Tuesday, June 13, 2017

New Poem--about My Hawthorn Trees


There must be a hundred thousand blossoms
Festooning my Washington Hawthorne trees,

And ten thousand bees buzzing around the blossoms,
A low rumbling buzz you can hear 50 feet away.

I planted these trees for the birds, food for the winter,
The red berries, beautiful to my eye—

And nutritious for the hungry birds of winter,
The sparrows, finches, chickadees, cardinals.

The birds will have their turn, but first the bees!
Pollinating, stirring the powder of life, fertilizing,

Co-creating with the sun, the rain, the tree,
And the Hand of God.

These trees please my eye, but not the nose,
The scent which seduces bees, repels me,


To the human eye or nose,
Creation is not always pretty!

Bob Coughlin / June 13, 2017

Monday, May 29, 2017

Memorial Day--Thank You for Your Service, of All Kinds

There were different kinds of service, sacrifice, and even martyrdom. We shouldn't forget the less obvious ones this Memorial Day.

Today, I especially remember my cousin Tommy Fitzpatrick [Tommy Fitzpatrick on the Virtual Vietnam Memorial Wall], who was killed in Vietnam on April 18, 1969, just over 48 years ago. Tommy grew up with us in Euclid, Ohio, went to St. William's with us, then on to St. Joseph High School and Euclid High School, where he graduated in 1967. Less than two years after high school graduation, Tommy was killed in Vietnam, a devastating loss to his family, friends, and community. Tommy was the second St. William's boy killed in Vietnam, along with Raymond "Buddy" Chasser. Buddy's mother was a Horkan, a shirttail cousin of my mother.

And today I also remember Steve Shields [Steve Shields, on the virtual Vietnam Memorial Wall], my Notre Dame and Innsbruck Program classmate. Steve was in ROTC at Notre Dame, graduating in 1970. Two years later, on June 20, 1972, the helicopter he was piloting was shot down in Vietnam, and Steve was killed. I went to the funeral in Philadelphia and the burial at West Point. Steve was mourned by hundreds of people, family, friends, and classmates. Steve was just 23 years old.

There were so many other huge sacrifices. I think about my father in World War II, 20 years old, a Signalman in the Navy, at war in the South Pacific, aboard a small wooden ship called a "Subchaser." My father-in-law, Art Sanders, also in the Navy in the South Pacific, an 18-year-old machinist. My many uncles who served in the war. At least three of them came back with serious PTSD, a condition that had no name back then. They were haunted the rest of their short lives, self-medicating their anxiety and depression with alcohol.

Not all the heroes were war heroes. Some were anti-war heroes; others played roles in the background, either supporting the war effort or the anti-war effort.

In 1970 I had to decide if I would fight in Vietnam. I read, thought, and prayed about this issue and finally decided that I would not. I felt at the time I had three or four options: I would go to Canada (or try to); I would go underground (again, I had no idea if that were even possible); I would go to jail; or I would try to take the legal path and apply for Conscientious Objector status. So in the summer of 1970, I applied for CO status. I also took my draft physical, along with hundreds of other young men, in a basement area of Erieview Tower in Cleveland. That summer I submitted my CO application and later had a kind of trial or hearing before the draft board. They eventually, to my astonishment, granted me CO status. I would next have to do two years of Alternate Service. During these 6 months of uncertainty, I was working with Gene Killeen and many other wonderful people at Terminal Parking, at West 6th and Superior. In late January of 1971, I said goodbye to Gene and my work friends, said goodbye to my family, and moved to Cincinnati to try to find an acceptable Alternate Service position. That summer, I finally located such a job, in the Health Education Department of the 12th Street Clinic. There I worked under Dr. Joseph Alter, who I heard had also been a CO many years earlier. I worked with Charles Couch, Becky Meyers RN, June Mealey, Dale White, and many other wonderful people at the clinic. My pay was $2.50 per hour. My job was located in the Cincinnati ghetto of Over-the-Rhine, but I didn't consider it dangerous. I did some service for the neighborhood and my country. My sacrifice was not like Tommy's or Buddy's or Steve's. But I played a role.

When I moved to Cincinnati I met a group of dedicated people called "Peacemakers." They were pacifists, and many of them had spent time in jail for not participating in war efforts and for refusing to pay war taxes. Their sacrifices were huge. I'm thinking of people like Maurice McCrackin, Ernest Bromley, Marion Bromley, Dan Bromley, Wally Nelson, Juanita Nelson, Chuck Matthei, Kenny Przybylski, Richard Gale, Chris Cotter, Peggy Scherer . . .  gee, so many other incredible,  dedicated people who said no to war and yes to peacemaking.

For all of the people mentioned, the warriors and the peacemakers, the Conscientious Objectors and conscious participators, I say, "thank you for your service."

And PS, thanks to Tim Musser for his service as a Conscientious Objector!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

I Just Paid My War Taxes--Mea Culpa!

Paying My War Taxes

Today I filed my federal war taxes. I am almost ashamed to admit it. Many friends of mine risked their freedom, their careers, their homes—really, almost everything, by refusing to pay war taxes. Many of them went to jail for this. Others had to live below the taxable poverty line, in other words, very simply, with an extremely low income threshold. I’m thinking of people like Chuck Matthei, Marion and Ernest Bromly, Juanita and Wally Nelson., the Berrigan’s, Phil and Dan, Dorothy Day, Ammon Hennacy (The One-Man Revolution), Maurice McCrackin. Many folks in the Peacemaker Movement and the Catholic Worker Movement. Many Quakers and Mennonites. I appreciate their enormous sacrifices.
Chuck Matthei
I am not against all taxation. I am happy to pay my taxes and share my resources for many things having to do with the health, welfare, and cultural resources of our country. I am also happy to share my resources with those in need outside my country, the poor, needy, refugees, the hungry.

Wally and Juanita Nelson, Ernest and Marion Bromley, Maurice McCrackin

But I strongly object to the use of my taxes for war and for imperialism. Our tax dollars have done so much damage in the world. And lately, the sabers have been rattling again—at people and groups in Syria, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Russia, China, and many other places. And most ominously of all, in North Korea, where “all options are on the table.” Well one of those options is the use of nuclear weapons. If it comes to that, then the future of the world, the entire future of civilization, is put at great risk. The world could essentially end. All our own hopes and our hopes for our families, friends, children, and grandchildren could be dashed—incinerated.
Ammon Hennacy (right)

Can we trust our leaders not to use these weapons of destruction—in fact, weapons of mass destruction. We have them at the ready. They could be launched at any minute.

Dan Berrigan and Thomas Merton

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Love Poem

Your Precious Heart

I want to rest the chuff of my hand
On the curve of your hip.
Want you to place your hand upon my chest
Calm my jumpy nerves.
I like the heft of your body next to me all night,
Barely touching, the beautiful rhythm of your breathing,

Your beating heart, your beating heart,

So precious to me.

                                    Bob Coughlin / April 13, 2017

[Thanks to Walt Whitman for the first line of this poem.]

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

A Little Prose-Poem for Opening Day--1966!

Opening Day 1966

My buddy Terry and I had a great plan to see all the Indians’ games free in 1966. We would sell hot dogs or cokes at Municipal Stadium and watch the game between sales.

We skipped school that day and took a 7 AM bus to East Cleveland. Then from the Windermere Station, we grabbed the Rapid Transit to the Terminal Tower.

From Public Square we walked the mile down to Municipal Stadium, the middle-aged but beautiful giant on the Lake.

We found the line for concessionaires—about 200 folks, and we were the youngest and the whitest.

There was no rigamarole with paper work, and we were hired just like that, trained in five minutes. All we had to do was holler, “Get your Red Hots here! Red Hots here!” That was it.

Before you knew it, we were carrying hot dogs, buns, and beloved Stadium Mustard up and down aisles, jammed with 80,000 customers—the largest crowd I’d ever seen.

I didn’t see a minute of that game. I sold 200 hot dogs and made 8 bucks. Of that I spent 2 bucks on buses, clearing 6 bucks for a 12-hour day, getting back to Euclid at 7 PM.

Terry and I got into trouble for skipping school, but we hardly gave a damn. It was senior year, and this was Opening Day!

That was my first and last day as a concessionaire, an experience I’d always value, and never forget.#

            Bob Coughlin / April 11, 2017—Opening Day

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Ava Learns to Crawl!


Ava learns to crawl

A day after your 8-month birthday,
You, dear Ava, spread your wings!

With Mom and Dad and Colin and Robby rooting you on,
You crawl across the basement floor
With such awesome focus and intensity . . .
And joy of being this very baby.

And you crawl like you've done it a thousand times,
Toward, your goal, that TV remote on the floor,

Which you know is mysteriously important.

Hurray for you, O Ava, on your journey,
Where you will stumble often,
And succeed because of your great effort,
Focus, joy, and

You in this circle of Love and Hope.

Bob Coughlin / April 6, 2017