For John, With Gratitude


In the runup to Percy, I failed to post this. My friend John Jones died on October 10 of last year. He was editorial director at Crossroad. He offered to publish Book Two – after extensive revisions and retitling as The Communion of Sinners – and I almost accepted. Over the years, we were forever pitching each other about possible projects. Nothing ever came of it except our friendship. I was fortunate enough to visit him a few days before he died. He was pretty heavily drugged, and barely able to speak – most of his tongue had been removed in the effort to combat the cancer that took him. But I was glad to see him. While there, I wrote him a poem.

Of course the devil grabbed your tongue
you fool, you wagged it oft enough,
and let it drip with scorn for rough-
made words that chapped and stung
the chilly soul, to nudge it toward despair;
preferring gentle speech that played
like sunlight ‘cross your cell, strayed
to laughter, and singed the devil’s hair.
Of course your flesh is wasting now
you monk, so rarely you indulged it.
(Or if you did, so rarely you divulged it.)
Eschewing fatted calf for sacred cow,
retreating from your matter into mind
‘til now your Brother Ass begins to buck
against its weightless load, no truck
‘twixt soul and what gets left behind
for now. And now of course you walk the path
that all men walk, but I still fear to tread,
believing more than I the rising from the dead
and God whose love has vanquished all his wrath.
Your flickering tongue, your flashing eye
Your bearded wit and naked grin
Your boyish faith that love will win
These will endure, and only death will die.
– October 3, 2012


  1. Jonathan Webb says

    Thanks Matthew.

  2. Matthew,

    Clearly, whether you know or not, Auden haunts your blood, your mind, your soul…

    This is one of the best things I’ve seen come from your inkwell.

    Yes, for to have more of this please.


    p.s. If you post the poem under “text” instead of “visual” you can avoid the double-spacing – if you in fact wish to.

    • Matthew Lickona says

      Thanks, and thanks. Means the world.

      • One more note – if you split the thing into quatrains, you will more pefectly be invoking Tennyson’s In Memoriam – if, again I say, you in fact wish to:

        Strong Son of God, immortal Love,
        Whom we, that have not seen thy face,
        By faith, and faith alone, embrace,
        Believing where we cannot prove;

        Thine are these orbs of light and shade;
        Thou madest Life in man and brute;
        Thou madest Death; and lo, thy foot
        Is on the skull which thou hast made.

        Thou wilt not leave us in the dust:
        Thou madest man, he knows not why,
        He thinks he was not made to die;
        And thou hast made him: thou art just.


        • Matthew Lickona says

          Do you think it would still be okay to do so in light of the way some of my quatrains have sentences that spill from one to the other?

  3. Jonathan Potter says

    Beautiful, Matthew. What a fine send-off. Well done.

  4. This is beautiful. I recognize his face from academic meetings, but never met him, except through this poem.

    BTW, The Communion of Sinners is a fantastic title begging a book. Ahem.

  5. Quin Finnegan says

    Great poem, Matthew. Even more maybe—great testimony to your friendship. Thank you.

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