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Reading the Ellipses
Merton’s Journal: Volume Six

“Deletions are duly noted in the text with …” -- Editor’s Note

Three dots can duly hold a heartbreak,
sag softly like a woven basket,
Or outline a triangle, diagram the plot:
“monk in love,” anxious abbot,
and a girl, the journal’s young ghost,
the story’s white silence, blank margin.

Ellipsis a trapeze strung taut
between the love, the vow,
Merton, absurd acrobat, balancing
“the poor sweet kid,” the waif,
and the leering boyscout gallery;
“They can’t even imagine all the joy that was in it.”

Compass points too neatly aligned to question:
was the affair a theft or a blessing, elegy or aubade?
Vertically, three drops plumb
a core that words would only wash,
plunge into the hold, the inner desert,
the terrible aloneness of Christ.

Punctuation splinters like a beam between
the wave-break of Merton’s yearning, his solid stance.
Three pinpricks x-ray the fracture,
staccato the cramp in time, hang the thin victory flag,
score the unsung hymn: If love outlasts legalism,
then we win.

-- Kathy Coffey

The Tavern Across the Street

The story goes that the new priest
in the cow country town
got tired of the men hanging out
at the bar across the street from
church while he prayed Sunday Mass
for the wives and kids.

One Sunday in procession around the people in the pews
he urged the altar boys to continue out the door,
and cross the street into the tavern
where in cassocks, surplices, liturgical regalia,
they weaved among the tables and stools,
the priest waving the aspergill
sprinkling holy water like rain,
onto heads, hats, shot glasses and beer bottles,
then out the door back to church
to begin the Mass

The next Sunday the men attended Mass
with the wives and kids.

us as priests going into the corporations,
TV studios, schools, supermarkets, Wall Street,
sprinkling no nonsense truth
laced with clear-eyed love,
inviting all to do God’s will here and now,
like it’s done in heaven,
and to make damn sure
that every one of God’s children
has bread every day
and the nations held down
by grinding, never-ending debt are freed,
and we let this planet live and breathe again.

-- Tom Keene
San Antonio

Augustine’s Thirst

I toast you a cup
of ache and of savor
back through memories
that tumble
from hunger and thirst.

I toast you
the green tea of springtime
touched with honey
and promise.
Hold me to life
in the blooming
of broken earth.

I toast you
the fruit juice of summer
splashes of peaches and mangos
and plums
running down and over
with weighted fullness
of who I am.

I toast you
the effervescent Cola,
cold and iced
and daily,
the lift of mingled freshness in fall
that bites the fuzz
of missed awarenesses.

I toast you
the warm winter sippings of brandy,
the fireplace restings
of shaking cold
from bones
of frozen heart.

Is it the season of my knowing
that restless hearts
embrace their God?

-- Mary Lou Bennett
Kirkwood, Mo.

Lost Profession Cross

Over the years it
into my life
like food I eat
like pills I swallow
what I am.

Over the years
some ancient mystic growth
sprung up in me

I shall die of it.

-- Sr. Magdalen Schimanski, CSJ
St. Paul. Minn.

2001 in Poetry

2000 in Poetry

1999 in Poetry

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National Catholic Reporter, May 25, 2001