Saturday, February 15, 2014


Poem For Today  - February 15,  2014


Row after row

Corn leaves broke their spines
On my shoulders.

I leaned by life
Against harness

I drew it through
Fields, down trails,
In timbered darkness.

The corn leaves

Then turned brown.
I dragged the logs away

On washed-out roads, 
And I became afraid.
I tried the ground for failure
With my feet.
I did not trust
The very earth
Which kept me from falling.

I found no treachery,

No pitfall; just sun, time,
Dust, and at last the night.

© Boynton Merrill, Jr.

Question: It behooves each of us to write our autobiography, "the story of a life" as Harry Chapin puts it in his song with that title - or as Mary Oliver puts it in her poem, The Summer Day, "What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life." Sometimes we might have felt we were a mule or an ass - a swan or an eagle. So what is, what was, our plan for our one life?  Is John 10:10 our gospel text?

Friday, February 14, 2014



The title of my homily for this 5th Friday in Ordinary Time is, “Ephphatha.”

It’s a word that appears in today’s gospel from Mark 7: 31-37.    

I’ve noticed in books and articles on preaching that it’s not a smart move to use Greek words when preaching.

I disagree with that rule - even though I know people might say, “It’s Greek to me.”

Many times when I’m looking at the readings for the Mass to help me come up with a homily, I look at the Greek when it comes to the New Testament readings - simply because the New Testament is written in Greek. We  had 4 years of Greek in the seminary - and when I read the Greek text and look at word studies - at times I get opened up to a new insight.

Anyone can do this - with the rich resources on line - looking at both the Hebrew text for the Jewish scriptures and the Greek for the New Testament.


Having said that about Greek and Hebrew, interestingly - as you know - Jesus spoke Aramaic - and so that’s going back two steps from the English version of the Gospel that we get here in church.

From time to time - like today - we get an Aramaic word - “Ephphatha.” It is translated in our text into Greek with the word, “Dianoigtheti’ - and one English translation is, “Be Opened.”

So the Aramaic word or phrase that we heard is: “Ephphatha.” I break it up this way: Eph pha  tha.


For a homily thought - is there any meeting hall in any church in our whole world - that is called the “Ephphatha Hall”?

Wouldn’t today’s gospel reading from Mark  be a great reading for every meeting - for every Parish Council, School Boards, Staff Meetings, what have you - and then all pray that all be opened.

And notice in the gospel the man who is healed needs healing of his ability to listen and his ability to speak.

Ears and tongue …. don’t we all need healing of both?

We are very aware of people we have met through the years who have were born with a  hearing problem - and sometimes because of that - they pronounce words in a way that others find difficult to decipher or grasp.

So this man is healed of both by Jesus. May we all.

Next we are aware of husbands and wives, priests and parishioners, who have no trouble with the pronunciation of words - but they have problems listening - listening - listening.

So that’s why I think this gospel is a great gospel for meetings - and a great name for a meeting place - and a great chance for prayer.


The psalm for today - Psalm 81 - has God speaking - and pleading - that we hear his voice. It has God saying something we have all said about others, “If only my people would hear me.”

“If only my kids would listen to me…. If only my wife would hear me …. If only my husband would listen …. If only so and so would shut up and clean out his ears….”

But listening and speaking - communication problems - continue - and the result is division.

That’s the whole theme of today’s first reading. We are tribal. We are after our turf - our viewpoint - and as a result - we spilt apart over and over and over again.[Cf. 1 Kings 11: 29-32; 12:19]

Ephphatha! Be opened!


Painting on top: Deaf and Dumb Man Cured, by Ian Pollock, EICH Gallefy

Painting near End: Christ Heals the Deaf Mute at the Decapolis, Bartholomeus Breenbergh, 1635.


February 14, 2014 - Poem for Today

This Old Barn

Imagine if this old barn could speak
and tell us all it knows
of heat, and snow and great winds
 that did blow
The creatures that were boarded here,
they lived, they ate, they slept
The mares that birthed their foals,
the lambs that played and lept
The folks that bedded in the straw
as they were passing by this way
thankful for the gift of rest,
wool blankets on the straw they lay
The lovers that crept inside the shadows  
to share a stolen kiss,
a small indiscretion, 
what could be the harm
History in the making, 
generations come and gone
While farmers work from dawn to dark,
the days are very long
This old barn has seen it all
 through decades of seasons fare
It's secrets are safe inside, no one asks
 and no one cares
The roof sags, the doors hang,
the windows are all gone
If someone doesn't love it soon
this old barn will be gone.

© Victoria Feathers


Look around your house. Stop at any chair or couch or room - table, bed, or door - and then apply the message of this poem to that chair or couch or room - table, bed or door. Memories. Stories. The people of our lives. What spot - what object - in your spaces - has the most energy? Joys or sorrows: the stuff of prayer - the stuff of voices from the past -the stories of a life.

Thursday, February 13, 2014


February 13, 2014 - A Poem for Today


Small birds are frozen in the river:
Huddled in inadequate feathers 
              they are scattered upon the ice.
Unable to fly further against descending cold
They came down to rest upon the water.
Dark forces trapped both birds 
              and river in the night.
The frozen river is as helpless as they are.
You, who have wings, why should you perish?
Who seizes the pattern knows the reason.

© Mary Kennedy



The title of my homily for this 5th Wednesday in Ordinary Time is, “The Invisible Is Real!”


How many times have we had the thought: “Hey there’s something going on around here and I don’t know what it is”?

How many times have we sat on an empty porch overlooking the ocean - or the back yard - all by ourselves - and we knew there was a God - and no words are spoken.


There are about 500 of us here in this church right now.

No one knows what any one of us here is thinking right now - what anyone here is talking to themselves about right now - but all of us here are thinking and talking to ourselves right now.


We can guess. We do guess. Some of us are better than others in reading body language - but sometimes what looks like chicken salad is really tuna salad.

Okay, some of us might be sleeping - but as you know the brain is working even when we are sleeping

What those dreams and words and thoughts are - they are invisible - inaudible.


Someone - after a Mass was over - once told me something they were thinking during a homily I was giving. Something I said triggered in them something Father Pat Lynch had said in a homily.  Pat took two of his fingers and walked them along the edge of the pulpit - saying, “Nobody ever saw a motive walking down the street.”

I don’t remember what I preached that day - but I’ve always remembered what that person said that day about motives from Father Pat Lynch. I thank that person for remember what Pat said. I’ve  used that idea or that example many times down through the years. It’s simple: just let your fingers do the walking.

Motives are invisible.

Motive …. motives …. sometimes we know our motives - sometimes we don’t.  I hold that most of the time we don’t.

Moreover, our motives change as we change.

For example: Why our parents had us - that reason is invisible. At first they might have wanted to have a family. Then at some point - our mom became pregnant. Things change - big time - at pregnancy time. Some of us were surprises - some of us were planned - some of us were really wanted.

Then the  reason why they had us changed a bit when they saw us for the first time. Specifics…. Particulars …. Seeing…. All make a difference.

The visible affects and effects the invisible.

Yet the reasons are invisible. 

Ok, reasons and motives  can be stated. They can be attempts to make audible and visible by words what's going on inside. Then when they heard us say our first word or saw us take our first steps - new reasons why they had us appear on their screen.

Still ….  Much of life is unconscious. Invisible.... The reason they had us keeps changing. Reasons remain invisible.

Then when they saw us dancing or singing or running up and down steps in a batman suit with a cape - or saw us go to Pre-K - then they discovered new reasons why they brought us into the world - and then these reasons change - develop -  again - and again - and again - and again.

The reasons are real  - but they are invisible.

The reasons change again when we graduate or get great marks or make a great shot in basketball or we are on stage.

I'm trying to remain positive here. Of course, the negative - impacts motives and reasons as well. 

But let me stick with the positive....

I’ve seen parents and grandparents in these benches here at St. Mary’s for baptisms and weddings. As they sit here watching a couple get married they cry and say, “It was all worth it.”  Then see grandkids baptized and more reasons appear why they had us and why they worked to make life the best for us.

The title of my homily is: “The Invisible Is Real!”

What I’m saying in various ways is: The invisible keeps changing.

Which is more important: the visible or the invisible? 

No contest!


Today’s first reading from 1 Kings  10: 1-10 - tells the story of the Queen of Sheba.  This one story of this woman has kept her memory alive for some 2900 years now.

Her name appears in Ethiopian legends.... And many a parent in my time said to a daughter, “Who do you think you are: the Queen of Sheba?”

She hears about Solomon - so as the story goes, she travels a long distance to see Solomon.

Notice  - when she gets there - she sees signs of his wisdom and she sees all kinds of signs of his visible wealth.

Which overwhelms her the most: wisdom or wealth?

She seems to be impressed with spices and camels, gold and where people are seated.

She seems to be impressed with Solomon's vast palace, the great meals, the classy servants.

She hears his wisdom.

We’ve all been in small houses and big houses. Then there are the homes that can overwhelm us.

I’m sure if we walked into Lebron James' house and saw the rooms and the pool and the pool table and the stuff - I would go wow.

I know I've said that when I saw him play basketball.

I think there are house tours here in Annapolis.  I know there are lectures here at Annapolis.

Which would impress us more: wealth or wisdom?

In today’s gospel - Mark 7: 14-23 -  Jesus continues to challenge the Scribes and the Pharisees. They are off on visible rules and regulations. You can eat this food and you can’t eat that food. You have to wash your hands. You have to follow the traditions.

Jesus moves right into the issue of the invisible. There are things we eat and there are things that eat us.

He says it’s not the stuff from the outside. That stuff goes down the drain. The stuff that drain us are: “evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly.”

They are all invisible.

They are the possible poisons of the heart. Ugh.

That’s the stuff Jesus wants us to make visible - in our heart and in our mind - so as to work against them dominating our lives and our desires.


The title of my homily is, “The Invisible Is Real!”

God is invisible. 

Of course we picture God - and deepest law is to avoid idolatry - in all its forms.

As Christians we believe this invisible God became visible in a baby - Christ.

Now that's a difficult act of faith to make! No wonder some crucified this Word Made Flesh Who Dwelt Amongst Us.

Nobody knows the stuff of the human heart  - but ourselves sometimes and - with faith - we believe that Jesus wanders and probes around in the human heart - with a two edged sword as we hear in Hebrews 4:12-13 - and we and our motives can be uncovered and challenged as we are called to make an account of of ourselves.

Call out to Christ. Check things out with him. Grow and Know with Him. Amen.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014


February 12, 2014 - Poem for Today

An old life

Snow fell in the night.
At five-fifteen I woke to a bluish
mounded softness where
the Honda was. Cat fed and coffee made,
I broomed snow off the car
and drove to the Kearsarge Mini-Mart
before Amy opened
to yank my Globe out of the bundle.
Back, I set my cup of coffee
beside Jane, still half-asleep,
murmuring stuporous
thanks in the aquamarine morning.
Then I sat in my blue chair
with blueberry bagels and strong
black coffee reading news,
the obits, the comics, and the sports.
Carrying my cup twenty feet,
I sat myself at the desk
for this day's lifelong
engagement with the one task and desire.

©  Donald Hall

Tuesday, February 11, 2014



The title of my homily for this 5th Tuesday in Ordinary Time is, “Putting Your Heart Into It.”

I like to look at and be reminded of the issue of being real and not mechanical - or robotic - when it comes to living life - and living it to the full. 

It’s difficult to do this.

The first couple of years of marriage or on the job - yes - but after that - difficult.

Yet we can get through a lot when we put things on automatic pilot.

However, as a result we can miss each other like ships or planes passing each other in the night.

I see Christ right here in the middle of this issue of functionalism vs. personalism.

When talking about Christ and Eucharist we use two phrases at times: real presence and holy communion.

How about applying those 2  terms - not only how we are with Christ in communion - but how we are in Christ with each other in reality. Now that’s a very difficult transubstantiation.


Today’s readings trigger this theme for me when it comes to worship.

There’s Solomon in today’s first reading from 1st Kings. Israel finally has a temple. Solomon, the king, is standing at the altar leading the worship. I noticed that the Bible commentaries on all this say  the king was both priest and king on solemn occasions. [1 Kings 8:22-23,, 27-30]

I hear Solomon praying the prayer in today’s first reading - with full presence - tight  intent - communion with both God and the people. At least that’s the ideal - and it’s good to have ideals in mind - especially when it comes to praying with the heart.

I don’t know about you - but I know it when I’m present and when I’m absent when I say Mass - and that’s why I’m want to preach on this today. It’s a reminder and I need reminders.

I hear Jesus getting right at this theme in today’s gospel - when he says, “These people honor me with their lips - but their hearts are far from me.” He says the Pharisees and the Scribes are into externals - traditions - lip syncing life - and using the laws to their own benefit - like putting money in the collection boxes in the temple as a way of not putting money into their parents hands and care.[Mark 7:1-13]


On this topic, on this point, I am often reminded of a moment on Broadway - when I went with a whole retreat house staff to see a revival of the musical, No, No, Nanette. We had horrible seats at a Wednesday afternoon matinee. We were off to the side - up in those little balconies - and we could only see the front of the stage.

Surprise, we had a perfect view of the orchestra pit. Surprise - I got a reminder for life on what not to do - when reading the readings at Mass or saying the prayers at Mass. A violinist - had on his music stand - not the music - but The New York Daily News - and that’s what he read while playing flawlessly the music score of No No Nanette.

That’s what I mean by being on automatic pilot.  That’s what I mean by not putting our heart into it. That’s what I mean by not giving another real presence - and not being in Holy Communion with each other. 


Let me close this homily entitled, “Putting Your Heart Into It” with an example that  I read somewhere along the line. I also try to keep this story in mind  not only when I’m celebrating Mass but also when I’m sitting with just one person.

In a locked section of a psych ward somewhere on the planet was this lady who hadn’t said a word in 5 years. They would walk her around - feed her - sit her - but she was catatonic. I can relate to this because I’m also aware that this can happen during sermons. One sees a lot from up here.

Well, this lady was sitting -  looking out a big window into a field in front of her. Every week a psychiatrist would come in and sit next to her - sometimes hold her hand - but basically he would just sit there with her in silence for 5 minutes.

Well this one morning he comes in and says his regular, “Hi Mrs. X.” He sits down next to her with a cup of coffee or tea in hand.

She sits there staring into space.

Well, the Doctor starts thinking about what he’s going to have for lunch or his plans for the weekend and the lady turns to him and says, “Please don’t leave me like that.” 


Painting on top: Solomon Dedicating the Temple in Jerusalem - by James Tissot or follower, [c.1896-1902]

Poem for Today: February 11, 2014


I resemble everyone
but myself, and sometimes see
in shop-windows
despite the well-known laws
of optics,
the portrait of a stranger,
date unknown,
often signed in a corner
by my father. 

© A. K. Ramanujan
Painting: Art by

Monday, February 10, 2014



The title of my homily for this 5th Monday in Ordinary Time is, “Touching the Edge of God.”

Obviously we are here in this church to touch and be touched by God.

When we meet each other, we touch each other - a hand shake, a hug, a nod, a word, an eye to eye look - a smile.

When we have a moving experience, we say at times, “I was touched.”  Or, “How touching!”

Sometimes we touch our own heart - when we talk about being touched.


Today’s Gospel from Mark 6: 53-56 tells of crowds of people moving towards Jesus after he landed at Gennesaret - wanting to see him - wanting to be healed by him - and then comes the word, “touch”. 

Listen to the last sentence again: “Whatever villages or towns or countryside he entered, they laid the sick in the marketplaces and begged him that they might touch only the tassel on his cloak; and as many as touched it were healed.” [Mark 6:56]

Hapto is the Greek word used here: to fasten, to cling to, to have fellowship with, to be in communion with, to adhere.

Kraspedon is the Greek word used here - and it means the edge, the border, the hem, the tassel which could be part of a pious Jew’s garment.

The title of my homily is, “Touching the Edge of God.”

These people were there to try to get in touch with God to be healed.

Today’s first reading from the First Book of Kings brings us into the temple of Solomon - the temple that David failed to build. We move from the tent to the temple.[Cf. 1 Kings 7:1-7, 9-13]

That’s the history of so many churches and temples - moving from the temporary to the permanent.

Notice in today’s first reading - all the symbols and stuff of the temple - the ark and the angels, the stone tablets and the clouds. I’m assuming that’s the clouds of smoke probably from censors - but I’m not sure about that for sure.


So why do we come to Church - temple - Holy Place?

I’m assuming the answer is absolutely basic: to touch at least the edge of God and to have God touch us.

To have an edge….

I always remember a family getting out of their car when I was getting out of my car - here at a 12:10 Mass. I had never seen them before. I saw them inside. They looked worried. They said they were not from around here - but were just up at the Anne Arundel Medical Center and their mom was dying and they asked up there for the nearest Catholic Church.

They were doing just what the folks in the gospel were doing: needing to touch God - and be touched by God in return.

I didn’t have time to research the meaning of  the last part of today’s first reading - the comment about the dark cloud.

Let me repeat it. Let me read it again:
When the priests left the holy place,
the cloud filled the temple of the LORD
so that the priests could no 

longer minister                  
because of the cloud,
since the LORD’s glory had filled 
the temple of the LORD.
Then Solomon said, “The LORD 

intends to dwell in the dark cloud;
I have truly built you a princely house,
a dwelling where you may 

abide forever.”

I can imagine that. I can picture that. 

It also struck me that folks come to God more in times of dark clouds - than in bright clouds.

Having thought that I heard God laughing and saying, “Hello, it’s obvious, isn’t it?”


The title of my homily is, “Touching the Edge of God.”

A prayer:

               God the Father, we are here today 
               to touch and be touched by you.

               God the Son, Lord Jesus Christ, 
               we are here today to touch 
               not just the edge of your garment,
               but to receive you in communion 
               that you come into the center 
               of this temple, called me.

               God the Holy Spirit, be the cloud - 
               always over me in both bright times 
               and in dark times. Amen.



Painting on top: Standing on the Edge by Denise Shea


Poem for Today - February 10, 2014


Last Sunday morning,
Sitting on the tram
I found myself beside a priest,
A fat and gloomy man.
I looked over his shoulder
And I read “Nunquam”.
Now I happened to be reading
“Les Amours de Madame”
And even though he scowled at me
I didn’t give a damn.
And that just shows you
The sort I am.

© Frank O’Connor

Sunday, February 9, 2014



The title of my homily for this 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year A - is, “Impact.”

I   M   P   A  C   T! - “Impact.”   I  M  P  A  C  T!

That’s the theme that hit me when I read today’s readings.



We know what impact means.

When we walk into a room - something happens - well not always.

Better: when we walk into some rooms - something happens.

When we come home - up the driveway - into the office - into the classroom - into the doctor’s office - into church - down the aisle - something happens.

I call it the “Oh yes!” or “Oh no!” vote.

I'm sure none of us want to get the "What a jerk!" or worse vote.

Through the years the 1/3-1/3-1/3 rule has always helped me.

1/3 like you; 1/3 don’t like you; 1/3 don’t care.

I was kidding myself with that rule - because I just read in The Tablet, a British Catholic magazine different numbers. In a letter to the Editor a Father Terry Martin was replacing an outstanding priest. He was telling another priest that this appointment made him nervous - that is, till this other priest said, “Terry, five per cent of the people will love you, five percent will hate you and the other 90 per cent just want to come to Mass.” [1]

I like those numbers better. 

So here we are at Mass and my homily is about “Impact.”  

May Jesus impact 100% of us today.


I remember a priest saying out loud: “I was walking down the aisle - as the singing began - and I heard someone say, “Oh no!”

I guess one of the 5 per centers was loud that day.

Then he said, “I heard those two words for the rest of  the Mass.

And I thought to myself, “You’re still hearing them!" Bummer.

Maybe there’s an advantage to having poor hearing.

When I heard that comment I remembered a poem by Countee Cullen called, “Incident”.


Once riding in old Baltimore,
Heart filled, head-filled with glee,
I saw a Baltimorean
Kept looking straight at me.

Now I was eight and very small,
And he was no whit bigger,
And so I smiled, but he poked out
His tongue, and called me, “Nigger.”

I saw the whole of Baltimore
From May until December’
Of all the things that happened there
That’s all that I remember.[2]

For starters, words have impact.

I remember a moment during a men’s weekend retreat - from around the year 1980. It was Saturday evening and we were having an open forum.  There were about 85 men were in this big room. I don’t remember what triggered the following - but I remembered the words that followed.

An old guy in the back of the room - raised his hand - stood up and said: “There we were at the kitchen table - many, many years ago. My older brother and I were in grammar school. We were sitting there - with our dad.”

“My dad said to my older brother. ‘You’ll be graduating from grammar school next June and we’re going to get you into a great high school. Then you’ll graduate from high school and you’ll go to a great college and then you can become anything you want. You’ll be a great engineer, doctor, lawyer. You’ll going to do great things with your life.”

And the man then said, “Hearing that I said to my dad, ‘Dad, dad, what’s going to happen to me?’"

“And my dad turned to me and said, ‘You? You’ll never amount to anything.’ And pointing to his shoe, my dad said, ‘You’re not worth the sole of my shoe.’”

Silence. Silence. Silence.

Silence filled the room. 

And the man was crying. Then he said, “And my dad was right. I never amounted to anything.”

More silence.

The impact of that moment has stayed with me some 30 plus years now. I’ve often thought about that man and those men. I’m sure that was the most powerful retreat moment in their years of coming on retreat  - well for some of them - I hope more than 5 per cent of them.

I know that made me revisit the old saying we heard as kids: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.”

Obviously, the opposite is true.

In fact, words might hurt more than sticks and stones.

So take some moments this week and reflect upon the words of your life - the words that have impacted you.

What was the worse thing anyone ever said to or at you?

What was the nicest thing anyone ever said to you?

How did that impact you?

Why come to church? 

Isn't it to bring into our ears the words of Jesus - to bring into our being Jesus who can heal us? Isn't it to walk out of this church after Mass today and make an impact for good in our world this week?


Today’s first reading doesn’t  talk about impact directly.[3]

Today’s gospel talks directly about  impact.[4]

Today’s first reading talks about sharing our bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless, clothing the naked and not turning our back on our own.

Today’s first reading talks about removing false accusations and malicious speech - then …. Then Isaiah says if we do that -  our light will break forth like the dawn - our wounds will be healed - our being whom we are supposed to be will happen.

Today’s gospel has Christ using 2 images - 2 metaphors about impact.

We know when there is salt on the potato chip or pretzel - just watch people lick the salt on a big pretzel - and see their smile.

We know when there is a light on in the room.  We know when a car coming towards us in the dark has its bright lights on. Impact.

We’re flying at 14,000 feet - at night over the ocean - and it’s all dark down there. But if there are not clouds we might spot a boat with it’s lights on - or another plane in the beautiful black sky - but if we go over land - we know where the cities are.

So Jesus tells us in today’s gospel: “A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden.” Impact.


So Christianity - Christ - Church - wants to have people all over our world who make an impact for goodness, kindness, giving, all over the world.

Earlier I spoke on the power of words. I said I disagreed with the old saying about sticks and stones will break our bones - but names will never hurt us.

On the other hand, there is an old saying we all seem to still agree upon. We hear it repeated in our words at least once a week, "Action speaks louder than words."

I love it that salt and light don’t have a mouth.

I love it that they both are silent.

Yet we know it when the light is on. Yet we know it when there is salt on the table - or the potato chip - or those big delicious pretzels with the great salt licks on them.

Christ wants every office, every work place, every family, every classroom, every team, every group, every organization, every bookclub, every parish, to have at least one Christian.

As Paul says in today’s second reading: It’s me. That person is me. I walk into every room I enter into proclaiming Jesus by my life. He says that he comes with fear and trembling.[5]

Exactly - we should fear and tremble because our lives can make a difference for good or for bad - by the words we say - but especially by the example we set on the table.

We should have fear and trembling because there are people out there who are impacted by our words - by our silent example - by our lives - for a lifetime.


I was watching the opening ceremonies for the Olympics Friday night. Putin and Russia want to make an impact for goodness around the world - for all the people around the world watching. The TV talked about the negatives …. dogs in the street - a tough history - buildings not finished - human rights abuses - anti gay stuff - etc. etc. etc.

They are hoping the Olympic Moment in their country has a positive impact that outweighs the negatives.

Don’t we all? Don’t we all.

Doesn’t Christ as well?

So this day, this week, let’s be salt and light on the tables in the rooms we’re in - that people will know without knowing it - that’s what we’re there for. 

Salt and light: there when wanted; there when needed. 



[1]  The Tablet, February 1, 2014,  Letters, page.18

[2] Countee Cullen [1903-1946]

[3] Isaiah 58: 7-10

[4] Matthew 5: 13-16

[5] 1 Corinthians 2: 1-5

Poem for Today  - February 9, 2014


I caught a tremendous fish
and held him beside the boat
half out of water, with my hook
fast in a corner of his mouth.
He didn't fight.
He hadn't fought at all.
He hung a grunting weight,
battered and venerable
and homely. Here and there
his brown skin hung in strips
like ancient wallpaper,
and its pattern of darker brown
was like wallpaper:
shapes like full-blown roses
stained and lost through age.
He was speckled with barnacles,
fine rosettes of lime,
and infested
with tiny white sea-lice,
and underneath two or three
rags of green weed hung down.
While his gills were breathing in
the terrible oxygen
- the frightening gills,
fresh and crisp with blood,
that can cut so badly-
I thought of the coarse white flesh
packed in like feathers,
the big bones and the little bones,
the dramatic reds and blacks
of his shiny entrails,
and the pink swim-bladder
like a big peony.
I looked into his eyes
which were far larger than mine
but shallower, and yellowed,
the irises backed and packed
with tarnished tinfoil
seen through the lenses
of old scratched isinglass.
They shifted a little, but not
to return my stare.
- It was more like the tipping
of an object toward the light.
I admired his sullen face,
the mechanism of his jaw,
and then I saw
that from his lower lip
- if you could call it a lip
grim, wet, and weaponlike,
hung five old pieces of fish-line,
or four and a wire leader
with the swivel still attached,
with all their five big hooks
grown firmly in his mouth.
A green line, frayed at the end
where he broke it, two heavier lines,
and a fine black thread
still crimped from the strain and snap
when it broke and he got away.
Like medals with their ribbons
frayed and wavering,
a five-haired beard of wisdom
trailing from his aching jaw.
I stared and stared
and victory filled up
the little rented boat,
from the pool of bilge
where oil had spread a rainbow
around the rusted engine
to the bailer rusted orange,
the sun-cracked thwarts,
the oarlocks on their strings,
the gunnels- until everything
was rainbow, rainbow, rainbow!
And I let the fish go.

© Elizabeth Bishop