Gerasene Farm

gerasene

– for D.F.

“What do you want with me…?”
“We pigs are brainworkers.” – Napoleon
“Who is going to save me?” – Wilbur

Sundays during slaughter time, when work and days
Are a matter of acres and seasons, pink flesh
And exposed blue-white bone

Are surely signs of progress—satisfaction—fertility.
And when autumn begins to spit snow from its mouth
We’ll fire up the fifty-gallon drums for boiling skin

From the herd. With our blue knuckles now scalded red
We’re allowed to pretend we know Odysseus’s swineherd.
He’s a neighbor, say, who might need to borrow a pritch,

Lend his spare block-and-tackle or resharpen a bell scraper
On our millstone.
                             And that’s when Monsignor comes by to bless it all
One bullet at a time. It doesn’t take long after we call

And he’s there almost immediately.
                                                        There’s no dying soul,
No family grief; it’s all just business. “Tail
To snout” he likes to say, quoting from some other good book.

So Monsignor takes off the blacks and Roman collar
This Sunday, leaves them back at the rectory
And dons red buffalo plaid and tattered bibs.

“Scares the devil out of the herd,” I once heard him explain
“Don’t like black or maybe they just know.”
                                                                  Flexibility
Is one of his strong points.
                                            This day is full of a sky

Afflicted with a tin-foil glare from broken clouds—
It’s the day he’s chosen to come help because
He generally likes the business

And specifically on a Sunday. “Not unnecessary work.
A form of relaxation, I would call it.”
He grew up downwind of a giant swine operation

And of course raised his own and has some opinions on swine.
He knows his pig flesh, alright, the way
A horse trader knows teeth and hoofs.

Monsignor lowers the blue-barreled gun,
A pistol without history – it knows neither wars nor duels
But only a resting place between hunting seasons.

He stares the hogs down, and anoints
Their lives with purpose, cruel
For business, and kind but for no kind of fun.

Afterwards, he walks back to his car
To clean the muzzle and chamber.
                                                       Throats cut, they wait
With us for his return.
                                    We don’t let him near the boiling pot.

He’s no good at that part.
                                           But he has a great eye
For parting flesh with a .45.
                                          And maybe for that reason he was made a Monsignor,

But when he scalds the flesh he scrapes too much flesh with the hair
And very little hair with the flesh.
                                               We politely
Put him off to visit with the children

Or maybe put a beer in his hand and tell him to rest a bit,
Though rest isn’t in his nature anymore than
It is in the clouds that scud like corpuscles across the sky.

He was born on a farm and to hear him tell it he fought
Half the day with earth and flesh, the other half,
All blood work.
                                If given half a chance he could shine

Like the best of rural vicars and squires.
At any rate, his place in literature
May one day be secure—

Interpolating experience and innocence
With marksmanship and common sense:
“Pigs are a good investment—nothing wasted if you do it right.

Efficiency is in the nature of swine.”
“Why else,” Monsignor would add, “would the desperate demons
Of Gerasene plead with our Lord. ‘Let’s get the hell out of here!’

You can almost hear them say. It must have been a favor,
Well, maybe not a favor; more a false mercy, for our Lord
To provide that herd, that cliff, the sea beneath.

But there’s no mercy for demons, of course. That’s a figure
Of speech is all. Literature is full of them. But Scripture
Only uses it on purpose. No levity with that sort of business.”

Literature, indeed, I nod. Napoleon and Wilbur
Might talk past each other among the cold clouds
That gather and disperse in winter configurations above our heads.

But also in the sense that fictional pigs make of life and death.
It’s all fantastic friendships for nostalgia’s sake
Or a drudging work detail

To serve as footstool for naked power—
Pink flesh and blue-white bone for them—and sometimes for us.
But Monsignor? He doesn’t even bother to say–

And he gives it no more thought
Than a man of the cloth ought to be
Expected to do:

We watch him hold the pistol like an aspergillum.
And he anoints them both—Wilbur and Napoleon—
With one shot.

Saints and skulls

From Evelyn Waugh: Portrait of a Country Neighbor by Frances Donaldson:

He entertained himself with grandiose projects in his garden. He built what became known as The Edifice – a semi-circular stone wall about ten feet in height, surmounted with battlements and with a paved area beneath it. When this was finished he advertised for human skulls to adorn the battlements. He received a surprising number of replies, which I doubt he had expected, and he had to refuse most of the offerings.

pierscourt_0008“Here’s Evelyn walking up the stairs towards his Gothic Edifice a year or two after its erection. At some point, when there were six spikes along the top of the colonnade, a visiting American asked what they were for. Waugh replied that he was planning to put skulls up there and had advertised for such in Country Life, Tablet and The Times. A deliberately obfuscating answer? It looks to me that it’s saints, or monks, or other such revered figures that Evelyn actually erected.”

— From Duncan McLaren’s wonderful Waugh website.

Jerusalem

slaughter-of-the-innocence

Happy they who…having rested in peace, stretch out their hands to Him, who must lift them up, and make them stand upright and firm in the porches of the holy Jerusalem! There pride can no longer assail them nor cast them down; and yet they weep, not to see all those perishable things swept away by the torrents, but at the remembrance of their loved country, the heavenly Jerusalem, which they remember without ceasing during their prolonged exile. – Pascal, Pensees 458

We too were Jews, we here in Bethlehem
When Herod’s men with steel and daggered eyes
Believed in everything they saw. Each hem

And tunic sleeve, red as winter sunrise,
Repeated endlessly upon the flat
And edge of sword’s empirical emprise—

Potential trickles like driblets of fat
And greasy flame reshapes dispatching arms
That thread entwined through meat and sticky guts,

And turn the muscle’s issue into worms.
We too, subjects of a place-keeping pawn,
Were chosen for this cradled land. No storms

Could lull our cries, no Babylon could croon
Our lullabies so well…. Oh, Jerusalem,
Why could no angel stop your hand again?

Not living, you survived our Bethlehem—
Our braziers warmed your hypotheticals:
We come as one and yet alone, Shalom!

We come, shalom! assuming you—who else?—
Would tell us why the star that’s out of place
Now leads us to this place where power dwells….

Our mothers—bleeding milk and motherless—
Behold the shattered flesh. These bodies, curled
As severed tongues upon the ground, confess

Such tiny holocausts, such piercing cold.

Abortion is found to have little effect on women’s mental health

“What I think is incredibly interesting is how everyone kind of evens out together at six months to a year,” said Katie Watson, a bioethicist at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, who was not involved in the study. “What this study tells us about is resilience and people making the best of their circumstances and moving on,” she said. “What’s sort of a revelation is the ordinariness of it.”

The banality of what now?

Out for a Larkin

crucifix-santa-croce-florence-italy

Walk into a Catholic church, and tell me what you see
A dead man, pierced and naked, hanging from a tree
A God you’re told to worship, though he looks like you and me
A dead man, pierced and naked, hanging from a tree
An ad that sells you sorrow, with some pain thrown in for free
A dead man, whipped and bloody, hanging from a tree
And you wonder how, with such a pitch, it ever came to be
A dead man, whipped and bloody, hanging from a tree
Since no one’s seen a dead man rise since AD 33
A dead man, sent to save us, hanging from a tree

Live-blogging the Brisket – Hour 4 & 5

Perhaps to temper the fire of my hubris with a little smoke of humility, in today’s Gospel reading (Rite of ’62) our Lord’s words were a fitting reminder of priorities, even as my Weber was attending to its business, I should be minding my own:

“Therefore I say to you, be not solicitous for your life, what you shall eat, nor for your body, what you shall put on. Is not the life more than the meat: and the body more than the raiment? Behold the birds of the air, for they neither sow, nor do they reap, nor gather into barns: and your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are not you of much more value than they?” (Matthew 6:24-26)

But then after returning home from Mass, I wondered if our Lord also considered cats in these calculations…

1

 

Alas, they seemed undeterred by maledictions and threats of malefactions, should they even be considering carnoklepty…

2

Of course, I should have trusted n the Lord (and it being a Sunday too!)…

3

Wow. Just…

wow.

Kevin Drum on Assisted Suicide

It would be unfair to call this “banging on”, but Kevin Drum of Mother Jones has written a very sad story backed up with all sorts of facts and figures, as well as charts to help marshal those facts and figures as a buttress for his argument in favor of assisted suicide.

Daniel Payne (I presume that last name is pronounced just like the word “pain”, with whatever association you’d care to make) has written a reply without as many facts or figures, let alone as much emotional punch, but with a whole lot of sound reasoning. Here’s a bolus:

It is a ghastly future in which people take their own lives to the gentle and smiling encouragement of their loved ones.
It is a ghastly future in which people take their own lives to the gentle and smiling encouragement of their loved ones who would rather just get the whole thing over with and move on.

I will pray for Drum, and you should, too. Pray his cancer disappears and he lives to be a grumpy, curmudgeonly old liberal geezer still talking nonsense about gun control and other progressive ballyhoos.

If his cancer should return, however, I pray he does not take the easier way out. I pray he gives his wife and his loved ones a final, priceless, and irreplaceable gift, a gift of himself that only he can give: the gift of needing their love, their attention, and their full and unconditional care in the twilight moments of his precious life.

Caesar

César_(13667960455)

Caesar was too old, it seems to me, to set about amusing himself with conquering the world. Such sport was good for Augustus or Alexander. They were still young men, and thus difficult to restrain. But Caesar should have been more mature.
                                                                          – Pascal, Pensees, 132

From emperor to god, distinction’s blade
Has cut me loose from earthly care and set
My star within a diadem that made

My shade regret its bloody ways (forget
The fact that I refused the crown with three
Dismissive waves). So three were keen to set

Upon me – brute ambition, envy’s glee,
And tilting pride – my own to think success
A measure tallied by eternity….

I wept at Alexander’s feats no less
Than now I laugh at what Augustus wants –
To valuate the empire’s populace

A victory subtracting weal from chance
In one decisive sweep of columned sums.
I told the pirates I’d be back to dance

Before their crucifixions; Pompey’s drums
Resolved my mettle. “Let Catullus sing
Of plows and flowers,” I said, “Caesar comes

From Gaul and India with arms to bring
About hic novus ordo.” This head
Is wizened, iron-willed, the only thing

That raises me above them all. Include
Among them, by the way, my wretched son
Who counts his greatest triumph as a god

A forced retreat of numbers back to one.

The Deserted Millwheel

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                          For Elizabeth

                I
Immaculately fixed, the millwheel stands
Before encroaching winter, taxed and spent
Dreaming in the water that puts its hands

On verging river banks, and scoured strands
Emerge, whale-like, from gathered sediment,
Immaculately fixed. The millwheel stands

To know the absences which fill the land’s
Unpeopled parks and drives. Its blades are bent
Dreaming in the water that hides its hands

From streaming prayer where rainbow trout remands
The seal of God’s alluvial event
Immaculately. Fixed, the millwheel stands

By every creaking turn that time commands:
It’s dealt in grain and sand with hushed lament.
Dreaming in the water that folds their hands,

The dead will weigh by scales these shifting sands
That silence rotten timber’s testament:
Immaculately fixed, the millwheel stands,
Dreaming in the water that frees its hands.

                II
Upon this rough and tumble, water’s slough,
That threads through broken teeth, the queered
And broken planks resist what’s false and true
Of limb – accomplishing a circle squared
To what its body takes in and all that give
It out. A breeze alone could bring it down,
But will its peace of soul yet hold its own?
Its augured piles are foot-sure to survive
The play of coon and possum, each a prince
Within its thatch of hair, their residence.
Through millstone heart, the hurried currents crest
And curl around each swollen knee and joist.
Immaculately fixed, the millwheel stands
Dreaming in the water that was its hands.

Liberalism, as the recent attacks on La Ville Lumière have shown, cannot provide the basis for a sustainable society.

800px-Jacques-Louis_David_-_Marat_assassinated_-_Google_Art_Project

By liberalism, I do not mean Democrats versus Republicans, or the ideology of invite the world versus that of bomb the world. I mean all of it together.

Desire and Deceit

girard

For Rene Girard, 1923-2015

Not again, the old men with beautiful manners.
– Ezra Pound

The old men of our age are young against
The violent, suffering such sacred cries…
We live as if the times were free and cleansed
Of envy, but we know from these
Embarking ferries what cruel death would say:
The fire rises every dawn to mystery –
Familiar as desire, lost as memory.
So truth is night that verges every day
Which hates itself, yet knows itself as day.

We try to capture every moment’s breath
With flesh, but lose the soul of argument
Because the body knows that only death
Provides the wound – unless the sentiment
Of beauty heals the foreign element –
The other – those – the sin that takes the step
In which we place the body deep, deep, deep…
I wish that nothing were the case – but take
It life will some day give what death will take

And knew no French but heard you anyway
By age and time. By youth and wonder’s books
I sat and heard you lecture, heard you say
That creatures live and imitation speaks
The grammar grace’s tender mercy brooks
Between the prepositions of and in.
I loved a woman of the world – taboo
And token sin – and urge and instinct knew
That beauty suffered what my conscience knew.

Remember, man, that dust remembers man –
Recalls the day angelic beasts renewed
Our call to human living. Manners can
Propose a mystery: the stage construed
With shadows, fictions made with words and breath;
But understand by holocaust of faith
That noon escapes, confirmed by midnight’s dark,
And night corrals the stars, each a splintered spark,
You ancient man, that hates and loves the dark.

The Last Leaf…

DSC_0264


The following is a longer version of a story which appears in the last issue of The Catholic Times, newspaper of the Diocese of La Crosse, before it ceased publication with the Oct. 29, 2015 issue.

Fostering the Truth and the Word in the truth of words: A look back at The Catholic Times

The towering oak and maple trees outside my window have been all but stripped bare; a leaden sky hangs low over La Crosse this early evening as it rains intermittently with gusts of cold wind turning the landscape into a cold muddy smudge.

If the recent mild weather in the Diocese of La Crosse was Wisconsin summer’s last resistance, today’s weather is an indication that Wisconsin autumn is most certainly here to stay…

At least for a while.

As I look out the window at the skeletal branches dripping with cold rain, I think about all my hours as a staff writer writing up the stories of the people and places of the diocese; I also think of all the miles of travel I’ve undertaken through the rich variety and dynamic faith of the 19 counties which make up the Diocese of La Crosse.

Then I watch another leaf from one of the oak trees as it is plucked by the wind and falls to the ground.

Yes, the leaf reminds me, given that this issue is the very last issue of the Catholic Times, today is an appropriate day to look back on the paper I’ve been honored to serve as writer, sometime editor, and correspondent for these last 15 years or so.

As hard as it is for me (and I imagine many readers) to acknowledge, this Oct. 29, 2015 issue of The Catholic Times represents the last “leaf” of the newspaper tradition in the Diocese of La Crosse, a tradition that began more than 80 years ago as the La Crosse Register began to serve the diocese. It was part of what was then known as the Register System of Newspapers headquartered in Denver.

Because the Denver publication owned its own printing press, it started a national issue of its paper in 1927 which we now know as the National Catholic Register (NCR).

According to a Jan. 19, 2011, NCR story on the purchase of the NCR by EWTN, the Denver paper also produced issues for a variety of dioceses around the country, including the La Crosse Register for our own diocese. Nationwide, the Register system peaked at more than 700,000 households in the 1950s across 35 diocesan editions and the national edition.

In the late 50s, the La Crosse Register became the Times Review – a name it kept until 2002 when it took on its current and final manifestation as The Catholic Times. Somewhat unique among Catholic papers in Wisconsin, The Catholic Times has prided itself on its independence – the Milwaukee, Madison and Superior dioceses all publish their paper under the Herald name, to reflect the publishing partnership of the three dioceses – while the Green Bay Compass also publishes as an independent entity.

I’ll leave it to others to explain the changing demographics and habits of consumption of the reading public (or whether a viable reading public even still exists!). Our beloved paper today holds its own at 29,000 (larger than many secular papers, dailies included) – and, if praise from within and outside the diocese is any indication, I’d like to think I speak for the newspaper’s entire team when I say that, as we put this last issue to bed, The Catholic Times is going out on top.

As press time nears for the Oct. 29 issue of The Catholic Times, the busy clicking of computer keys falls silent; the lively buzz of the Catholic Times newsroom dies away for a final time; the ringing phones and computer chimes which serve to alert the staff to incoming emails from sources, other news outlets and our readers ceases too. I’ll miss these signs of life – and I’ll also miss my readers.

Eighty years of black and white read all over will be filed away for good – along with the hundreds of thousands of stories that the diocese has delivered to the Catholic faithful to bolster their faith, inform their minds and consciences, while at the same time touching their hearts with the human tragedy and uplifting their spirits with the human comedy.

It is a bittersweet time for this newsman – and yet, I take solace in knowing I’ve executed my duties with aplomb and due diligence, faithful and obedient to the Magisterium of the Church which Jesus Christ our Savior founded, and in full confidence that Christ remains king of hearts, minds, countries and the universe…

In my office here at the Holy Crosse Diocesan Center, tacked to the bulletin board above my desk is a collection of handy phone numbers, schedules, calendars and dates to remember. I also have hanging there in large 26 point old timey typewriter font a copy of Peter Maurin’s “Easy Essays.” A founding member of the Catholic Worker and journalist, Maurin is best known for his work with Dorothy Day in establishing a Catholic alternative to the communist and socialist secular materialism which plagued (and to a large extent still plagues) the modern world.

Maurin’s “Easy Essays” were a series of free-verse poems which Maurin penned as a way to effectively cut to the chase when it came to providing the reader a concise analysis of the day’s issues from a Catholic standpoint. As Dorothy Day herself once said, “Peter [Maurin] was a revelation to me.”  So too the essay “Prostitution of the Press” was an epiphany for this freshman journalist. It is a sharp and concise definition of the need for and ideals of the Catholic press, one which served me well as a sort of verbal “vade mecum” in my travels around the diocese.

I’ve had an excellent formation as a Catholic journalist from the editors I’ve served, including Thomas Szyszkiewicz, Dan Rossini, Stan Gould and Denis Downey, and the tremendous models for journalism I found in the many writers I had the privilege to work with, especially former senior writer Patrick Slattery, and former staff writers Justin Dziowgo and Franz Klein.

No reporter is greater than the folks who make sure the paper gets to press in a timely and well-designed way and so I would also like to mention Paul Rupert, Jean James and Danelle Bjornson, the three production designers I’ve worked with here at the paper, and their excellent visual translation of the stories I’ve sought to bring to the households and parishes of the diocese. I reserve special mention, too, for Pam Willer, a 30+ year veteran of Catholic pressroom management who as much as anyone had kept the paper a dynamic and effective vehicle of catechesis from one news cycle to the next.

I can think of no better way to salute these folks as I end my time here as a Catholic Times reporter than by typing out Maurin’s essay in full:

The Prostitution of the Press

Modern newspapermen
try to give people
what they want.
Newspapermen
ought to give people
what they need.
To give people
what they want
but should not have
is to pander.
To give people
what they need.
or in other terms,
to make them want
what they ought to want,
is to foster.
To pander
to the bad in men
is to make men
inhuman to men.
To foster the good in men
is to make men
human to men
.

It is my hope that for these past 16 years I have done my best, from byline to dateline, lede to clincher, first word and last, to uphold Maurin’s ideal.

A special thanks to you, too, dear readers. As your man in the field, I am grateful and honored to be able to help foster the Good News of Christ as a regular part of your news cycle.

Thank you and God be with you!

Save the date

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John Barleycorn in Rags

john barleycorn

He is John, man in ragged overcoat
Long to withered knees
Manbeard made of clipped leaves and twigs

Man with face of rough bark
John who walks Saturday-night stupor
Through sibilant rings

Of maple, elm and linden leaves,
Swiftly satyr-dancing
Into crackling flower of fire

In peripatetic permutations, cough
Of dry staccato vespers, leaf to stone,
Each skeletal ballet whispers

He who is barrowed by mottled stile,
Stilled and waked in copper kettle,
Kegged and bunged for cooling cellar

In hoarse tones violent riots of autumn
Become seasonal rites trans-
Corporeal, quiet in slow burn

He is John of the demijohn
Bottle god of good folk,
Fanatic familiar of flagon, flask and firkin

His limber limbs are all consumed,
Sap-drunk as wasp and hornet
Dry and empty as cracked bobbin,

His spirit tumbles leaves down empty lanes
And empty well; he is spirit in wind,
He makes spirits from color, heat and motion

He is tall shoots and thick roots,
A shock of fruited stalks between
Breaks from his loamy scalp.

His anatomy taps boot heels,
Claps coarse palms. He, mate of dance,
Husband of hilarity, spouse of song.

Brittle brown leaves, fallen angels
Dancing down cold swift winds
Hymns that scrape, swirl and click

And always he must come along,
Always feed fire’s fermenting flower –
He empties nectar from his eye

He is John, and John must die.

The Profit

swift justice

When children kill we wring our hands and cry –
“The kingdom’s here and now and Christ is not
The crucified!” Confused, we butterfly
Our judgment, dissect humanity, gut
The soul and pick apart the truth. We love
Our sins so much we give them tongue to speak….
So heaven’s here and cold as stone above –
While hell’s beneath us. Spatchcock
The conscience, too, o modern primitive!
The temple’s vatic whisper will indict
Though pills become our lusty palliative
And love of death becomes our civil right.
We pay our tongues to serve the talk of peace –
We kill our kids so they can take our place.

One Short Poem about Two Lions of 20th Century English Literature

A Lark
That was a quite a conquest,
the poor author of that aubade
about waking in the dark,
believing he’d go to prison.
And did not. That’s not so bad.

Meanwhile, other symbols get baptized…

hammer-and-sickle-crucifix-3

I guess because they just get better with age…