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Poems by Fr. Kilian McDonnell, OSB
Collegeville, Minn.

St. John’s Monks File in to Prayer

In we shuffle, hooded amplitudes,
scapulared brooms, a stray earring, skinheads
and flowing locks, blind in one eye,
hook-nosed, handsome as a prince
(and knows it), a five-thumbed organist,
an acolyte who sings in quarter tones,
one slightly swollen keeper of the bees,
the carpenter minus a finger here and there,
our pre-senile writing deathless verse,
a stranded sailor, a Cassian scholar,
an artist suffering the visually
illiterate and indignities unnamed,
two determined liturgists. In a word,
eager purity and weary virtue.
Last of all, the Lord Abbot, early old
(shepherding the saints is like herding cats).
These chariots and steeds of Israel
make a black progress into church.
A rumble of monks bow low and offer praise
to the High God of gods who is faithful forever.

The Day the Fire Fell
We heard a mighty wind, heaven’s rush,
the day the fire fell and Spirit flames
set Jerusalem ablaze. Though the sun was young
all flesh had drunk its fill and new wine’s blush
made daughters prophesy, the sons to see
great visions, and old men dream long dreams,
scullery maids predict the glories of
the Lord; and the lame from birth stood, no, ran free,
walking and leaping and praising God, dazed
with joy, and noises rang through temple courts.
Wonder and amazement ran with him,
for those who gave alms to that twisted man gazed
on one untwisted, an echo of Easter today.
In the city the Instinct of God dropped like a torch
on thin reeds; provincial virgins,
jocks and hulks, the unsleeping devout, gray
grammarians, gladiatorial
dandies, bar flies, a father of four, a boy
from the land, a sanctuary louse, spilled
erasable faces, vendors,
nervy priests with fingers on a text.
God’s elected few, beyond denial,
sold all and gave to the poor as their due.
One Lord, one mind, one purse, one bread they broke
and were daily together in temple, table, praise.
How does one keep this new wine new?

The Papal Mass in St Peter’s
The organ thundered glory, two grand
choirs, loud and celibate, sang
triumph; monsignors in two-toned fuchsia,
purple bishops, and from every land
red cardinals (“My kingdom is not of this world”)
with budgeted steps pilgrim down the aisle,
and, last of all, the old crippled saint
in white, dragging his cross; with joy
hurled at the golden vaults as the pushy plebs rush
the balustrade: rapt Italian nuns
with pointed elbows; Jews for Jesus hold
high their rosaries above the crush;
Coptic crowns and Greek veils; in black
mantillas, ladies from Spain; adoring Poles;
a pastor from the Bronx; Scots in kilts,
Saoan hulks in skirts; holding back
focused twins of four, a desperate matron
from anywhere; five British youths
in Sunday grunge; a slight kimonoed girl
from Tokyo and friend from north of Dayton.

A storm of tongues and tribes, but one alliance,
who see beneath brocaded genuflections
and silken bows the simple mysteries
of the breaking of the bread; beyond all defiance
we have come to praise no academic Lord,
no abstract Savior, but to sing His death and rising
which we share with the relentless man in white,
communion in the godly Blood outpoured.

National Catholic Reporter, April 2, 1999