Friday, August 30, 2013

Seamus Heaney's Poem "Digging"

Below is a poem rich with love of family and love of place. The place is the family farm in County Derry Ireland. The family mentioned are his father and grandfather. Seamus Heaney was not to make his living as a turf digger or potato farmer, like his father and grandfather. But he honored their labor with his own labor of love--his poetry, essays, translations, lectures, and the like.

by Seamus Heaney

Between my finger and my thumb   
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.

Under my window, a clean rasping sound   
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:   
My father, digging. I look down

Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds   
Bends low, comes up twenty years away   
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills   
Where he was digging.

The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft   
Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
To scatter new potatoes that we picked,
Loving their cool hardness in our hands.

By God, the old man could handle a spade.   
Just like his old man.

My grandfather cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner’s bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, going down and down
For the good turf. Digging.

The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.
Seamus Heaney, "Digging" from Death of a Naturalist. Copyright 1966 by Seamus Heaney. Reprinted with the permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, LLC.

Passing of Seamus Heaney, Poet

I have just heard that Seamus Heaney, one of the world's great poets, has died in Dublin at age 74. I will insert the New York Times story link:  New York Times--Passing of Seamus Heaney

May he Rest in Peace!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Peter Yarrow and Paul Stookey sing "Blowin' in the Wind" at the March on Washington

At the 50th Anniversary March on Washington, Peter Yarrow and Noel Paul Stookey sang Bob Dylan's anthem "Blowin' in the Wind."

Fifty years earlier, Peter Paul and Mary sang "Blowin in the Wind" and "If I Had a Hammer." Bob Dylan and Joan Baez also sang, along with Odetta, Marian Anderson, and Mahalia Jackson.

Blow up your TV

Here is a chorus from an old song by John Prine (later recorded by John Denver):

Blow up your T.V. throw away your paper
Go to the country, build you a homePlant a little garden, eat a lot of peachesTry an find Jesus on your own.

Well last month we spent 10 days on an electronic fast--no television, almost no radio, no internet, no newspapers. It wasn't as hard for me as I expected. In fact, it was rather wonderful.

The "electronic fast" was imposed by the wildernesses of Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming and Glacier National Park in Montana. There is only very spotty cell phone reception in these parks; the same with internet connectivity. We probably could have had some radio reception, but we left the radio off. And in the parks we had absolutely no access to television.

So we didn't exactly "blow up the tv," but we might as well have. I don't hate these electronic media. But i realize that they can hook you and hurt you. Human beings lived without these things for, say, 200,000 years. We don't need them; we shouldn't be slaves to them.

New Poem--in German!

I found an old poem I wrote in German. I reworked it some and here it is:


Finde ich die uralten Schampuflasche,
Oeffne ich sie . . . und ploetzlich . . .

Es ist 1972, “Herbalessence,”
Ihr wildes rotes Haar am Kissen,

Und ich, hoffnungslos, zum ersten mal
Verliebt, verloren –

Wandere ich die Strassen und Alleen Cincinnatis,
Errinere mich an den suessem Duft Klaras,
Die Kuesse,
Die erste Kostprobe der Liebe.

Robert M. Coughlin  4 Oktober 2012

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

50th anniversary of the March on Washington and "I Have a Dream" Speech

I was 15 when Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous speech in the August 28, 1963 March on Washington--one of the truly great speeches in American history. I was a sophomore at St. Joe's High School. There were no black students in the student body of 2000 boys (at least that is my memory). There were no black people in Euclid (as far as I knew), a city at that time of 80,000. The only black people I knew were our garbage collectors in Euclid and the janitor, Rev. Bill Love (we called him "Bill") at St. William's School on East 260th Street.

Euclid now might be half black; the public schools in Euclid are majority black. And we have a black President of the United States.

Thirty years ago, August 28, 1983, I and my wife Linda were in the 20th anniversary March on Washington. It was stiflingly hot, 95 to 100 degrees, and we were in a great sea of people. We had come to Washington with a group from Berea College (which included Anne Weatherford, Loren Kramer, et al.). I remember watching the crowd--and then, incredibly, seeing my old Cincinnati friend Peggy Scherer in the crowd, marching with a group from the New York Catholic Worker, carrying a banner. What astonishing luck to find Peggy in the great crowd.

I'll never forget that March, hearing a recording of Dr. King's original speech, hearing Peter, Paul, and Mary sing as they had done 20 years earlier.

I wanted to be there, to be part of this great and messy movement for equality.

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Passing of Ohio Gov. John J. Gilligan

Today marks the passing of Governor John Gilligan: Cincinnati native, Irish-Catholic, St. Xavier alumnus, Notre Dame alumnus. Requiescat in Pace.

Below is a story from the Columbus Dispatch:

Former Ohio Gov. John J. Gilligan dies

Friday, August 23, 2013

A Wonderful Song in Irish Gaelic--by Irish School Children

Look at this wonderful Irish-Gaelic rendition (and "cup" performance) of the song "You're Going to Miss Me When I'm Gone" by Irish school children:

Song by Van Morrison: "Tir na nOg"

This morning I encountered an astonishing song by the northern Irish singer and songwriter Van Morrison called "Tir na nOg," which refers to an Irish myth about the "Land of the Young." Van Morrison is certainly one of the greatest rock/pop artists in history. The first song I learned on guitar was his "Gloria." And everyone loves "Brown-Eyed Girl." Below are the lyrics for "Tir na nOg," followed by a Youtube version:

"Tir Na Nog" Lyrics from No Guru, No Method, No Teacher 

We were standing in the kingdom And by the mansion gate We stood enraptured by the silence As the birds sang their heavenly song In Tir Na Nog We stopped in the church of Ireland And prayed to our father And climbed up the mountainside With fire in our hearts And we walked all the way to Tir Na Nog I said with my eyes that I recognized your chin It was my long lost friend To help me from another lifetime We took each others hands and cried Like a river when we said hello And we walked to Tir Na Nog We made a big connection On a golden autumn day We were standing in the garden wet with rain And our souls were young again in Tir Na Nog And outside the storm was raging Outside Jerusalem We drove in our chariots of fire Following the big sun in the west Going up going up to Tir Na Nog You came into my life And you filled me and you filled me Oh, so joyous by the clear cool crystal streams Where the roads were quiet and still And we walked all the way to Tir Na Nog How can we not be attached After all we're only human The only way then is to never come back Except I that wouldn't want that would you If we weren't together again in Tir Na Nog We've been together before in a different incarnation And we loved each other then as well And we sat down in contemplation Many many many times you kissed mine eyes In Tir Na Nog 

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Dancing at Sacred Dancing Cascade, Glacier National Park

Carolan and Linda doing a little dance at Sacred Dancing Cascade, on McDonald Creek, in Glacier National Park. I have heard that American Indians called Lake McDonald "The Place Where They Dance" and "Sacred Dancing Lake."

McDonald Creek and Cascade from Foot/Horse Bridge

Looking south from the McDonald Creek Bridge

Late Summer Cruise on Lake Erie

I have a 26-year old boat, not exactly a rustbucket--it works well and is safe. And last night Linda and I took it out from the Mentor Lagoons onto the Big Lake, Lake Erie. Here are some photos:

Leaving my dock in Mentor Lagoons

Linda riding on the bow while in the Lagoons

Out on the Big Lake we always where life jackets
(seemingly the only ones who do this!)

The Lighthouse where the Grand River meets Lake Erie

Looking at the town of Fairport Harbor and the old Fairport Lighthouse

Sundown, as seen from Mentor Headlands Beach

The moment of sunset, right before the Green Flash

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Lower Falls and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

Lower Falls, as seen from the Lower Rim Trail
Lower Falls of the Yellowstone

Lower Falls is 309 feet tall.

Lower Falls and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. View is from Artist Point.

Lower Falls of the Yellowstone

This short video was taken looking at the Lower Falls of the Yellowstone, which is about two times higher than Niagara Falls,. Yellowstone National Park is one of the wonders of the world. It is a park for all the American people. And indeed we found it is beloved and visited by people from all over the world.

Note: in the short video above I call this the Upper Falls; it is actually the Lower Falls. The Upper Falls is about one third the height of the Lower Falls.

Patsy Harman's Novel, "The Midwife of Hope River"

I just finished reading Patsy Harman's debut novel, "The Midwife of Hope River." The appearance of this book is especially exciting for me because I knew Patsy and many of her friends in the 1970s (including Tom Harman, Kenny Przybylski, Timmy Jenkins, Wendy Rawlins Tuck, and many others). Patsy has published two other outstanding books in the past few years. In 2009 she published "The Blue Cotton Gown: A Midwife's Memoir." Then in 2012 she came out with "Arms Wide Open: A Midwife's Journey." I loved "Arms Wide Open" because for me it was a kind of puzzle trying to figure out who was who (she disguised people's names and identities except for her and her husband Tom Harman). I think "Arms Wide Open" is a major contribution to the literature and history of the peace movement and the communitarian movement (Patsy and Tom established communities in Batavia, Ohio, and Spencer West Virginia; I lived in the Batavia house after the communards left; and I visited the Spencer community on two or three occasions).

"The Midwife of Hope River" is fictional, set in West Virginia of  1930 (with flashbacks to other times and places). But like all good fiction, the book is "truer than true." and taps into archetypal reality. You really care about the characters--Patience Murphy, Bitsy, the veterinarian Daniel, and the many women that Patience served as a midwife.

I am astonished at Patsy's skill as a writer. You can't help but wonder how such incredible talent emerged so late in life. I am reminded of a letter that Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote to Walt Whitman:

"I greet you at the beginning of a great career, which yet must have had a long foreground somewhere, for such a start." 

I don't know what Patsy's foreground was. Maybe it was writing letters or diary entries or journals. Whatever it was, it has prepared Patsy for an extraordinary career rather later in life than we normally see.

Hurray for Patsy Harman! Hurray for these wonderful books!

Our Lady of the Rockies--over Butte, Montana

A beautiful, gigantic statue of Our Lady sits on the Continental Divide (elevation 8510 feet) overlooking the city of Butte, Montana. It is an astonishing sight to be sure. The statue is non-denominational, dedicated to all women, especially mothers.

Information on it can be found here: Our Lady of the Rockies Website.

The statue is 90 feet in height and is a stunning eggshell white color. Despite its enormous size, it can't be seen as well as might be expected (it's 3500 feet above the city and a few miles away).

Below are some photos from the web site:

Our Lady--photo taken from Berkeley Pit, Butte, Montana

Wednesday, August 14, 2013


A Beautiful Girl--A Happy Girl


My grandson plays ring-around-the-rosie with his new friend Hannah. At the end he asks her, "Are you happy?"

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Butte, Montana and the Berkeley Pit--An Environmental Disaster for the Ages

Recently I visited Butte, Montana, while on my way to Kalispell and Glacier National Park to visit my daughter Carolan. I am interested in Butte because a hundred years ago it was a town of Irish immigrants (and other ethnic groups). It was so Irish that Gaelic was often spoken in town. The city of Butte, which once had a population of almost 100,000 souls, lay atop a fortune in silver, gold, and copper ore. In 1955, the Anaconda Copper Company began strip mining under the town. To do this they bought out the residents and annihilated the Dublin Gulch, Finn Town, and other neighborhoods. They didn't stop this open pit mining until 1982 when they left a hole a mile across and almost 1800 feet deep. When Atlantic Richfield (ARCO), which had succeeded Anaconda, abandoned the mine, they turned off the water pumps at the bottom of the pit. The pit filled with water, almost to the point that the drinking water supply was destroyed. The pit is now filled with highly acidic water, with the acidity of lemon juice. This acid water leaches out arsenic, lead, and other heavy metals and poisonous substances from the rock. There are so many heavy metals in the water that they are now trying to mine the water!

I don't think this incredible environmental disaster can ever be fixed. What is particularly disturbing is that it happened so recently--when we knew better. Butte appears to be a ruined city at the heart of a ruined county. An incredible statue overlooks the city of Butte (now about one third its former size) from atop the Continental Divide--Our Lady of the Rockies. It will take the environmental Superfund, and the power of the saints like Our Lady, to restore this historic city.

The Berkeley Pit, Butte, Montana
Another view of the Pit, looking toward the mountain of Our Lady of the Rockies

Colin Jude--The Next Mozart?

Friday, August 9, 2013

Poem Honoring the Retirement of Fr. Francis P. Walsh

Fr. Francis P. Walsh

I just heard that Fr. Francis P. Walsh, priest of the diocese of Cleveland, is retiring. Fr. Walsh is remembered very fondly by me and my brothers and sister for his years of service at St. William's in Euclid (1957-1962). My mother and father were also very fond of Fr. Walsh. Below is a poem I wrote some time back that mentions Fr. Walsh. The poem takes some minor liberties with historical fact:

Sr. Muriel’s Boys’ ChoirSt. William’s Church, Euclid, Ohio, 1959

Solemn High Midnight Mass, near the end of an era
(one that would end in gunfire from a grassy knoll in Dallas,
In a hellfire of napalm and Agent Orange in Vietnam,
And a medieval Church damaged by patriarchy and the weight of time) . . .

There in that modest church on East 260th Street,
In a working-class suburb of a city in its death rattle,

Right there, 28 boys led by an Irish nun of the Ursuline order,
Sang so beautifully it would make the angels weep.

In the hushed darkness of midnight, as Monsignor John Fleming
Processed into the church, with Fr. Walsh as deacon, and Fr. Praznik as subdeacon,
Behind a cross raised high and candles lit against the darkness,

The boys sang “Gesu Bambino,” in English:

When blossoms flowered 'mid the snows
Upon a winter night,
Was born the Child, the Christmas Rose,
The King of Love and Light.

The organist played softly as the boys’ voices soared:

The angels sang, the shepherds sang,
The grateful earth rejoiced;
And at His blessed birth the stars
Their exultation voiced.

And then the chorus, “Venite adoremus”:
O come let us adore Him,
O come let us adore Him,
O come let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.
As Monsignor Fleming mounted the steps to the altar,
The church lights came on, and for the last time in the season, we sang “Adeste Fidelis.”
We sang it in perfect church Latin diction, following Sr. Muriel’s instructions for each syllable.

Fr. Fleming began the mass, “In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti . . . .”
Then, “Introibo ad altare Dei.”

Two eighth grade boys, in surplices and cassocks, responded,
“Ad Deum qui laetificat juventutum meum.”
The response was quick and natural—and not fully understood by the boys
Or the hundreds of people in the pews. In three or four years
This Latin would be obsolete, not to be heard again.
The medieval period, which stretched across hundreds of years,
Was ending. And yes, good riddance! Yet—

There was great beauty and pageantry there,
And to this little choir boy,

Mystery and power in the Latin,
The incense, the sincere prayers of so many of these people,
My friends and neighbors (so many of them now gone).

When it was over, about 1:30 a.m.,
I walked out of the church into the brisk, snowy night,
And walked, my 11-year-old self, the mile home,
Down East 262, to Forestview, to East 266, then home.

All was silence, that night so long ago, as I entered the dark house,
Past the darkened Christmas tree, the unopened presents,
Up the stairs to where Denny and I shared a room.

And I fell asleep, the last Christmas of the Medieval,
With “Gesu Bambino” dancing in my brain,

And hoping one of the presents under the tree was a pair of baseball spikes.

[Bob Coughlin. Chardon, Ohio. January 6, 2013]

My sister Mary Ellen sent me a photo of Fr. Walsh and his sister Maggie--from father's retirement party:

Fr. Francis P. Walsh and his sister Maggie

Thursday, August 8, 2013

A Few Pictures from Yellowstone National Park

Old Faithful--Yes, it is impressive!
Lower Falls of the Yellowstone, with the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.
One of the wonders of the world.
Travertine "steps," created by the mineral-laden waters of the hot spring. Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone.
A buffalo swimming the Yellowstone River. We saw hundreds of buffalo.
The Roosevelt Arch,at the northern end of Yellowstone. It reads,  "For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People."