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A Book Report on Vietnam

In the car, unlikely vehicle for time travel,
my daughter at twelve hands me the hanger
on which is poised her mobile -- symbols
for the book she’s read on Vietnam.
I try not to tangle the yarns twisting
around purse and steering wheel.

Later I remember my generation at twenty,
the war that wrenched us, bookish and naive,
from the piano music of college parlors into
protests on the streets. Yanked from poetry to
politics, we learned to be less polite, to stand
firm, to write an editorial and prepare for jail.

The symbols we would hang on mobiles would be
body bags, a child running from napalm
that seared her skin. The terrible price tag of
too many funerals, friends widowed at nineteen.
The long wall, finally, a black slice in earth,
etched names whispering a crescendo of stories.

Old yarns in a web of memory. To her,
another assignment; to me, the evocation of
long-buried names, a pool of sadness rimmed
with Baez song. Adrienne Rich was right:
a mother gives her daughter rifts in time
but a daughter can also create a cleft.

--Kathy Coffey

Uncounted miles long
is the gray wall of yearning
and the rain slips down.
--Marian H. Simpson
Glendale, Calif.

Fr. Al Fritsch

drawing by -- Pat Marrin
The Eagle in His Element

In the diffuse light of early dawn,
Before the breeze sculpted ripples on the lake,
The canoe drifted into a shallow cove.
Two women absorbed the quiet,
And gave back the silence to its element.
Beneath the craft, a catfish steadied against the current --
No need to dart as we had neither line nor net.
Mesmerized, we watched the water lap the rocks;
Listened to the splash of fish or frog,
Became encircled in their widening rings.
Then a different sound jarred this inertia:
The rush of air,
The powerful dip and soar of wings.
Three eagles lighting on a barren limb;
Adrenaline flowed;
Awestruck we watched and inched closer.
Two allowed us only so much closeness;
But one remained
As though to invite us to his ken.
And just when we thought
His lingering was the blessing,
He plucked a feather
From his breast
And dropped it to the water.
Now we paddled with purpose;
No further need to be discreet
As we splashed toward the floating feather.
He watched us all the while
Till the fight was safely ours
Before he joined the wind.

--Judy Bromberg
Kansas City, Mo.

Palsied Priest
It was false even before the first caress
But how he strove to make it true,
Talking less and less to suppress
The lie that somehow grew and grew,
As he hid each new distress
Behind a mask of suave finesse.
Ordained he was and doomed to do those decent things;
Lost weekends in a darkened box, hearing the hapless
Speak of the squelch and slop of soggy sex, and flings,
The garbled groans of slobbered lust, the guess
Of Grace beneath the blessed hands that bring
Such solace to those whose sins so strongly sting.
Weekdays dawned to see their sacred mascot at the ready,
Drinking tepid teas and praising homemade bread.
How quick he was to know his place, the steady
Pace of piety, psalming chants unto their Godhead
To remove His silence from his flock and remedy
their stumbling, dreadful doubts with sweet serenity.
How odd of God to use his ruse
To make Him known among his people.
Silent, sullied and at bay, confused
Atop his tiny steeple,
He frets and bleats and stoops among the pews:
So many damnably decent things to choose!

--Bob Griffin
Pasadena, Calif.

No safety nets lie
under this tightrope.
If we stumble
the air holds us.
We can misstep
but not fall -- not unless
we reject the air
around us,
the God who is all.

The acrobat
doesn’t struggle
but relaxes,
lets her toes
sense the path
along the wire.
Her body braces
in the wind,
taut but flexible.

That lizard
with the spiked tail,
that lizard that bites
and won’t let go.
Surrender to its message.

The desert dries everything
but evening cools
as we crawl along
and cardinals
occasionally fly
into our paths.

--Stella Nesanovich
Lake Charles, La.

National Catholic Reporter, January 22, 1999