Friday, December 29, 2017

(Grand-) Child of Mine--Happy Birthday Robby!

Tomorrow is my grandson Robby Kleppel's 4th birthday. I can't tell you how much I love him! Robby is so smart, so much fun--an energetic intellectual and emotional and physical whirlwind. In some ways I think of him as my own son--maybe that's the way grandparents always feel. His mother (my daughter Julia) and his father (Ed Kleppel) have done such a marvelous job raising him. And I guess Robby should himself get some credit for raising his parents--and grandparents.

Robby is full of so many wonderful enthusiasms. He loves his family, he loves his uke and guitar, he loves his grandparents, he loves his trains and trucks, his diggers and excavators (and he is quick to point out--a "digger" is not necessarily an "excavator"). And Robby is amazingly smart. Not yet four, he is deft and precise with language. And his brain is like a sponge (just like his older brother Colin and his baby sister Ava).

It has been such a blessing to be a grandparent to Robby, Colin, Ava--and now, Baby Lillian. I am so full of gratitude and wonder.

Here is a song by the folksinger Bill Staines that expresses some of what I feel about Robby, the day before his fourth birthday:

Robby with his new "Gorny Pig," Mr. Smiles.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Winter Solstice--A Poem

A poem for the darkness and cold, where Hope is a distant memory, a distant hope. Of course you've never felt like this!

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


                Bob Coughlin 

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

A Modest Proposal for a New Constitutional Right: The Right Not to be Murdered . . .

The Right Not to Be Murdered with a Semiautomatic Weapon

In the richest, most powerful land in the history of the world,
You don’t have the right to food, shelter, basic medical care . . .

But you do have the right to own and use a powerful killing machine.
You can carry it in your pocket, your holster,
In your car or pick-up,
You can carry it into a church and murder
15-month-olds, 77-year-olds, a dozen children,
A pregnant woman and the unborn child she is bearing.
The woman you are shooting also bears arms, the arms,
Legs, hands, feet, heart, and brain of the future,
Of hope.

This does not have to be.
And those offering only “thoughts and prayers,”
Forget that we are the hands and feet of God.

“There is nothing we can do”
Is a dangerous lie!
We know what we can do—
Let’s get started right now!

Bob Coughlin / November 7, 2017

Friday, September 15, 2017

A Modest Little Poem About September

Sweet September

These days are clear and quiet,
Trees beginning to turn, slowly,
Toward something new.

Mornings the birds are quiet
And I hear the occasional squawk of crows and blue jays,
Not so much the sweet tune of cardinals.

Afternoons the skies are blue, the wind still,
The Big Lake preternaturally calm,
Cicadas singing their end-of-summer songs.

Night, ah the nights are so sweet,
With the great rhythmic concert of crickets—
It lulls me to sleep, nature’s mantra, litany, rosary,

My windows open, the cool night air seeping in,
Me dreaming about auroras.

Bob Coughlin / September 14, 2017

Monday, September 11, 2017

A Memory of 9-11

A Recollection of 9-11, written many years ago.

September 11, 2001—A Memory

How I taught that 10 AM class I don’t know. I did mention the tragedy to the class, as if they didn’t know already, and we all prayed in class before the lesson started. Then amazingly, I proceeded with the lesson.

As the class progressed, I grew more and more anxious, until the end, when I practically busted out of the room and ran back to my office. “I have to see if Mom is all right!” I yelled to myself, racing down the hallways from T-Building. I was also worried about my wife Linda and my 3 daughters. Julia was away at college, Miami University. Carolan was at Chardon High School. Em was at St. Mary’s School, where Linda worked. But Mom was 77 years old, blind, and alone at home in Euclid--Dad four years in the grave. I had to go to her right away!

I ran to the faculty-staff lot and cranked up my car—it was almost empty of gas. A thought streaked across my mind: What if the gas pumps go out? What if gigantic lines form at the gas stations? Are the ATM machines working? As usual I had almost no cash in my wallet.

My first step was to get to the Bank One money machine. The machine worked and I withdrew a hundred dollars, a huge amount for me to carry around. Then I headed to Kirtland Road, the back way to Mom’s. I thought maybe the freeways would get jammed up with cars, people fleeing . . . to somewhere, anywhere. We had no idea what was going on yet. So far we knew that both towers of the World Trade Center had been hit; by this time one of the buildings had actually collapsed to the ground, something unheard of! There was a story about a jet crashing into a field southeast of Pittsburgh. The Pentagon had been hit. There were rumors galore flying around. One claimed that Dayton had been hit. My oldest daughter Julia was a freshman at Miami University, not far from Dayton. What was going on? Are we all in danger?

Down Kirtland Road I drove like a maniac, coming to Rt. 20 in Willoughby. West on 20 to Vine Street. Down Vine to Lakeshore Boulevard. There near the corner of Lakeshore and Vine was a gas station without big lines. I pulled in and filled my tank. Would this be my last chance to get gas?

I zipped out on Vine, then left on Lakeshore down to Lloyd. Down Lloyd to Forestview. Then to East 272, then Farringdon, then East 266 and into Mom’s driveway. I pushed open my car door, one knock on Mom's door, then inside.

There Mom calmly sat on the davenport, drinking a cup of coffee, smoking a cigarette, and watching the television’s grim news. Mom was OK; I was the one who was frantic, anxious, frightened to death. I hugged her. She comforted me like I was a scared 5-year-old again.

Robert M. Coughlin
September 11, 2008

A poem for a 9-11 Hero: Fr. Mychal Judge, FDNY, Franciscan Priest

A poem I wrote 16 years ago:

Fr. Mychal Judge, FDNY, Requiescat in Pace
Blunt force facts smack us in the face,

proclaim this martyrdom,
raise up this simple priest—

68-year-old Franciscan, Father Mychal Judge,
at an age when he should be easing into retirement,
maybe visiting hospitals twice a week
saying a couple masses on Sundays
taking long vacations to Killarney and Lago di Como . . .

rushes from St. Francis of Assisi Church
in the shadow of Madison Square Garden,
across the street from Engine Co. 1/ Ladder 24,
to the World Trade Center Towers and Armageddon:

Fr. Mike removes his helmet to whisper prayers,
anoints a dying brother fireman with the oils of the Last Rites,
the final comfort . . .


whacked by flying debris, bodies,
steel, glass, paper,
hopes, dreams,

breath punched out, life snuffed.

When his brothers in the Department
see the lifeless body, recognize Fr. Mike,
their chaplain,

Five of them lift him up on their shoulders,
carry him to a nearby church,
place him at the altar.

They cover him with a white cloth and his stole,
lay his helmet and FDNY chaplain’s badge
on his chest
kneel down and

Thank God for Fr. Mike’s life.

Then they hurry back to the Pile, the rubble, the Disaster,
Ground Zero,
the End of the World.

* * *

Life and love will overcome
the furious hatred and darkness

Fr. Mike will not be forgotten:

“His light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness will not overcome it.”

(Robert M. Coughlin September 25, 2001)

Monday, August 28, 2017

Amazon Review for Patti Liszkay’s book "Equal and Opposite Reactions"

I wrote the following review of Patti Liszkay's novel for

An Engaging and Timely Debut Novel

Patti Liszkay’s debut novel, Equal and Opposite Reactions, is full of trouble, and as writing instructors tell their students, “Only trouble is interesting.” The novel is a story of blossoming love, broken love that has turned to hatred, greed, and selflessness. And if that weren’t enough, there is a plot twist involving an issue that has been in the news in the first months of Donald Trump’s administration—the massive roundup and deportation of undocumented immigrants. We see the difficult choices left for these immigrants, their families, and supporters and the wide ripples of damage these policies are causing.

Patti Liszkay tells much of her story via dialogue and action, with a minimum of exposition. In that way her novel is much like a movie or play. The dialogue rings true, even when it is bilingual, in Spanish and English. The characters are vivid, and, frankly, fun.

The novel is set primarily in working class Northeast Philadelphia, and the author has a fine grasp of the geography as well as the ethnic mix and voices of the area. Honestly, I was amazed at how much the author knows—about different kinds of people and professions, about legal issues involving immigration, and the twists and turns of the human heart

There are some minor flaws that will be corrected in future editions—typos, and the use of backwards accent marks in the Spanish sections. Some of the legal issues are out-of-date because of very recent Trump Administration decisions. But overall, this is a very engaging novel, with the sweetest of love stories. It makes you hope that Patti Liszkay continues writing fiction!

If you want to see Patti's book on, click here.

A Poem for a Child Killed in a Car Accident--Janyia Thomas

Timara Wilcoxson, a woman we know from the St. Mary's Painesville Karpos meal, has suffered a great tragedy, the loss of her three-year-old child Janyia in a pedestrian car accident in Broadview Heights. I wrote the following poem as an elegy, a lament, for the poor child, her mother, and her entire family. We pray for this suffering family.

O Broken Heart—A Dirge for Timara and Janyia

O broken heart!

Three-year-old Janyia lying dead on the street,
Her mother Timara asking her, over and over,
To open her eyes, “Janyia, wake up; you’re not doing this to Mommy,
Just wake up.”

The two other babies, Mia and Kylina, safe but stunned
By the unfeeling car, striking everyone down,
And their little sister quiet and still
Under the car.

The heartbreak seeps in, then sweeps in like a tidal wave
Cold and blackness and impossibility, this stillness,
This stillness!

Her life so hard as it is, three babes under 4,
And an unborn one in her womb, 7 months,
Contractions triggered by the trauma of the car accident.

Seven days later, the little child Janyia waked and buried,
The heart broken. Can it ever heal? Can the pain, Sweet Jesus,
Ever subside, like the tsunami of suffering and


                                                Bob Coughlin / August 24, 2017

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Pairing a photo I took in Montana with a Gary Snyder poem

For All
Ah to be alive
on a mid-September morn
fording a stream
barefoot, pants rolled up,
holding boots, pack on,
sunshine, ice in the shallows,
northern rockies.

Rustle and shimmer of icy creek waters
stones turn underfoot, small and hard as toes
cold nose dripping
singing inside
creek music, heart music,
smell of sun on gravel.

I pledge allegiance

I pledge allegiance to the soil
of Turtle Island,
and to the beings who thereon dwell
one ecosystem
in diversity
under the sun
With joyful interpenetration for all.

                                    --Gary Snyder


[What an extraordinary poem--by one of America's greatest living poets! Gary Snyder captures it exactly right. This poem passes the envy test where you say, "I wish I had written that one!" The photo was taken by me on July 14th, 2017, and shows Carolan and Linda crossing the cold, cold Morrison Creek in the Bob Marshall Wilderness of Montana. We were on our 14-mile trek from the Morrison Creek Trailhead to the Schafer Meadows Forest Service Station--a very difficult hike for Linda and me (and maybe a routine one for Carolan, who is in superb shape). The water of Morrison Creek is fast-flowing and perfectly clear. It contains meltwater from snowpacks melting atop the high mountains in the Great Bear Wilderness section of the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex. I'm guessing the water temperature was in the low 40s. It was painful (my feet and legs ached from the cold), exhilarating, and unforgettable.

Gary Snyder reminds me why I still try to write poetry. Once in a while, you get it perfectly right, as he did here.]