Thursday, November 28, 2013

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Poem by Wendell Berry--Last Blog Entry (Ever?) on JFK

November 26, 1963
Wendell Berry
The Nation
, 21 December 1963, page 437
We know the winter earth upon the body of the young
      President, and the early dark falling;
we know the veins grown quiet in his temples and
      wrists, and his hands and eyes grown quiet;
we know his name written in the black capitals
      of his death, and the mourners standing in the
      rain, and the leaves falling;
we know his death’s horses and drums; the roses, bells,
      candles, crosses; the faces hidden in veils;
we know the children who begin the youth of loss
      greater than they can dream now;
we know the nightlong coming of faces into the candle-
      light before his coffin, and their passing;
we know the mouth of the grave waiting, the bugle and
      rifles, the mourners turning away;
we know the young dead body carried in the earth into
      the first deep night of its absence;
we know our streets and days slowly opening into the
      time he is not alive, filling with our footsteps and
we know ourselves, the bearers of the light of the earth
      he is given to, and of the light of all his lost

we know the long approach of summers toward the
      healed ground where he will be waiting, no longer the
      keeper of what he was.

Friday, November 22, 2013

"The Far Side of Revenge"--The "Birth-Cry" of the Beloved Community. Remembering John F. Kennedy

Below, part of Seamus Heaney's work, "The Cure at Troy." Seems like fitting words to remember John F. Kennedy. Thanks to Maggie Brock for sending me this.
History says, don’t hope
On this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up,
And hope and history rhyme.
So hope for a great sea-change
On the far side of revenge.
Believe that further shore
Is reachable from here.
Believe in miracle
And cures and healing wells.
Call miracle self-healing:
The utter, self-revealing
Double-take of feeling.
If there’s fire on the mountain
Or lightning and storm
And a god speaks from the sky
That means someone is hearing
The outcry and the birth-cry
Of new life at its term.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

William Butler Yeats and John F. Kennedy: The Light Shines in the Darkness

Below is part of a great poem written by WB Yeats. When I think of the killing of John F. Kennedy, I think of parts of this poem. Thanks be to God, evil has not prevailed.

The light shines in the darkness . . .
And the darkness has not overcome it! (John 1:5)

William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)
       THE SECOND COMING (parts)

    Turning and turning in the widening gyre
    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity . . .

    And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
    Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

An Older Poem on the Assassination of John F. Kennedy

November 22, 1963

I remember the very moment
as if it were branded on my soul:

It was 2:05 pm.
We were in Brother O’Connor’s 10th grade 
     religion class,
St. Joseph High School in Cleveland, 
     eager for the end of the day.

A crying voice came over the PA
saying, Please Pray for Him, Boys,
He’s Been Shot!

For 30 minutes there was stunned,
uncomprehending silence,
punctuated by confused attempts to pray;
but all our prayers were incoherent,
crazed dancing of a chicken, its head cut off.

At 2:35 Brother Matthew’s quavering voice
said, He’s Dead, Boys. Let’s Pray
For Him And For Ourselves

pray that love and light
overcome the furious violence

and darkness
in our souls.

                               Robert M. Coughlin/November 22, 1983

This poem, written 30 years ago, reflects quite accurately my experience of Friday, November 22, 1963. Of course memory is very fallible, and a few details might be wrong. I'm not 100% sure that it was St. Joe's principal. Brother Stanley Mathews who spoke on the PA that day. But I do remember being in Brother O'Connor's religion class, last period of the day. And I remember how stunned, saddened, and disoriented we all were. Notice how the last part of the poem indicts not only the murderer, but all of us--all with "the furious violence / and darkness/ in our souls." All of us.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Poem about the murder of JFK--and many other losses

Grace and Darkness in Matala, Crete--April 6, 1968

In this little Cretan village, Pitsidia,
Just kilometers north of Matala,

Anastasios invites me into his home,
Hands me his precious bouzouki.

Photos of Pope John XXIII, an Italian, 
and John F. Kennedy, Irish-American,
Festoon this Greek's whitewashed walls.

Two days before, Martin Luther King Jr. murdered
In Memphis. Two months from now Bobby Kennedy

Will be murdered in Los Angeles. Anastasios
Introduces us to his beautiful daughters, Kharis (Grace),

Maria, Magdalena. Shows me a photo of his cousin Nick
In New York City. I weep over his kindness,

His sweet bouzouki, his beautiful girls,
The passing of John XXIII, the murder of Jack Kennedy.

Robert M. Coughlin/November 22, 2013


1. This poem recounts, with great fidelity, an encounter my roommate Brian Wilson and I had just outside Matala, Crete in early April of 1968.

2. A “bouzouki” is a Greek musical instrument similar to a mandolin.

3. The Greek name “Anastasios” means “resurrection.”

4. The Greek name “Kharis” means “grace” or “undeserved kindness.”

5. Thanks to Frank Prpic for help with the above photo.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Cover Page of Issue 3, Chagrin River Review

Look at Amy Dwyer Peck's beautiful cover of issue 3 of Chagrin River Review. A beautiful issue! Two of our poets have recorded themselves reading their poems. Some great stories. Check it out!

Here's the link: Chagrin River Review--Issue 3

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Colin Playing in a November Snow

The boy knows how to have fun!

Colin in the November 12, 2013 snow

A Lake Erie Story (for a Wintry November Day)

This story is about 90% true, with some fictionalization at the end.

Cruising the Big Lake a Late Summer Evening

 By Bob Coughlin

The air was benevolently warm as we skimmed the surface of the calm lake last Thursday in my old Sea Ray. We were a quarter mile off shore of the Mentor Lagoons, cruising Lake Erie, one of the world’s largest and most beautiful lakes. Late summer, the sun sinking down now before 8 pm, the sky glowing red, creating a path of gold from the setting sun to the shore.

Around 7 pm the onshore wind begins blowing, enough to fill the sails of the boats from the Mentor Harbor. About a half dozen sailboats go out onto the lake, hoist their sails, and follow the wind toward Fairport Harbor and the Grand River. Coming back against that wind will take some skill, tacking back and forth back to the Lagoons.

We head east, toward the Fairport Harbor Light at the entrance to the Grand River. Our first vision is the eroding clay cliffs near the Lagoons. There are yellowish, grey, and brown strata on these cliffs, in the most interesting whorls, carved vertical by 15-foot waves from last fall and winter. Perched precariously on the lip of the cliff we see gigantic red oaks, their roots partially exposed, waiting for the gales of November to go diving into the Lake. I hate to see these ancient giants go! Right on the rim of the cliff a deer browses on some grass, oblivious to the danger and unaware of its own surprising beauty. This square mile of beach and upland forest and marsh is thick with nearly tame deer.

We move further east at about 20 knots, along the mile-long wild shoreline, one of the only undeveloped shorelines on the south coast of Lake Erie (which, interestingly, is the north coast of the United States!). I see a few walkers, with their dogs racing along the beach. A guy throws a stick into the lake, and a big yellow lab plunges in after it. The perfect joy of being a dog chasing a stick!

Further east the beach is totally empty, as close to a wilderness as we have in Northeast Ohio. Driftwood, some of it the remnants of giant red oak and cottonwood, litter the beach. Back from the beach about 50 feet I see a small grove of willow trees and cottonwood. Then eroded hillside, full of small trees and some rather exotic shrubs, more reminiscent of much further south—yucca is everywhere; even some prickly pear cactus in the sand right below the hillside. Don’t these plants know what January is like in this environment? The lake will freeze, maybe freeze solid; then no more warming by a benevolent heat sink, the Big Lake!

Now, only a mile or two from the mouth of the Lagoons and a perfectly calm lake, a chop kicks up—not bad yet, but the Sea Ray begins rocking and rolling. I’ve learned to relax with this movement, not worry about it. My first couple years with this boat I would shift into panic mode when the lake kicked up. Not so much anymore.

We move further down toward Mentor Headlands and the great sand beach, a quarter mile wide and a mile and a half long. There are still a number of late-summer visitors on the beach, most of them on shore, lounging, reading, some playing beach volleyball. We cruise the boat very close to shore, maybe 200 feet off the beach. Many people wave to us and we wave back. A few hardy souls are in the water. Today is one of those days when the water is warmer than the air. The trick is to get in. I do it slowly and painfully; the brave and smart ones jump right in and get the initial shock over with quickly.

Soon we are along the wild part of Headlands beach, where there are no lifeguards and where the sand dunes are covered with beach oats and other hardy plants that can handle the wind and the sand. This part of the beach is nearly empty of people and is littered with driftwood and the trunks of giant trees. I remember how, as I kid living in Euclid, my brother Denny and I would launch one of these logs and ride it a mile out into the Lake. Today’s over-protective parents would have a hissy fit with something like that! Heck, police would probably get involved and the Coast Guard would come to the rescue!

As we approach the Grand River breakwall, I steer the boat south so we can enter the harbor by the lighthouse. I notice the lake is really kicking up now, contrary to the weather predictions I heard earlier on the marine radio. As I make the turn around the far end of the breakwall, we experience big waves and intense rocking and rolling. And then I see off the port side a small sailboat flipped over in the water. Three people, not wearing life jackets, are clinging to the boat and waving frantically to me.

I want to call a mayday in to the Coast Guard (who are stationed less than a mile from this very spot), but the urgency is to get these people out of the water. Linda grabs 2 telescoping hooks we use when we’re docking. She also grabs several life jackets and the life preserver ring to throw to the people in the water.

I maneuver the boat close to the overturned sailboat, careful not to hit anyone with the 5500 lb boat. Linda throws the ring to the teenage girl in the middle of the three and launches three life jackets to them. The three are frantic as they try to grab the life jackets and get them on as they tread water in the now very rough lake.

I wish I had another hand on board, but decide I need to make the mayday call to Channel 16 right now. Believe it or not this is the first time I’ve ever called on my marine radio. I sure hope it works. I call the mayday and the Coast Guard answers immediately. They are on their way and should be here in minutes. I hope it’s not too late.

By now Linda is using the telescoping hooks trying to reach the outstretched hands of the folks in the water. They all have lifejackets now, but only one was able to get it put on correctly; the other two are grasping them to their chests. Linda reaches the teenage girl and begins to pull her toward the Sea Ray. The girl reaches the swim platform and, with help, is able to climb the boat ladder and board the boat (which is bobbing and twisting in the increasing waves). Linda turns toward the other woman--she was not able to put on the life jacket. She grabs for the telescoping hook and Linda begins to pull her toward the boat. She gets to the boat but is too weak to climb the ladder and pull herself on board. She grasps the boat’s ladder, holding on for dear life.

The third boater in the water has begun to drift away from his overturned sailboat and my Sea Ray. Luckily the Coast Guard is approaching in a speedboat that looks like it’s doing 60 knots if anything.  As it approaches the man in the water, a guardsman dives into the lake and comes up behind and under the victim. He secures the man with a line and attaches an inflatable device of some sort. Another Guardsman reaches out with a real hook, one meant for the purpose of saving a person in the water. He quickly draws him to the Coast Guard boat and pulls him in. The rescue is over. Everyone is all right.

I haven’t had time to even think about what was happening. I notice now that my heart must be beating 150 times a minute and my head is throbbing. I feel suddenly nauseous and want to be back on terra firma.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

New Poem in German

Das Ende
(Mai 1973)

Zuhause vom Spital kam Klara,
neues Baby in den Armen.
Kein Platz mehr fuer mich in ihrem Bett,
Kuesse weg, Liebe weg.

Vermisse ich ihren Duft,
die Farbe ihres Haares,
Gefuehl ihrer sanften Wange.

Mein Bett, jetzt kalt wie eis.
Mein Herz mein Herz.

Robert M. Coughlin
10. November 2013

Poems and the Universe: We Are Stardust

Thanks to Kathy Flora for this image
Well maybe it's not exactly made of poems (I favor green cheese). But we poets sing about the universe. Joni Mitchell has a phrase in her song "Woodstock" that "we are stardust." Chet Raymo, the great writer, astronomer, and physicist, says that we are literally stardust. Every atom in our beings was forged in a star. Every atom of every thing in our world was forged in a star. "We are stardust, we are golden, and we've got to get ourselves back to the Garden" (Joni Mitchell).

Walsh Jesuit High School (and Katie Quinn) Wins Girls State Championship

Katie Quinn, on right, Walsh Jesuit High School State Champs
I just saw the Plain Dealer article--Walsh Jesuit (Cuyahoga Falls) beat Mason High School 2-0 to win the 2013 girls state soccer championship. Katie Quinn, who is a 2nd cousin, scored the second goal for Walsh. Click on the link below.

Plain Dealer story

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Great Night of Poetry in Painesville

Last night we had our second monthly poetry reading in Painesville at the winery/restaurant "Your Vine or Mine." Tobin Terry emceed the evening of poetry reading. The night was kicked off by Linda Tuthill and her husband Tim Tuthill. Linda's poems exhibited very precise word choice and a great eye for the natural world. The poem I liked best was set in Pennsylvania Dutch country, where she grew up. The poem even had a bit of Pennsylvanian German in it (I remember hearing the phrase "was ist los?" which means either "what is going on" or "what is wrong?"). Tim Tuthill followed with very short, exquisitely formulated poems. They were over in a flash and you had to really pay attention for the punch, the twist. You could tell that both Linda and Tim had read a lot of poetry and had written a lot, they were that good.

Margie DeLong then read some poems, as did I. Margie is the person responsible for resurrecting the Painesville poetry night, and is now co-hosting the event with Tobin Terry. Margie's poems were wonderful. I like her eye and how she reached into memory for her poems. My poems were about the coming of winter and waiting for the grace to get through the darkness. I hope the heaviness of these poems didn't put a pall over the evening! I tried for great sounds in this poem (I love sound and rhythm--the music of poetry) combining with the imagery of darkness and storms--and grace.

The featured reader of the night was a poet from the Dayton/Waynesville area of southwest Ohio, Grace Curtis. I didn't know what to expect, but was pleasantly surprised. Grace is a terrific poet and a great reader/performer of her own poems. Her poems play with words and ideas, reach into memory like the poems of Linda Tuthill and Margie DeLong (and actually, the way many of my own poems do). Grace's poems are also a lot of fun, and at times very humorous. And she is not afraid to play with some big, complex ideas. In short, Grace's performance was terrific.

Many of Grace's poems can be found at her website:

Below are some photos of the readings:

Tobin Terry

Linda Tuthill

Tim Tuthill

Margie DeLong

Grace Curtis

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Three Poems for the Coming of Winter

November in Northern Ohio

Before the darkness descends,
This moment of distilled grace--

Skies blue as robin egg,
Woods aflame with sugar maple

Dressed in fall finery
Oranges, yellows, reds.

Keep the clear days and nights in memory
When December falls—

            With its gloom of cloudy darkness,
When your heart is on ice waiting for the transplant!


November 22, 1963

I remember the very moment
as if it were branded on my soul:

It was 2:05 pm.
We were in Brother O’Connor’s 10th grade religion class,
St. Joseph High School in Cleveland, eager for the end
of the day.

A crying voice came over the PA
saying, Please Pray for Him, Boys,
He’s Been Shot!

For 30 minutes there was stunned,
uncomprehending silence,
punctuated by confused attempts to pray;
but all our prayers were incoherent,
crazed dancing of a chicken, its head cut off.

At 2:35 Brother Matthew’s quavering voice
said, He’s Dead, Boys. Let’s Pray
For Him And For Ourselves

pray that love and light
overcome the furious violence

and darkness
in our souls.


Winter Solstice

The chill creeps into the bones:
December 21 and sun gone long before 5 o’clock;
huge gray clouds roll in off Lake Erie
riding the Witch’s gale, spitting sleet and

fears as real and as organized as the swirl
of pin oak leaves down Lakeshore Boulevard.
This day, shaken by nameless fears,
seems to last forever:

I wonder how I will get through the next minute,
and the minute after that,
and the minute after that,

wonder if I can make it
until hope returns

until peace-which-surpasses-understanding,
as mysterious as winter solstice’s fear--
my heart standing still, turning cold,
my spirit abandoned--

until peace returns like grace like unexpected


                        Robert M. Coughlin

Monday, November 4, 2013

A Few More Fall Photos from Lake and Geauga Counties

Linda, looking across Blueberry Pond, Holden Arboretum, Kirtland, Ohio

Bob by a tupelo tree, Holden Arboretum, Kirtland, Ohio

Linda, near red maple, Holden Arboretum, Kirtland, Ohio

Sugar Maple in Hambden Township, outside Chardon
Little Mountain, Chardon Township

Friday, November 1, 2013

Sabido Cabin in the Bob Marshall Wilderness

Last week my daughter Carolan, and two of her friends, Lauren and Elisheba, hiked 16 miles from the Swift Reservoir, on the Blackfoot Reservation in Montana, to the Sabido Cabin in the Bob Marshall Wilderness. Their goal, as far as I understand, was to winterize the cabin--button it up and secure it for the long and harsh mountain winter in northern Montana. The 16-mile hike involved approximately 3000 feet in elevation gain, at times through muddy trails and cold stream fords--it took 7 exhausting (yet exhilarating) hours. These are extraordinary young people, tough, fit, and dedicated to taking care of our nation's great wilderness legacy. They look upon this work as a privilege, not as a burden. Hurray for the Montana Conservation Corps, the US Forest Service, AmeriCorps, the National Park Service, the Bob Marshall Wilderness Foundation, and all the people and organizations taking care of our parks and wilderness areas!

Photos below taken by Lauren or Elisheba:

Lauren, with Buffalo Mountain behind her

The girls at Sabido Cabin

Carolan before the long hike

This might be Birch Creek in "The Bob"

The low sun along the trail
Sabido Cabin, near Buffalo Mountain and Gateway Pass--The Bob

Carolan-Moose, at Sabido

Buffalo Mountain, Gateway Pass--in The Bob

The girls at Sabido Cabin

On the trail, Swift Reservoir to Sabido Cabin