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 Amazon.com

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 Amazon.com, 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.]

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Fr. Paul Desch, OFM. A Great Blessing for the World. 1929-2017.

Fr. Paul Desch, OFM

This past Tuesday, July 25, 2017, we attended the wake and funeral for Fr. Paul Desch, a Franciscan friar, the great uncle of my son-in-law Brian Homan, and the priest who presided at my daughter Emily's wedding to Brian. The funeral and wake were held at beautiful St. Clement's Church, in the Cincinnati inner-ring suburb of St. Bernard. This is the town where my father-in-law Art Sanders grew up. I think he attended both St. Clement's School for grade school and nearby Roger Bacon High School.
St. Clement, as seen from Vine Street

At Fr. Paul's funeral, St. Clement Church

The wake lasted but an hour and was held in the gathering space of the Church. The place was packed with friars, relatives, and friends, and many people spoke of how Fr. Paul affected their lives. Three special people there were his sister Mary Desch Sowar, and his two brothers. I thought how much they would miss their brother, whom they had known for over 80 years, through umpteen family baptisms, weddings, and funerals where he presided. Not to mention the letters, phone calls, and face-to-face conversations they had with him over 8 decades. The same would be true for his beloved Franciscan brothers, his second family. He had been a Franciscan since 1947, 70 years. The homily at the funeral was given by his dear friend, Fr. Paul Walsman, OFM, who first met Paul as a Freshman in the seminary (when Paul was a Junior). The homily was beautiful. Not exactly eloquent, but human, fun, and deeply touching. Father even sang--something Fr. Paul Desch often did, at mass and during homilies. I imagined how pleased Francis of Assisi would have been with these two priests.

Fr. Paul was actually named Thomas at birth (born in Fresno, California) and didn't receive his religious name, Paul, until he joined the Franciscans. His family had moved from Coldwater, Ohio, a heavily German-Catholic area of west-central Ohio, with the goal of curing his father's tuberculosis. After a few years, they moved back to the Coldwater area.

Thomas/Paul was an outstanding athlete and student in high school at St. Francis Seminary. After this high school seminary (a practice that I don't think is done anymore--high school seminary), Paul attended Duns Scotus College in Southfield, Michigan, where he made his solemn vows in 1951. After college Paul studied at Holy Family Theologate and was ordained a priest on June 8, 1956. So he was a priest for 60+ years.

Paul had many different jobs in his career, from college professor, to campus minister, to parish priest and pastor. I just missed meeting him many times--at St. Francis Church in Over-the Rhine (Cincinnati), and at the St. George Newman Center, adjacent to the University of Cincinnati. I attended St. George and knew two of the priests there, Fr. Joe Rigali, OFM, and Fr. Harry Meyer, a priest of the Diocese of Cincinnati. Fr. Harry presided at Linda and my wedding on May 5, 1978. Little did I know that Fr. Paul Desch was a campus minister there right at that time.

My daughter Emily met Fr. Paul before I did at functions involving the Desch, Sowar, and Homan families. I met him for the first time at Emily and Brian's wedding rehearsal. And then the next day at the wedding and reception. Fr. Paul's homily at their wedding was unforgettable. His sermon was sweet, and personal, and filled with song. He sang, from the pulpit, the German folksong "Du, du, liegst mir im Herzen." This was so appropriate because Em and Brian met in Salzburg, Austria in a German-language study abroad semester. The words of the song say something like, "you, you, lie in my heart; you, you, stay in my mind . . .you don't know how good I am to/for you." Brian and Emily were, and are, good for each other. Fr. Paul captured it. No one will ever forget that homily.
Emily, Fr. Paul, Brian Homan

The funeral mass was full of song ("Amazing Grace," "Sing a New Song," "How Can I Keep from Singing," "I Am the Bread of Life"). Everyone in church sang (and the church was full!). The songs were beautiful and helped send Fr. Paul on his way toward union with God and union with those whose lives he touched. Two were in Latin, and I especially loved them. One was "Ultima," a traditional Franciscan hymn--about the day our lives end and the day we are led into heaven. The other was "Salve Regina," a prayer I said every day of my growing up years as the "Hail Holy Queen." I felt deeply the beauty of the Church and its rituals and traditions.

Fr. Paul is gone. We are both deeply sad--and deeply grateful for his life. What do we do now? Somehow, we have to take on aspects of his life and spirit . . . and sing them out in our own lives.

Eternal rest grant unto Paul, O Lord.

And perpetual light shine upon him!

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Great Blueberry Harvest of 2017--a Poem

Blueberry Harvest

Spectacular this year
Every bush heavy laden with blueberries
Every hue of blue, light blue, sky blue, navy,
Blue-black, midnight blue,

If you’re blue, try eating these berries,

Luscious, puffed-up by early summer rains,
Sweet (and tart!) and so delicious that I salivate
At the very sight!

I pick them—or rather, they practically fall off the bush, unbidden,
Into my jar. The big ones don’t make it, though—
I pop them into my mouth as quick as a blue heron
Spears a blue gill.

These berries are going to marry my breakfast cereal,
Drop into pancake batter,
Mix with yogurt,
Avalanche over shortcake,

And stain my blue blue tongue!

Bob Coughlin / July 10, 2017