | April 5, 2020

This Might Be A Poem

This is long.

Despite having written some thises and thats which sometimes rhyme, and have long or short lines, I am not sure that I have ever written a poem.  I have read many of them in books; while in school, or on the subway, or at home in the morning and the evening.  I have even done that in a park on a quiet day.

The things I wrote I am not really sure they fit the description or definition of a “poem”.  I am sure about the others things, because folks who should know the difference between a poem and a shopping list have said so.  And, who better…

A little more than a month or so ago, a fellow Iknow and like, who is a Fellow at a nearby small Catholic College mentioned that he would be teaching a class of young scholars all about a poem by none other than T.S. Eliot, a poet I keep getting mixed up with about seven or eight other guys, Englishmen all, who write poems.  And, he’s not even English.

The poem he was going to be teaching these kids about, he said, was /is “The Wasteland”, a thing that, I think, never goes out of style; well, at least the title and what it signifies.  So I tell my friend that it interests me.  And I ask him if he would mind my sitting in…way in the back…and listening to what he has to say.  It’s fine with him, he tells me.  Then he asks if I would mind giving the class my own opinion of what The Wasteland is all about.

Now it has got to be a good half-century since I read this poem; which I always mix up with The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, another thing that Eliot wrote.  And Iknow he wrote something about Cats.  In any case, against my better judgement, a thing never to good, I say I will do it.

We part still friends and I run home to read The Wasteland.  Which I do, and then spend an hour or two reading explanations about the thing.

And then our gift from The East drops on us and I am allowed to escape from my crazy adventure.  But, I still think about reading about the poem Eliot writes, and the man himself, who he was, what he did and how he thought.  I really haven’t learned very much, but I did learn about…a very little about…what goes on in his poem.

I also thought that “wastelands” come and go, and have been doing so for a long, long time.  For instance we built a doozy not a few years after Eliot’s poem was published.

That kind of thinking prompted me to do my own imitation of Wasteland which is a more private thing than his was; I mean Thomas Stearns.  I had thought I would bring it along with me whenever, if that ever comes, I find myself sitting in on my friend’s resurrected class on the real wasteland, which begins to look like it is happening anytime soon.

So finding nothing better to do in a world now shrunken to my living room than think..a wasteland in itself…I decided to share it with whomever is having a hard time falling asleep.  I don’t consider it a poem, mainly because I don’t really, as I have said, a good idea what a poem is.  That is unless I come across it inside a book which has a tiele  that includes the words “poem” or “poetry”.

Enjoy it, or not; here it is:

 

READING ELIOT

(For Mariellen)

 

THE BOOK IS OPEN BEFORE ME

April, still to come, is waiting in the wings.

March has trampled much to long for everyone.

Embarrassed it sends waves of beauty

And all the bells ring in a warm Spring breeze

While April, next, endures the wait.

 

I sit reading all about it. A poem

Almost a hundred years old in my hands.

Prophetic, if I can figure it out

But little more than mystery to me.

Brow wrinkling, mouth gaping strange: mystery.

 

I’LL NEVER UNDERSTAND

So, Mama Me Sosoteris sits somewhere

In the nicest room in the whole wide world.

Do you think that for one minute I care?

That sweet girl named Hyacinth came my way,

Pole, whose parents once from flesh to smoke

Rose on thick currents to coffered black sky.

Oh, sooted ceiling! Oh, coffered Polish sky!

 

Sooted was the ceiling! Beware Laquerea

But more, laquearius bearers at home.

(The Bandersnatch has no claws to match.)

Unless one has a larger home than mine,

 

I NEVER THOUGHT OF THIS

Four small rooms on the ground floor in the back.

Cooler for that, sheltered from noonday sun

With concrete-brick alley mere steps away.

All manner of sport among friends was had

And life was tried on for size, which some found

Too large then or for any age to come.

 

I have played chess, of course. In the alley

With Martin. Marty, my short Hare-lipped friend,

Liked the game.  His false teeth were ill fitting,

Sometimes slipping out part way when he spoke

Making conversation juicy.  We joked

All of us when he wasn’t nearby.  Poor

Marty was arrested some years later.

Sent away for his part in a weird scheme

For trying to blow up a Post Office.

Life…too large for Marty then or ever,

Merely a laquaerius target he.

 

Short sharp knives cut deep the net covered ones

Of cruel circumstance, waves of poison,

Sweet poison, nets of happiness and woe

The gray river, lazy, lethal, lonely

A path where prints previous disappeared

And thus, no path at all, no one knew, no one cared

Because the best thing to have is fun.

 

But time, time, time stepped in grime on the roof top

Below in the alleys where cats chased rats

Each night and stray dogs sniffed at sacks of waste

We pitched pennies, we all played cards, and threw dice!

The things all growing boys wanting to be

Men do on the way. There were casualties.

There were, and we knew who they would be.

Billy Gedry, rode atop the train but

Lost in the contest between train top and

Tunnel wall, never again to stand! To

Sit, drink, piss down a tube, die a drunk.

 

Joe Duncan was another, watching as

His father beat to death his mother

Drowning in her screams and tears.  It took years

For Joe to get over it, dying slowly himself

In the most delightful way, unconsoled

For they were both dead. Who was there to hold

Or would, who himself drowned in filth and booze?

Now, what does he see looking down from high?

 

THE CENTER DOESN’T HOLD

One summer one man, The Son of Sam, ruled

The City of Seven Million Stories.

On a mission from God the two young men

Sat in the car.  It was well past midnight.

Two more sat behind them for other reasons

All four eying the car across the street where

Two others sat.  “We buy heroin,” he said

To me when I took an oath the same

To do, thinking then of what that might mean.

 

And slowly one man left the car we watched.

Back to us as he moved away, turned and ran

In our direction, faster every step.

Before he could get too far, he was shot

And fell between tracks on the empty street

Cradling him, collecting his blood.

The car behind us moved.  I moved to halt

Fired once, and wounded one in flight.

Fear took hold, but work to do conquered fear.

Before it happened, it was over.  Work

Was done by men as work had to be done.

Trying to hold what did not want holding.

 

PLANNED

To kill is easy.  To keep alive hard.

Margaret is dead so she now knows

How being dead feels.  No doubt not surprised?

Overwhelming, on a scale unheard of is Hell!

It is filled with untold horrible sights

Unbelievable mutilated mountains.

Piles of rotting corpses everywhere

Death on scales that were never before thought,

Mountains, civilizations, whole continents!

Mengele blushes shame, humiliation

Covers Stalin, Mao runs from the burning pit

While Hell itself laughs though no sound is heard.

Never a sound in Hell but silent screams.

Margaret, dressed well in her own offal,

Is royalty in hell. Treated that way

She’s cut to pieces ten thousand times each

Day by Gosnell, merely a minor stooge.

Who says Satan has no sense of humor.

 

 

IN A LIKE PLACE

On a quiet morning the three drove from

The fine hotel through the sleepy city

To the meeting place, a deserted lot

In a torn and tattered slum beyond the

Tall shining silver monuments to gold

And there met the one waiting for them to

Do the business he had come from far to

Do; the business being Cocaine or death.

No matter!  No one died that morning clear

But, he fell and flooded blood like a dark

Red carpet on the ground, a small blood lake.

What is that!  Millions more slowly do the same!

 

 

 

NOW IS THE EXCEPTIONAL TIME

Fast forward a few years and see how sweet

It all is.

 

In Healdsburg by the Russian River, near

The peaceful ocean I cleaned the glass

Of all the windows while the world burned

On the nearby hills and my brother died

Inside, slowly.  My sister washed walls.

No longer may he go to San Francisco

To leave his heart there high upon a hill

Nor run to leave his heart behind

Though he could not know. The children would know

They who never are enough were enough.

It has not rained and so the flames eat well

On nearby hills; hearts and homes and hopes

Above the burned-out river filled with dust,

Dry beds, dry bones, dry lives, dry eyes, dry hearts.

Old Indians whose land this was once walk

About wondering how it happened

While the new Indians open stores, build

Hotels and change everything not changed. Yet

He dies inside.  Outside I look for a priest

And wonder when or if the rain will fall

Watching through the smoke the mad mountains glow

Smelling in the day the sour scent of death.

 

Soft the rain begins, tiny drops walking

Before the door with food for him. I stand

And drink for my sister.  The priest will come

Today and bring my brother home; and us too

The most true thing.  This for us priests to do.

 

A CANTICLE FOR LIEBOWITZ

Fly away cross the country.  Leave at last

The western wastes.  The flames, the dust. The death!

The older death and the small hope, tender hope

Growing in the old places, hope by hope. And

From a river’s edge look toward the old

Mountains, the old trees, the old people

And their children in this quiet time

Just before spring, as birds fly in

Far to near, as cold sifts and snow disappears.

Death is a thousand miles away

Does he dance his last dance with all his fools?

Will what death loves end as sure as night?

 

THE END IS NEAR?

So, laughing day comes dancing over hills

Across the oceans, down from heaven’s fire?

Few are here who still believe all of this.

The rest dance and sing at the Salt Pillar.

 

Gone, almost everything is gone that was

The bad , the good, the worse, the best.  All gone.

Washed away in booze, or risen to the laquerea

Where the Pugio waits cutting damned from just.

That is the gate now through which we all pass

While the churches are locked for safety’s sake

And Mighty God from another day’s Work

Rests in peace.

 

PEG 03/31/2020

 

 

 

 

Posted by: Peadar Ban | March 11, 2020

What Better Time

Dear Reader,

Last night a friend asked me if I would read Eliot’s “The Waste Land”, and let him know what I think of it.  I haven’t read the poem in several eons, but I said I would.  He is teaching the poem over the next couple of days to one of his classes.  This morning, an hour or so ago…maybe more…I started my assignment.  As I read the first couple of stanzas, I also looked out the window, and stopped reading to think a little.

And, as I thought, and looked at the day, this fell out.

 

WHAT BETTER TIME

 

It is April, what better time!

Rentaro Hashimoto, Ph.D., in his chair

Smiles with childish glee and says,

“Insights!  Give me insights, you must have some”

The slim book before me on my desk is blue.

Outside the maples on the Quad are still bare.

The maples here are bare too, and snow

Patches wait in fear of heat to come.

Will heat come before the cool green leaves

Are fledged and waving it away?

Around the dying one, in the open now

Where I can see it plain, a great snake twines

Its wood up and up the dying trunk to light

As quickly as an age.  Rentaro smiles unseeing.

 

He is young, and so am I.  And it is April

A time of hope and glory, and the world is young

Even though we know the truth that it is not

And Wittgenstein is dead.  Despite the fact

The  world lives on, and the tea grows cold

In my cup on the desk, and Rentaro waits.

He will get an answer, I pray, before he dies.

But it isn’t he who wants to know at all.

No, he is more interested in Hegel.

Big things are in his sights high in his chair.

 

John Moran, who has a son in the other room

“Doing “This!”, is the one who has one eye

On Wittgenstein and one on the son.

Two men, two books. They are all dead!

 

And, I am still alive trying to answer

Their questions, “What Is this? Who is doing it?”

One April morning under the waxing sun,

The leafless trees and a dying Maple

Being slowly squeezed to death.

 

PEG

March 11, 2020

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