First Communion

When I was seven, I was hit by a car. It was early March, the month of St. Patrick and of my special day, the feast of Saint Joseph. The accident is significant to me because that’s where my chain of memories begins. Before that, all I have is a collection of vignettes any one of which could be a memory, the residue of a story someone else has told me, or the imprint of an imaginary episode. When I rifle through them I sometimes feel I can order them chronologically. But they don’t connect to one another the way the memories do beginning with coming to while lying in the middle of the street one block from home with a mosaic of faces I didn’t know hovering above me.

I called for my mother and she answered even though I couldn’t see her. She said, “Your OK. Just lie still. You’re going to be all right.” She stayed with me all the way to the hospital. I know because I could feel her hand holding mine, and I could hear her talking, but for some reason I couldn’t see her. Continue reading

Fireflies Redux

The Bacon Review was an online literary journal published from 2011 to 2016. Its editors Jason Barry and Eric Westerlind were a delight to read as well as to write for, and their commitment to good writing and to the writers they published is evident in the effort they made to preserve the work in an archive that’s easily accessible and well worth the time to peruse.

In July of 2013, they published my short story “Fireflies,” which you can find (all but the conclusion) in the archive. Or, you can read it here. But if you do, please don’t forget to click through to the archive and spend time with work worth reading.

Fireflies

First Published in The Bacon Review (on line) July 2013
(c) Copyright Joseph Saling 2013, 2018

Mary Ann, with autumn hair and eyes the rarest green. Mary Ann feeds the pigeons in the school court yard and prays at early mass with the nuns. Mary Ann teasing, running with my hat in her hand, throws it into a rose bush in front of the convent.

“Ouch! Stop that Jason! You’re pulling my hair!”

###

Continue reading

Jason at Sunrise Service

Sunrise

Sunrise (Photo credit: Diganta Talukdar)

The following poem was originally published in Pivot in the summer of 2002 and later included in A Matter of Mind (Foothills Publishing, 2004). It was firstposted on this blog in March 2013.

The reading is new for this post. Click to listen.

Jason at Sunrise Service

It’s cold, and the wind blowing across this hill
Makes it colder. I’m not used to wearing
Winter coats at Easter, nor to sharing
Sunrise hymns with strangers. But kids will
Pull you out of bed at awful hours and fill
Your life with endless nights. They don’t care
That their lives intrude on yours with that glaring
Arrogance of youth that can’t stay still.

At eleven PM Jason cut his hand.
At midnight, in a dim and sterile room,
A young intern sewed it shut. He stands
Here now to celebrate an empty tomb.

The spreading rose of day dissolves the night.
I watch him join hands with others to sing
Hallelujah toward the rising sun.
And as I walk a little further from
Their voices rising in the morning wind,
I feel the cold rise up around my heart.

His world’s a morning filling up with light
And sun-glazed faces like a ring
Of sacrificial fire. Their antiphon
Goes with me down the hill. He’s just begun.
The road is like a ribbon with no end,
And I’m too old to remember where it starts.

They’ll sing and share the bread. I’ll set the fan
Inside the car on high. I’ll sleep at noon.

© Joseph Saling and The New Word Mechanic, 2004, 2014.

Look for my latest poem “Painting Miss Annie: The First Meeting” in the current print issue of The Raintown Review (Vol 11 Issue 2, March 2014.)

Pange Lingua

Group portrait of children at their First Comm...

Group portrait of children at their First Communion, Holyrood School, Swindon, 1949 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you know the words, sing along while you listen to the poem.

On Taking First Communion in the Hospital After He Was Struck by a Car

(March 5)

When he heard the angels sing, they sounded more
Like sirens. Strapped to a board, riding through
The red-lighted city, he called out for
His mother to make them stop. He’d lost a shoe.
His stomach hurt, and their song, he knew, was death.

He couldn’t see her, but he heard her speak
To men up front then say to him, It’s best
To let them be. It’s not that far. Just keep
Holding my hand.
He asked her was he dying.
Of course you’re not. God’s not done with you.

When they arrived, they made her let go her hold.
I can’t come, she said, I have to do what I’m told,
And left him by himself in a room, lying
On a table, afraid to think what God might do.

(March 19)

White walls and sheets, white pillow. Pale white light
From fluorescent tubes. Even his gown is white.
The priest wears a black cassock and white surplice,

Takes out a gold case he lays on the white surface
Of the bedside table, and holds up a wafer
Whiter than the prayer book his father placed there.

What did they say he was to say? My Lord,
I am not worthy
. But only say the word
And my soul will be as white as this room I’m in
.

The body tastes sweet, but not as sweet as the wine
That follows. And when he hears his mother’s voice
It seems an angel speaks and says the choice

To take communion is an early sign
He surely has a place in God’s design.

(April 20)

Days pass, then a month. It seems forever.
Then a nun arranges them two by two.
They march across the street together.
They wait their turn in a wooden pew.

Then a nun arranges them two by two
To go inside the confessional box.
They wait their turn in a wooden pew.
They listen while the sister talks.

To go inside the confessional box,
She says, they’ll need to remember their sins.
They listen while the sister talks.
She tells them how confession begins.

She says they’ll need to remember their sins
To ask the priest to be forgiven.
She tells them how confession begins
With an act of genuine contrition.

To ask the priest to be forgiven
They march across the street together.
With an act of genuine contrition
Days pass, then a month, it seems forever.

(May 19)

Once in the church they stand against the wall
As sister shows them how their hands must point
To heaven and their eyes always look down
As if they were little lambs. Then she calls
Them to the altar railing. When they join
Her there, she makes them kneel. Don’t look around.

First wait, then cross your arms over your chest.
Look up, put out your tongue, and close your eyes.
Remember, remember this. Whatever you do,
Never open your mouth and never chew.
Just bow your head. You’ve the living God inside.
Let the host dissolve and know that for the rest
Of your life God will always be a part
Of you, both in your mind and in your heart.

(May 24)

On Sunday children gather at the school
And walk across the street, like little lambs.

They enter the church where sunlight filters through
The blues and reds of sainted glass. Their hands
Pointing to heaven, they walk down the aisle.

Sister said no first communion a second time,
And so from a place apart he watches while
Each takes the bread and sees none gets the wine.

In the vestibule he stands off to one side.
His father shakes their hands. The nuns delight
In patting heads of carefully combed hair
And call each a vessel where God abides.

He suffocates in all the filtered light
But once outside dissolves in the sun’s white glare.

© Joseph Saling and The New Word Mechanic, 2004, 2013.

The music is from the Medieval Latin hymn Pange, Lingua, Gloriosi Corporis Mysterium, which means “Tell, tongue, the mystery of the glorious body.”

The Only Constant Is Change

Even the rate of change changes.

The following poem was originally published in Birmingham Poetry Review, No. 31, Summer/Fall 2005.

(Try playing the video and audio tracks together; just wait for the music to start before starting the audio.)

From the Choir Loft

Singing is twice praying.

On alternating days we sang the Mass
At seven, boys, then girls, then boys again.
Sometimes the only ones who’d show
To sing were me and Hal the organist,
And I could barely hum a note. Refrains
Eluded me, so Hal would sing it solo.

Now Hal had music in his hands and feet;
The organ‘s pipes were a part of him.
But when he tried for music from his throat,
Well, Father said it sounded kind of sweet
If sweet meant scratchy, hoarse, and thin
And not unlike the bleating of a goat.

Mosaic vault showing the Lamb of God, the Patr...

From Kyrie to Agnus Dei, Hal
Sang all the parts, sang treble, alto, bass
And never worried what the music said.
The words were all that mattered. Still somehow
He’d hit the final note then turn his face
And wink at me and proudly raise his head.

Hal quit the church when Kyrie became
The simple English Lord and anyone
Who wanted stood and strummed communal chords
For masses where the singing was the same
As elevator sap, and Hal seemed stunned
To learn that music is in deed the words.

© Joseph Saling and The New Word Mechanic, 2005, 2013.

Experiences in Sound

A photo of the inside of Pisa's Duomo

A photo of the inside of Pisa’s Duomo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Experience in Sound 3

Play both tracks together.

The Miracle (from A Matter of Mind)

The Miracle

It’s as if the statue moved — just a hair
But moved. With my own eyes I saw it turn,
The gold glitter of the crown dance then spurn
All sense to leave its place in the sun. The air
Was charged with stained light and I knelt down there,
Half in fear — yes — but I felt my soul yearn
To touch a marble hem and thereby learn
A secret of God that would be mine alone to share.
There should be, I thought, music, but there was none.
Only the wind through the choir loft — and my breath.
All was as it had been, and I, the only one
To see it, stood alone as at my own death.
With dread I stepped forth, and yet I did so believing
That no loving god could ever be so deceiving.

© Joseph Saling and The New Word Mechanic, 2004, 2013.