Saturday, January 31, 2009

How Do You Pronounce "Cuyahoga"?

I'm just going to tell you this once. Despite what you might be hearing on television and radio these days, "Cuyahoga" is pronounced something like this: /ky-uh-HAUG-uh/.

It's not pronounced /ky-uh-HOGE-uh/--this is how many of the current TV and radio people say it. That third syllable receives the accent and sounds, at least in Northern Midwest American English, like the words hog or dog or the first syllable in the word Awful. There is an International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) symbol for this sound, but I don't have that symbol on my computer. The IPA symbol looks like a rounded /a/ sound, and that's exactly what it is.

Some people from outside Cuyahoga County (in Summit or Portage Counties) pronounce Cuyahoga something like /KY-uh-guh/. We look down on those people and their pronunciation.

It is said (in many, many places) that Cuyahoga comes from an Indian word that means "crooked" or "crooked river." Of course there is no one Indian language; my guess is that Cuyahoga comes from the Iroquoian group of languages, and the most likely source would have been the closest Iroquoian tribe, the Seneca. The Erie Indians were also Iroquoian, but they were annihilated by the Iroquois Confederation around 1654, a war of genocide.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Skiing in Austria (Part 2)

My NotreDame-Innsbruck friends and I skied all around Innsbruck (and adjacent countries, Germany, Italy, and Switzerland). In Innsbruck we skied occasionally on the mountain called "Patscherkofl," just south and east of Innsbruck by the beautiful village of Igls. You took a Seilbahn, a cable car, up Patscherkofel, and got off about 300 hundred meters below the bald, treeless peak of this characteristic mountain of the Innsbruck area. I believe it was possible to ski from the very top, but the snow could be sparse and icy, and the winds could be ferocious without any tree cover at all. We would ski down a trail through the forest called the "Herrenabfahrt," the men's downhill run from the 1964 Winter Olympics. If you wanted scary, this was scary, especially if, like a downhill racer, you went full out through the forest. A false move, an icy patch, and you could be dead. I traversed, crisscrossed, the trail, slowing my speed and increasing my safety.

Another place we skied was on the Nordkette, the northern chain of mountains just north of Innsbruck and the Inn River valley. This involved taking a funicular train from the valley floor up to Hungerburg, and then a cable car up to the area called "Seegrube," about 2000 meters of elevation above see level. There was a decent ski area at Seegrube and a nice terrace to sit in the sun on warm days (which were fairly rare). If you were very brave and crazy, you could take the final step, via cable car, to the very top of the Nordkette, the peak called "Hafelekar," and try to ski the narrow and incredibly steep shoot, 1000 feet vertical drop, from Hafelekar to Seegrube. Then, you could ski the zigzaggy trail, perhaps a mile long, the rest of the way down to Hungerburg. From there, the funicular back to the Inn Valley and Innsbruck (except, if you were cheap and broke, like I was, you could walk the train track back to the city. Brian Wilson and I did that one time and my thighs ached for 2 weeks).

Who did I ski with most often? It's hard to say, but I imagine my ski companions included Tim Forward, Brian Wilson, crazy Patty Laflin, Bob Wingerson, and really most of the other Notre Dame-Innsbruckers. Only a couple didn't ski.

Uebrigens, by the way, Tim Forward is an architect, Brian Wilson a pediatrician, crazy and brave Patty Laflin became an FBI agent, and I've lost track of Bob Wingerson, but I believe he still lives in the Detroit area.

[More coming in "Skiing in Austria, Part 3"]

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Jimmy Coughlin Out of Prison!

At last we can announce that Jimmy Coughlin is out of the Wabash Valley Correctional Institute--way out there on the Indiana-Illinois border.

All his friends and family members--let's help Jim readjust to society!

Footnote: Jim claims he was in the prison to do a repair job on a printing press, something about a plate. I'm guessing Jim was making license plates. It will be interesting to see what kind of story he makes up to explain this mess!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Children of Gaza

The Children of Gaza

(Invasion of Gaza, January 2009)

The dead and wounded children of Gaza
Are carried out in arms of bleeding fathers
And terrified mothers, dressed from ankle to head in black,

The color of mourning, the color of death, the color
Of our hope, once green and fresh as April shoots,
Now black as burned flesh, burned by phosphorous bombs

On human skin. The homes, the shops, the mosques
Are rubble. Our future is rubble, the children
Of Gaza are wrapped in bloody sheets,

Our hope buried in shallow rubble graves.

Robert M. Coughlin
January 27, 2009

Monday, January 26, 2009

Skiing in Austria (Part 1)

During the year I lived in Austria, I skied in many fascinating areas. The first place I ever skied in Europe was actually in Sued Tirol (the German-speaking region in Northern Italy) at a place called "Rosskopf" (literally, "horse head") near the town of Sterzing (called "Vipiteno" in Italian). Here's a link to Rosskpof, called in Italian Monte Cavallo:
This was the first big snow of the year and a few of the Notre Dame Innsbruckers hopped into a car and drove the 30 or so miles south through the Wipptal, through the Brenner Pass, to this Italian ski area. I remember Charlie Schaffer, Tim Barry, and Bob Wingerson and possibly Leo Lensing being there and probably a couple other guys. I quickly found out that skiing on the Alps was different than skiing on the hills of Northeast Ohio! I broke one of my skis in half that day--and most importantly, I decided to try to find some ski lessons!

During the Christmas break that year (1967), Brian Wilson, Tim Forward, Bennie Thomas, and I were able to get into an Austrian ski school in the high alpine town/ski resort of Obergurgl. This ski school had one of those astonishing long German names, which I can no longer remember (it wasn't "Forstlichebundesversuchsanstalt," but along those lines). Obergurgl is fairly close to where the famous "Ice Man" (known as "Oetzi" because of the Oetztal or Oetz Valley there)was discovered.

The Austrian approach to ski school was very interesting and it involved heavy-duty conditioning. We always had to walk up hill after skiing downhill, using either a side-step technique or a herringbone technique--there was no using the lifts. This helped strengthen our legs and gave our hearts and lungs quite a work out! We seemed to take lessons about 5 hours a day, both before lunch and after lunch, and this program went on for a week or ten days, if I remember correctly. By the end of the program we all were much better skiers and confident that we could handle the alpine runs. Of course it took all of that year and many years after to really master skiing, but that very solid base was established at the Obergurgl ski school.

Besides all the skiing instruction, we were provided with three simple but hearty meals per day, and if I remember correctly, the entire program, all inclusive, cost us about 20 dollars (maybe $18). It was an astonishing bargain. We did not have separate rooms in Obergurgl but slept in dormitories filled with mattresses up on platforms (I think called "Matrazenanlagen"). The "students" were quite a strange and motley crew, with one older student reading Kant's "Kritik der Reiner Vernunft," The Critique of Pure Reason, in his down time. Not my idea of liesurely reading! There were some nightclubs in the little village but things were so expensive there that we rarely bought more than one small Coca Cola per night. On Sylvesterabend, New Year's Eve, Tim and I met two great Austrian girls, Liselotte Schartner and Caecilia Werth (now Cilli Kirchmair) and remained friends with them after the ski school ended. For a view of the village of Obergurgl, click on this link or paste it into your web browser:

[more coming]

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Coughlin Stock Market Advice

There's a stock market approach developed by my brother Kevin and followed by everyone in our family. It's simply known as the "Coughlin Maneuver," but I think it should be called the "Kevin Coughlin Stock Market Maneuver"--to give credit where credit is due. The formula is very simple: "Buy High and Sell Low." At first this might sound counterintuitive.I have to say--the results have been rather spectacular this year using this approach.

Partly because of this advice, the Coughlin family, brothers, sister, relatives, have moved to a new retirement plan: The Ohio Lottery.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Alice Walker's Letter to Barack Obama

Below is a letter Alice Walker, the author of The Color Purple and many other wonderful works, wrote to Barack Obama. Thanks to my daughter CC for calling attention to this. The original link for this letter is here:

Dear Brother President:

You have no idea, really, of how profound this moment is for us. Us being the black people of the Southern United States. You think you know, because you are thoughtful, and you have studied our history. But seeing you delivering the torch so many others carried, year after year, decade after decade, century after century, only to be brought down before igniting the flame of justice and of law, is almost more than the heart can bear. And yet, this observation is not intended to burden you, for you are of a different time, and, indeed, because of all the relay runners before you, North America is a different place. It is really only to say: well done. We knew, through all the generations, that you were with us, in us, the best of the spirit of Africa and of the Americas. Knowing this, that you would actually appear, someday, was part of our strength. Seeing you take your rightful place, based solely on your wisdom, stamina and character, is a balm for the weary warriors of hope, previously only sung about.

I would advise you to remember that you did not create the disaster that the world is experiencing, and you alone are not responsible for bringing the world back to balance. A primary responsibility that you do have, however, is to cultivate happiness in your own life. To make a schedule that permits sufficient time of rest and play with your gorgeous wife and lovely daughters. Not to mention your brave and precious grandmother.* And so on. One gathers that your family is large. We are used to seeing men in the White House become juiceless and as white-haired as the building; we notice their wives and children looking strained and stressed. They soon have smiles so lacking in joy that they remind us of scissors. This is no way to lead. Nor does your family deserve this fate. One way of thinking about all this is: it is so bad now that there is no excuse not to relax. From your happy, relaxed state, you can model real success, which is only what so many people in the world really want. They may buy endless cars and houses and furs and gobble up all the attention and space they can manage, but this is because it is not clear to them yet that success is truly an inside job. That it is within the reach of almost everyone.

I would further advise you not to take on other people's enemies. Most damage that others do us is out of fear, humiliation and pain. Those feelings occur in all of us, not just in those of us who profess a certain religious or racial devotion. We must all of us learn not to have enemies, but only confused adversaries who are ourselves in disguise. It is understood by all that you are commander in chief and are sworn to protect our beloved country. However, as my mother used to say, quoting a Bible with which I often fought, "hate the sin, but love the sinner." There must be no more crushing of whole communities, no more torture, no more dehumanizing as a means of ruling a people's spirit. This has already happened to people of color, poor people, women, children. We see where this leads, where it has led.

A good model of how to "work with the enemy" internally is presented by the Dalai Lama, in his endless caretaking of his soul as he confronts the Chinese government that invaded Tibet. Because, finally, it is the soul that must be preserved, if one is to remain a credible leader. All else might be lost; but when the soul dies, the connection to Earth, to Peoples, to Animals, to Rivers, to Mountain ranges, purple and majestic, also dies. And your smile, with which we watch you do gracious battle with unjust characterizations, distortions and lies, is that expression of healthy self-worth, spirit and soul, that, kept happy and free and relaxed, can find an answering smile in all of us, lighting our way, and brightening the world.

We are the ones we have been waiting for.

In Peace and Joy, Alice Walker

*Obama's "brave and precious" grandmother made her return to the Great Source a day before her grandson's historic turn of the historical wheel. We imagine her flying, smiling, free. Well done, Grandmother. Those of us who intuit your greatness send our thanks.

Walker's recent books include "We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For," "Now Is the Time to Open Your Heart" and "A Poem Traveled Down My Arm." This essay first appeared on

The Closing of Barack Obama's Inaugural Address

Since I am very interested in language and poetry, I paid attention to Barack Obama's inaugural address, watching it with about a hundred students, staff, and professors at Lakeland Community College. At first I was a little disappointed because this man is a great orator and the speech seemed to be toned down--perhaps to mirror the serious difficulties our country (and world!) finds itself in. But I noticed that the rhetorical tone of the speech rose at the end to great heights when President Obama invoked the words of George Washington, the Father of our country, in the winter of 1776--among the darkest days in our history:

This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed — why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent Mall, and why a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.

So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled. In the year of America's birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:

"Let it be told to the future world ... that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive...that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet (it)."

America, in the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.

Thank you. God bless you. And God bless the United States of America

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

"The Torch Has Been Passed . . . ."

At noon today, Barack Obama will be sworn in as 44th President of the United States of America. On Friday, January 20th of 1961, forty-eight years ago today, I watched on our little black-and-white television as John F. Kennedy took the oath of office and gave his memorable inauguration speech. I must have had an ear for good language even back then at age 12 because I remember the poetry of that speech, crafted by Jack Kennedy and the genius Ted Sorenson: "The torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans . . . ."

The torch is passed again; indeed to a generation younger than my own! Let us ask the Good Lord to bless this President, our country, and our world, and let the "Beloved Community" that Martin Luther King, Jr., worked for, that my friend Maurice McCrackin worked for and that I have written about, blossom and thrive.

Here is the text of JFK's inaugural address:

Vice President Johnson, Mr. Speaker, Mr. Chief Justice, President Eisenhower, Vice President Nixon, President Truman, reverend clergy, fellow citizens:We observe today not a victory of party, but a celebration of freedom -- symbolizing an end, as well as a beginning -- signifying renewal, as well as change. For I have sworn before you and Almighty God the same solemn oath our forebears prescribed nearly a century and three-quarters ago.

The world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life. And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe -- the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God.

We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that first revolution. Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans -- born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage, and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and the success of liberty.This much we pledge -- and more.

To those old allies whose cultural and spiritual origins we share, we pledge the loyalty of faithful friends. United there is little we cannot do in a host of cooperative ventures. Divided there is little we can do -- for we dare not meet a powerful challenge at odds and split asunder.

To those new states whom we welcome to the ranks of the free, we pledge our word that one form of colonial control shall not have passed away merely to be replaced by a far more iron tyranny. We shall not always expect to find them supporting our view. But we shall always hope to find them strongly supporting their own freedom -- and to remember that, in the past, those who foolishly sought power by riding the back of the tiger ended up inside.

To those people in the huts and villages of half the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves, for whatever period is required -- not because the Communists may be doing it, not because we seek their votes, but because it is right. If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.

To our sister republics south of our border, we offer a special pledge: to convert our good words into good deeds, in a new alliance for progress, to assist free men and free governments in casting off the chains of poverty. But this peaceful revolution of hope cannot become the prey of hostile powers. Let all our neighbors know that we shall join with them to oppose aggression or subversion anywhere in the Americas. And let every other power know that this hemisphere intends to remain the master of its own house.

To that world assembly of sovereign states, the United Nations, our last best hope in an age where the instruments of war have far outpaced the instruments of peace, we renew our pledge of support -- to prevent it from becoming merely a forum for invective, to strengthen its shield of the new and the weak, and to enlarge the area in which its writ may run. Finally, to those nations who would make themselves our adversary, we offer not a pledge but a request: that both sides begin anew the quest for peace, before the dark powers of destruction unleashed by science engulf all humanity in planned or accidental self-destruction.We dare not tempt them with weakness. For only when our arms are sufficient beyond doubt can we be certain beyond doubt that they will never be employed.

But neither can two great and powerful groups of nations take comfort from our present course -- both sides overburdened by the cost of modern weapons, both rightly alarmed by the steady spread of the deadly atom, yet both racing to alter that uncertain balance of terror that stays the hand of mankind's final war.

So let us begin anew -- remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof. Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate.

Let both sides explore what problems unite us instead of belaboring those problems which divide us.Let both sides, for the first time, formulate serious and precise proposals for the inspection and control of arms, and bring the absolute power to destroy other nations under the absolute control of all nations.Let both sides seek to invoke the wonders of science instead of its terrors. Together let us explore the stars, conquer the deserts, eradicate disease, tap the ocean depths, and encourage the arts and commerce.Let both sides unite to heed, in all corners of the earth, the command of Isaiah -- to "undo the heavy burdens, and [to] let the oppressed go free."¹And, if a beachhead of cooperation may push back the jungle of suspicion, let both sides join in creating a new endeavor -- not a new balance of power, but a new world of law -- where the strong are just, and the weak secure, and the peace preserved.All this will not be finished in the first one hundred days. Nor will it be finished in the first one thousand days; nor in the life of this Administration; nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin.In your hands, my fellow citizens, more than mine, will rest the final success or failure of our course. Since this country was founded, each generation of Americans has been summoned to give testimony to its national loyalty. The graves of young Americans who answered the call to service surround the globe.Now the trumpet summons us again -- not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need -- not as a call to battle, though embattled we are -- but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out, "rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation,"² a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself.

Can we forge against these enemies a grand and global alliance, North and South, East and West, that can assure a more fruitful life for all mankind? Will you join in that historic effort?In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility -- I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it. And the glow from that fire can truly light the world. And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.My fellow citizens of the world, ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.

Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us here the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you. With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God's work must truly be our own.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Skiing from Hafelekar Peak in Innsbruck, Austria

One time in my life (1968) I skied from the mountain peak shown here, Hafelekar, a peak in the Nordkette ("Northern Chain") of the Karwendel-Gebirge (Karwendel Mountain Range), just north of Innsbruck, in the Austrian province of Tirol. It was scary! Note the avalanche-preventing devices surrounding the steep and narrow Schuss. Holy Toledo!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Another Winter Poem: "The Great Silence"

The Great Silence

We who live on the shores of Lake Erie know of the Great Silence
Which descends every November along with the white smothering
Blanket of snow. Our spirits, our spirits!

Even on a rare warm November night, the windows open,
This stark silence-- no crickets frogs toads,

And in the morning no bird concert, just the scary caw
Of crows looking for the remains of summer.

The brown stubble fields are fallow my heart is fallow,
Empty, the wind howls and echoes through my silent spirit
Whispering whispering to this landscape of grays, browns, and black

Of a small green hope to come
When, at least in imagination, the Great Silence,
This long loneliness, erupts in friendly laughter and chatter,

Fresh new green resurrecting out of this vast vast silence.

Robert M. Coughlin
November 4, 2003

Amazing Lake Erie Webcam

I accidentally ran across a website hosted by a neighbor of my cousin Bill Brock. Bill lives right on Lake Erie in the North Collinwood neighborhood of Cleveland, a quarter mile from St. Jerome's Church. This is my Mom's old neighborhood! The lake has frozen up in the past few days, and the webcam clearly shows the wild wintry lake:

Winter Rules Here!

If we had any doubts whatsoever that Winter is in charge around here, those doubts will be erased this week with predictions of lots of snow, very strong winds, and bitter-cold temperatures. There's no use fighting it; we might as well try to enjoy it!

Here are a couple of nice winter poems by two masters, Robert Frost, and A. R. Ammons. When I was 12 years old, I heard, via television, Robert Frost recite poems at John F. Kennedy's inauguration (that was January 20, 1961). It was the day after a heavy snow, with terrific sun glare shining on the text of Robert Frost's new poem. Frost was in his mid 80's, but still had a magic and vigor about him--perfect for the inauguration of Jack Kennedy. When the wind and sun interfered with the reading of his new poem, Frost switched gears and recited from memory his poem "The Gift Outright." Our country has been the "gift outright" to us and to the world; let's restore that dream.

For the full text of the unrecited poem, "Dedication," and the poem Frost did recite, "The Gift Outright," click here: For a bit of discussion on Frost that day, Janury 20, 1961, click here:

Here are a couple of non-political poems that speak of unexpected grace and gift:

“Dust of Snow”

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree
Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

Robert Frost

“Winter Scene”

There is now not a single
leaf on the cherry tree:

except when the jay
plummets in, lights, and,

in pure clarity, squalls:
then every branch

quivers and
breaks out in blue leaves.

A.R. Ammons

Monday, January 12, 2009

Farewell to the Christmas Season; Baptism of Carolan

Yesterday, with the celebration of the Baptism of Jesus, the official Christmas Season of the Catholic Church ended. The theme of baptism makes me think of something humorous that happened at the baptism of my daughter Carolan (who is now 23 years old). A few weeks before Carolan was baptized, she had a severe cold and was having some trouble breathing. It probably was no big deal, but it frightened me and I thought about my early religious training about Baptism and Original Sin. I thought to myself: What if Carolan dies before she's baptized? She would spend eternity in Limbo, unable to ever get into Heaven.

You'd think I would know better. These thoughts went against my basic belief in the goodness of God. Anyway, here is what I did. Remembering that any Christian could baptize, I took a cup of water, poured it over Carolan's head, and said, "Carolan, I baptize thee, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost." No one saw this baptism: it was between me and Carolan and God.

Weeks later we came to the church baptism of Carolan. We had this wonderful priest at St. Clare's in Berea, Kentucky. His name escapes me right now, but I remember he was 6 foot 10 inches tall, probably one of the tallest priests in the world. Oddly, before the ceremony, Father asked me if Carolan had ever been baptized. I have no idea why he asked that; I've never seen that question posed before. I gulped, and fessed up my story about worrying about Carolan's health and surreptitiously baptizing her myself. So when it came time for the public church baptism, the priest said, in an aside whisper, "If you are not already baptized . . ." And then the priest continued in his loud, public voice, "I baptize you, Carolan Ruth, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit."

Another wonderful feature of that baptism is that my friend (and former priest) Guy Patrick, one of the world's great human beings, sang with me a beautiful song from Fiddler on the Roof during the ceremony, "May the Lord Protect and Defend You." (Here's a link to the lyrics: One great line from that song is "May you be like Ruth and like Esther." This line was especially poignant, because Carolan's Grandmother, Ruth Sanders, was in the congregation. We deeply miss Grandma Sanders, who died so suddenly in the spring of 2007.

Here is a poem for Christmas, which we now say goodbye to. The poem was written by a great Notre Dame professor (and renowned drunk, alas), Frank O'Malley--a man so graced and so flawed:

Let the Christbrand Burst!

Let the Christbrand burst!
Let the Christbrand blazon!
Dartle whitely under the hearth-fire,
Unwind the wind, turn the thunderer,
And never, never thinning,
Forfend fear.
Flare up smartly, fix, flex, bless, inspire,
Instar the time, sear the sorcerer,
And never, never sparing,
Save all year.

Let the Christbrand Burst!
Let the Christbrand blazon!

Frank O’Malley
University of Notre Dame

Friday, January 9, 2009

Poem Inspired by "Honey from Stone"

I have written a few poems that were inspired by Chet Raymo's nonfiction books, Honey from Stone and Climbing Brandon. The following poem was a rearrangement of the words of Meister Eckhart, as seen in Raymo's Honey from Stone:

“Put on Your Jumping Shoes”—Found Poem

(the words of Meister Eckhart, 14th Century mystic,
as found in Chet Raymo’s “Honey from Stone”)

Up noble soul!
Put on your jumping shoes
Which are intellect and love!

The eye by which I see God
Is the same eye
By which he sees me.

My eye and the eye of God are

One eye
One vision
One knowledge &

One love.

Up noble soul!
Put on your jumping shoes
Which are intellect and love!

[Arrangement by Robert M. Coughlin
March 23, 2004]

For more informantion on Mesiter Eckhart, click on this link:

Here's another poem, this time inspired by another great book, Thomas Cahill's, How the Irish Saved Civilization:

St. Colmcille’s Illumination

In medieval Ireland
The miraculous happened every day:

St. Colmcille loved books so much
He “borrowed” his master’s illuminated psalter,
And in the dark began to copy it
By hand, ink against vellum.

Starlight, moonlight, and the
Five fingers of the saint’s left hand glowed--

Illuminating his right hand as he copied down,
In his beautiful Irish hand,
The precious psalms.

Brought before King Diarmait
For this little indiscretion, the King ruled:
“To every cow her calf . . .

To every book its copy."

Robert M. Coughlin
April 4, 2008

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Making Music (Part 1)

[Part 1]. Music must be one of the great consolations, one of the great pleasures of life. I wish that my parents had encouraged (cajoled, threatened, forced) me to take music lessons as a kid. We didn't think about making our own music in my family, alas, but I began to make music for myself junior year at St. Joe's High School in Cleveland. The inspiration was Pete Gasper, my classmate, and the music of the Beatles. Pete was also my inspiration to begin writing poetry. Pete was one strange and interesting dude, a fellow living in Eastlake, born of Portuguese heritage, who discovered that he could woo girls via poetry. Where is Pete today? Did he continue his pursuit of poetry? and girls?

Anyway, Pete set me on the path. I bought an inexpensive Hohner harmonica and began playing by ear, with absolutely no instruction and even without many musical models. Eventually, the models became the harp riffs on some Beatle songs and the harmonica parts in Bob Dylan songs. I eventually got pretty good on the harmonica, at least good enough to entertain myself.

A couple years later, I roomed with Brian Wilson (the Hilo Pediatrician, not the Beach Boy) during a Sophomore Year Abroad program in Innsbruck, Austria. Brian had a guitar and was an excellent player. He taught me to play a few chords and a few simple songs (the first being "G-L-O-R-I-A, Glo-ri-a," written, I've heard, by the great Irishman, Van Morrison). I played these songs fairly well. We had great fun in Innsbruck, banging on guitars at informal sessions at the Weisses Kreuz Gasthaus, right in the heart of Innsbruck's Altstadt. The Innsbruck guitar bangers included the late John Higgins, Mike Celizic, the MSNBC.COM sports columnist, Brian Wilson, Mike Gerrity, and myself. Other guys joined in on guitar and on harmonica, including Charlie Schaffer. [more coming]

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Chet Raymo and "Science Musings"

One of the world's great geniuses, and American National Treasure, is the scientist, teacher, and writer Chet Raymo. Chet has written two of my favorite books: Climbing Brandon: Science and Faith on Ireland's Holy Mountain; and Honey from Stone: A Naturalist's Search for God. For desciptions of all sixteen of his books, check this link: . Both of these books are set in Ireland (Raymo has a home on the Dingle Peninsula, the Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking) area of County Kerry, Ireland). Chet Raymo has such a broad learning, you wonder how a human being in one lifetime could acquire such knowledge and wisdom. He combines the mind of a physicist-astronomer with the heart of a poet and a spirit aching for God.

Besides Chet Raymo's wonderful books, he writes columns under the title of "Science Musings" ( and has a related blog at .

Here is a brief description of Chet Raymo from his "Science Musings" website:

About Chet Raymo

Chet Raymo is Professor Emeritus at Stonehill College in North Easton, Massachusetts. He is the author of twelve books on science and nature, including Skeptics and True Believers, An Intimate Look At the Night Sky, The Path: A One-Mile Walk Through the Universe, and most recently Walking Zero: Discovering Cosmic Space and Time Along the Prime Meridian. His work has been widely anthologized, including in the Norton Book of Nature Writing and annual editions of Best American Science and Nature Writing. He is a winner of a 1998 Lannan Literary Award for his nonfiction work, and the subject of a biographical essay in American Nature Writers. Raymo has authored three novels: In the Falcon's Claw, Valentine, and The Dork of Cork, which was made into a major film.

Here is a link to the Wikipedia entry on Chet Raymo:

I would love to meet Chet Raymo some day. He has certainly inspired me to climb Mt. Brandon, one of Ireland's great holy mountains--one of these days! I'm proud that he has degrees from my alma mater, the University of Notre Dame.

I've written some poems inspired by Climbing Brandon and Honey from Stone and will post them at some future date.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Fitzpatrick Family Party

I haven't posted anything on this blog in a while, why I'm not sure. The holiday season was very very busy with parties and family activities. It was really a wonderful time and a busy time. I can't count how many parties I was at! Or how much food and drink I consumed! Other than that, I don't have any excuses for my writer's block.

The day after Christmas, the Cleveland Fitzpatrick's had a family party at a condo party room in Highland Heights (eastern suburb of Cleveland). The party organizers were the children of Uncle Skip (Fenton Sr.) Fitzpatrick and Aunt Mary (nee Allen), two of the most wonderful people who have ever walked the earth. Skip and Mary had 9 children, about 25 grandchildren, and now, about 25 great grandchildren. Luckily they invited the Coughlin's, Brock's, and Langer's, and other Fitzpatrick relatives. At first I thought I would be an interloper there, but I was greeted with open-arms by my cousins and their spouses. As I talked to folks at the party, ate their food and drank their beer, I started thinking: Hey, I'm as much a Fitzpatrick as anyone here! My mother was the daughter of Margaret Ann Sullivan Fitzpatrick and Jack Fitzpatrick. The other guests were children, grandchildren, great grandchildren of Fenton Fitzpatrick (Sr.) and Mary Allen, and Fenton Sr. was the son of Margaret Ann Sullivan Fitzpatrick. So I belonged there--and was treated as if I belonged.

I can't remember everyone at the party, but I do recall seeing cousins Tim, Eddie, Dick, Mike, Joe, Chris, and Suzanne Fitzpatrick. Fenton Jr. and Mary Joan were not able to attend, making their homes in Florida and Texas. Also at the party were the wives and husbands of my cousins, and I love the spouses of my Fitzpatrick cousins as much as the cousins themselves: Queenie, Pat (born in Westport, County Mayo), Gary, Pattie, Karen, Nancy, Tom, Linda.

This family all came from our grandfather Jack Fitzpatrick, born January 3rd, 1880 in the now-gone quarry village of Bluestone, in Euclid Township, and Margaret Ann Sullivan, born 1885 in the quarry township of Brownhelm, near the city of Amherst, Lorain County, Ohio. Jack became a yard conductor for the New York Central Railroad in the Collinwood neighborhood of Cleveland, and Margaret was a housewife, raising her children, Al, Julia (named after her grandmother, Julia Broughan Fitzpatrick), Skip (formally, Fenton, named after his grandfather who emigrated from Ireland), identical twins Dick and Don, and the baby of the family, my mother, Margaret Ann.

This was a blue-collar family: Al was a railroad engineer; Julia was a housewife (and held other jobs); Skip was a machinist/welder for New York Central Railroad; Don worked for Republic Steel in quality control; Dick did all sorts of things--and at times did no paying work--I remember when he worked in the Euclid sewer system; my Mom spent her life as a housewife.

The children of the above had the last names Fitzpatrick, Brock, Langer, and Coughlin (I am one of those children). We have a tremendous range of professions: Fenton, Eddie, and Mike worked for the railroad; Tim worked for AT&T; Dick was an accountant; Joe a telephone worker; Chris, who has Downs Syndrome, has worked off an on (there are some funny stories there!); I think that Mary Joan and Suzanne have spent much of their lives as housewives--a position of honor in our families, let there be no doubt. The Brock children have had all sorts of interesting jobs: Maggie made a great career as a radio personality on major stations in Chicago and in the Phoenix area. Susie is a Ph.D. psychologist; Luke, I think, is a carpenter and cabinet maker; Bill is a computer specialist for Cleveland State University.

The children of Al Fitzpatrick and Catherine (nee Pellerin) Fitzpatrick have known a lot of tragedy: Tommy was killed in Vietnam at age 21 (in April 1969); Jack was murdered in Cleveland (in an astonishing scenario that I have described elsewhere in this blog) December 21, 1971; Jerry lives in Florida and I think her worked for the telephone company; Sheila married Big Eddie Langer, and though now divorced, has wonderful children and grandchildren.

The Coughlin part of the Fitzpatrick clan has also done well: Bob a college teacher; Denny a car mechanic in San Diego; Mary Ellen a school secretary in Medina County; Kev a foreman in a roofing company in Willoughby; and Jimmy maintains and repairs printing presses. There are lots of Coughlin children, with Denny and Mary Ellen having grandchildren.

This Fitzpatrick-Brock-Langer-Coughlin clan has really been something, has maintained closeness and a great love of family, and has made much progress educationally and economically.

(I realize that I have said very little about the spouses of the clan! I hope I can get to it some day soon!).