Edward Hicks, The Grave of William Penn (Wikimedia Commons)


Strophe: Letter to Known Address

I’d hoped the death date on my granite stone
might fall twenty years hence. Age eighty-seven
has a nice ring, two decades to atone
for sin and purify my soul for Heaven.

Last year I wrote, “You won’t be waiting long
before I read you David on your cloud.”
Alan, I ask you pray that I stay strong
while the silk worms are knitting up my shroud.

These seven hundred pages in two years,
these dreams directed by the Holy Ghost,
are a great gift as my race’s finish nears.
Let Anpiel come from the heavenly host

to guide my footsteps to the end of days
I have devoted to my Maker’s praise.


Antistrophe: Holy Cross Cemetery

No to my family, I shall lie with him,
a new country graveyard, young maple trees
and spruces that he loved, two Seraphim
adoring Mary. There on grass-stained knees

I pray not for the sake of Alan’s soul.
King David saw to that. I ask that he
speak to our Lord, all fates in His control.
Alan, look down from Heaven, pray for me.

There shall we lie, insensate to the wind
that scours the prairie so incessantly,
the two of us, redeemed who gravely sinned
but turned our faces to the Trinity.

Only our ashes, no skeletal bones,
poet I have engraved on both our stones.


Epode: To Msgr. Robert Laliberte

Serve my few guests the feast that doesn’t fatten.
            Let them say Kyrie
            in Greek and let you pray
Missa pro defunctis for me in Latin.

When Alan died you said that poetry
            was author of his turn
            to faith, making him yearn
for higher truth, a stirring homily.

How strange we unbelievers found ourselves
            steered by the Holy Ghost,
            fed by the sacred host,
each other’s books gracing each other’s shelves,

his passions complementary to mine,
thrown together as if by some design.

Timothy Murphy, a frequent contributor to Commonweal, died on June 30 at his home in Fargo, North Dakota. His books include Very Far North (2002), Mortal Stakes and Faint Thunder (2011), and Devotions (2017). Requiescat in pace.

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Published in the August 10, 2018 issue: View Contents
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