Friday, January 31, 2014

Poem about My Dad and Growing up in Euclid

Walking to Vitale’s with My Dad--February 1959
(Euclid, Ohio)

After supper we would walk briskly, Dad and me,
in the dark up East 266 Street, walk on the sidewalks
glazed by an inch of ice. We hardly said a word

to each other, but he knew
how much I loved him, admired him.
He was just happy to be walking
with his oldest son--no words needed.

We walked the 8/10 of a mile in 15 minutes,
a challenge for my 10-year-old legs.
Dad chatted with Tony Vitale, then bought
2 packs of Kent cigarettes and an Almond Joy.
I sat at the counter sipping a 12 cent chocolate Coke.

On the walk back, Dad gave me half the Almond Joy.
My own joy was unbounded, the crystal clear night,
the pure cold, being with my Dad.

Bob Coughlin/January 31, 2014

New Poem about the Baby Born in the Great Atlanta Traffic Jam

News Flash: Baby Born in Atlanta Traffic Jam!

This just in! A baby was born today
in the great Atlanta traffic jam
caused by icing and 2.6 inches of snow.

Initial reports were that the freeways were jammed
for 20 hours--children on schoolbuses over night,

bladders exploding, cars running out of gas,
vehicles abandoned on the roadways.

Here’s an update!
The traffic jam lasted so long,
we now know the baby born in the traffic jam

was also conceived there!

(Bob Coughlin/January 28, 2014)

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

A Fantasy Poem about Frozen Lake Erie

The Frozen Lake, from Mentor Beach Park

Canucks and Yanks Crossing Frozen Lake Erie (a fantasy)

As if it were December 31, 406 AD all over again--when
Vandals, Alans, and Suebi, barbarian hordes, my ancestors,
Swarmed across the frozen Rhine--
The Roman Empire on the way to falling.

January 28, 2014, coldest winter in decades,
Lake Erie frozen from Toledo to Niagara Falls,
Catawba Island to Put-in-Bay to Point Pelee,
Cleveland to Rondeau, Long Point to Presque Isle.

And what happens? The barbarous Canucks seize their chance,
And start walking south, many with dogsleds,
Some on 4-wheelers or skimobiles,
None with passports.

The Canucks want liberty, cheap consumer goods,
Affordable housing--they want respect and status as North Americans,
Real Americans. They want warmth and sunshine.

And swarming north are Yanks, equally barbarous,
Also without passports, some with snowmobiles, dogsleds, 4-wheelers,
Wanting good health insurance, humane cities, less poverty,
Less vitriol, more kindness, more, what? Something else . . .

The Canadian frontier, where if you wanted, you could amble
Through wilderness to the Arctic,
Walk to the land of the Inuit and polar bear--
To the North Pole, for God’s sake.
Where imagination has fewer limits--or so they think.

The arduous trek is 2 hard days minimum, more like 3 for most.
And after a day and a half of the hardest going imaginable,
Over frozen waves, domes and ridges of ice, across
This bitter cold desert,

The Canucks and the Yanks meet in the middle,
At the invisible line that nation states draw
Through mountains, prairies, and Great Lakes.

They set up tents on the ice, 2 feet of ice over 70 feet of water.
They trade slugs of smooth Canadian whiskey
For thermoses of hot coffee. They trade dreams, aspirations.

They find that they are not that much different, those hiking north
And those hiking south. They are equally barbarous
and equally noble humans,

all aching for something better.

Robert M. Coughlin/January 2014

[I've had some second thoughts about the initial draft of this poem. So I changed a few words (so the "barbarous" Canadians are not waking across the Lake for guns!). This takes some edginess off this poem, but makes it more reasonable, I think. The poem grew out of 2 short poems that I wrote many years ago about the frozen Lake Erie. One of those poems ended with the lines: "I could walk to Canada / If I had the imagination." Well, this poem takes that imagination a step further! I tried to pair up this story line of walking across the frozen lake with the historical fact of the Germanic ("barbarian") tribes crossing the frozen Rhine River around 406 AD, leading eventually to the fall of the Roman Empire. I use the term "barbarous" ironically, of course, to describe both the Canadians and the Yanks.]

"Mea Culpa," O Canada, for that first draft!

New Poem about My Experience in a Homeless Shelter

13 Below in the Emergency Homeless Shelter

Last night I was blessed to sleep at
St. Mary’s Emergency Shelter.

Bitterest night in 20 years, whiteout blizzard
and 13 below zero.

Inside the school gym, we chatted,
drank hot chocolate, watched a movie.

Met some sweet people,
the homeless, and the helpers.

Tried to understand the why
and help with the now.

We lent them a cot and some blankets;
they gave us the great privilege of offering a hand.

Bob Coughlin / January 28, 2014

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Passing of Pete Seeger (1919 to 2014)

Pete Seeger, one of the greatest Americans in history, passed away yesterday at the age of 94. He has left an indelible mark on American and World music and culture. He led an exemplary life, even when slandered and blacklisted during the dark days of the McCarthy era. He had been married for nearly 70 years to his wife Toshi, who died last summer. He was active professionally as a musician, songwriter, and campaigner for a more just, equal, and humane world for about 75 years.

Pete Seeger authored or co-authored so many great songs it is hard to know where to start . . .[more coming].

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Some Haiku Poems for Winter

Some Winter Haikus for My Mom (and One for Linda)
 Written January 23, 2014

Haiku is a Japanese form that normally has 3 lines, with 5 syllables in line 1, 7 in line 2, and 5 in line 3. These poems usually have vivid sense imagery.

Snow Days

Grim driving to work.
Snow and ice bring frowns (and smiles,
Recalling childhood).


January 1959

Icy Zeman Ave.
We grab car bumpers—great ride!

Hope Mom doesn’t find out!


Denny flings snowball
At the Euclid Bus—breaks window.

Run boys—we’re in big trouble!

Mom in Winter 1959

Brings her red-faced boys
Steaming hot chocolate. She knows
We’ve been up to mischief—and laughs!


And a haiku for Linda:


Crocus pushing through
The snow.  First love blooming now,
     So unexpected!

Carolan and Jeremy: "I'm Sittin' on Top of the World . . ."

Winter camping in the mountains north of Whitefish, Montana--with a view of Flathead Lake, Glacier National Park, even Canada!

Carolan and Jeremy--Sunny Day on Top of the
A long, demanding hike on snow shoes (Carolan) and skins (Jeremy). North of Whitefish-Big Mountain (Montana)
Cold? Are you kidding? Hiking near Mt. Standard (Montana)
Winter camping near Mt. Standard, Montana. Warm as Toast!
[These photos are the intellectual property of either Jeremy Rust or Carolan Coughlin. All Rights Reserved.]

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Why Are There So Many Hungry and Homeless in America?

Every Thursday I serve food at the Karpos Meal for the Hungry and Homeless at St. Mary's Church in Painesville, Ohio. My contribution of time and effort are minimal and don't compare to the contributions of many of the others working on this meal--Kathy Philipps, Dan Phillipps, Kathy Flora, Jeffrey, Wayne, Chuck Hillier, Rose, Jan, Pam, Karen, Kennedy (Ken) Fitzsimmons, Joan-the-Great-Piemaker, Linda, Patrick, Jim, Bea, Debby, and many others. But at least I do something.

I am astonished at the number of hungry people (some of whom are homeless, even in the winter) in Painesville, Ohio. Right smack in the middle of the United States of America, the richest and most powerful large country in the history of the world. What is wrong with the way we organize our society that this could happen?

This past week I read an interesting article in The New Yorker by James P. Carroll on Pope Francis and his exhortations and efforts for the poor. Carroll mentioned a quote by a modern-day saint, Dom Helder Camara, who was an archbishop in Recife, Brazil. Helder Camara said,

“When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.” 
― Hélder CâmaraDom Helder Camara: Essential Writings

Why do so many poor in America's breadbasket have no food or shelter?

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

When Lake Erie Freezes

Lake Erie--Frozen Solid

the awesome sight--huge
pressure domes of ice
heaved into ridges
chaotic frozen waves
far as the eye can see
wondrous powerful lake

I could walk to Canada
if I had the imagination

I love Lake Erie in all seasons, in all its moods. This has been true from my earliest childhood in Willoughby-on-the-Lake, when my dad and my Uncle Jack would take us swimming down the street from our house. The above poem, written long ago, began with images of the Lake. But as poems sometimes do, it moved in an unexpected direction and became a poem about the power of imagination; it became a poem about creativity, about the writing of poetry.

Below: some photos from 2003, taken at Fairport Harbor, Ohio.
Me on the frozen lake. Fairport Harbor.

Carolan. Fairport Harbor, looking east.

A strange swirl of fish caught in the ice. Fairport Harbor.

Friday, January 10, 2014

First Day of Preschool

Big Day for Colin!

Lake Erie in Winter--Mentor Headlands, Ohio

Looking west at sunset--January 4, 2014

Looking east toward Fairport Lighthouse.

The wild beach, looking toward Grand River entrance and Fairport Light.


Headlands dunes at sunset.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Emergency Shelter for the Homeless in Cleveland

There is a fantastic report on Channel 5's website ( on sheltering the homeless in Cleveland. It is at this link: Video Report on Sheltering the Homeless in Cleveland

God Bless these folks!

Monday, January 6, 2014

Many Homeless Are Sleeping Outside Tonight in Lake County Ohio

Every Thursday I help serve meals to the homeless and hungry in Painesville, Ohio, at St. Mary's Church (a service of Karpos Ministry, founded by Kathy and Dan Philipps). Painesville is not a huge city (about 20,000 within city limits), but it is the county seat of Lake County. Over all, Lake County is one of the more prosperous counties in the state of Ohio. But the hunger, homelessness, and poverty in this county--astonishing. We probably average 100 meals (with a high of about 180) on Thursday nights. Meals are also served on Wednesday nights. And since St. James Episcopal has stopped serving meals, we have expanded to Tuesday nights. Many of the people we serve live outside. Some live in tents along the Grand River. Some sleep in alleys or empty buildings. The jail in Painesville will allow folks to sleep in the lobby during extreme weather. Lucky ones can stay for a while in the Project Hope home (25 Freedom Road, Painesville Township, Ohio 44077).

Tonight the temperature will fall to 15 to 20 below zero, with wind chills much worse than that. Can you imagine living outside in this cold--in the richest, most powerful country in the history of the world? One cannot help but think of Jesus' exhortation to feed the hungry and shelter the homeless!

Some contacts:

Project Hope:

Cleveland Food Bank:

Karpos Ministry and St. Mary's:

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Skiing in Chapin Forest, Kirtland, Ohio

Great day, perfect day for cross-country skiing! Chapin Forest and Gildersleve Mountain in Kirtland, Ohio--in the great Lake County Metroparks.
Bob, atop Gildersleve Mountain, Chapin Forest
Good thing there are straw bales here!
"Ski Heil!" --as we used to say in Austria.

Carolan atop Gildersleve Mountain.

Lamentation for Marty Gerrity

Two beautiful traditional Irish laments for my friend Marty Gerrity, who died last week at age 61. Blessings to Marty's friends and his family (who are my dear friends).

"O'Connell's Lamentation":

"O'Donnell's Lament"--as played by Eileen Ivers:

Passing of Marty Gerrity

Martin Vincent Gerrity

Be the first to share your memories or express your condolences in the Guest Book for Martin Vincent Gerrity.

Gerrity, Martin Vincent age 61 of Hopkins, formerly of Berwyn Heights, MD. Survived by siblings, Thomas (Marjorie), Michael (Terry), Kevin (Deborah), Ellen (Tom), Anne (Warren) and his long time companion, Leslie Bjork; nieces and nephews. In lieu of flowers, memorials are preferred to Sharing and Caring Hands. Memorial service Saturday 1/4/14, 2 PM with visitation 1 hour prior Strobeck Johnson Chapel 1400 Mainstreet, Hopkins 952-938-9020
Published in Star Tribune on Jan. 1, 2014

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Heavy Snow in Northern Ohio

After a couple of days of persistent snow and then heavier snow and high winds--this is my deck in Chardon, Ohio