e-mail us



As children we grew numb with boredom
paralysis starting in the knees
Some would crumple in the airless vault
incense smothering the oxygen.
They were carted off quickly
no splintering the ranks.

What snagged us was the supple
bend of wings: gloria in excelsis,
“perpetual light shine upon them.”
Oh those words wore gold sashes,
swept in brocade down ballroom stairs.
As children we drank unwatered wine.

At nine, card-carrying members of mystery:
the mystical body. The communion of saints.
A larger scope than sixty-eight pounds and
droopy socks. No patronizing: we played a part
in world geography, heard a trumpet voluntary,
“The Lord be with you.” We started at the top.

-- Kathy Coffey

Unkept Promises

“I have more understanding than all my teachers”
-- Psalm 118:99
Promises were made:
You would be my wisdom,

a lamp to my feet,
a light for my path.

I would have more understanding
than all my teachers

Then why do you use
clicks for words,

speak opaque wisdom
like the ancient Hebrews,

writing backwards,
using only consonants?

Why do I see only
your backside -- in the dark?

You cut deep.
To staunch the flow

of blood you hand me
a styptic pencil.

You break me.
Like Van Gogh I need

twenty-four self-portraits
to remember who I am.

You sprinkle clods
of earth on my casket

with that thud of finality.
But to whom shall I go?

You have the words
of everlasting life.

-- Fr. Kilian McDonnell, OSB
Collegeville, Minn.

View from the Cell

This wall of the county jail faces
East, like the altar where once the boy
he was served Sundays, ceremonially dressed
in cassock and cotta. Vested now in jail-
Issue jumpsuit, Day-Glo orange, he waits
The serving without ceremony of the morning’s
Meal, one of the daily two, the welcome
Mug of coffee. From the east, the sun
Through bars casts chessboard patterns
On the floor, where he is always in check.
The window has no sill; if he leans
To see sun in the patch of tulips
At the corner of prison yard, he will
Catch them in bloom, like crystal chalices
Holding red wine. Watching still in his
Solitary self-pity that is at times repentance,
he is thinking, proudly: that the tulips
They let him garden, have been gardened well.

-- Nancy Westerfield
Kearney, Neb.

Grammar School

Where I work everyone
brags about his education.
We have Harvard
and Yale
(no Princeton)
and four of the Seven Sisters.

And they talk about commas.
A lot.
Serial commas
and should there be a comma
at the end of the series.
The V.P. is For,
The Director Against.
Finally I make a rule:
No talking about commas
within fifteen feet of my desk.
(This rule is ignored -- but I’m just
the graphic designer.)

One day I design an ad.
I write the copy myself.
“Nice apostrophes,” says the V.P.
(He’s not kidding.)
“They’re only Pratt Institute apostrophes,”
I say humbly.
He doesn’t hear me.

But they’re not really East Coast at all.
My apostrophes are from
Saint James Grammar School
in Arlington Heights, Illinois.

-- Felicity Frisbie
Brooklyn, N.Y.

2002 in Poetry

2001 in Poetry

2000 in Poetry

1999 in Poetry

Poems should be previously unpublished and limited to about 50 lines and preferably typed. Please send poems to NCR POETRY, 115 E. Armour Blvd., Kansas City MO 64111-1203. Or via e-mail to poetry@natcath.org or fax (816) 968-2280. Please include your street address, city, state, zip and daytime telephone number. NCR offers a small payment for poems we publish, so please include your Social Security number.

National Catholic Reporter, February 8, 2002