Seven Good Fridays Later

First Triduum, the Long Gospel of John,
you said you’d never heard me read that well,
fourteen minutes, the church under John’s spell,
the horror that prefigures Easter dawn.

Cloaked in purple the crucifix of Christ,
next night the Vigil, candles in the dark,
then daybreak and the Gospel of St. Mark.
The clothes for which the Roman soldiers diced

cast off, the risen Lord in radiant white,
the rock rolled from the tomb, angel on guard.
Dear friend, I know your last five years were hard,
your Temple curtain torn in two each night,

but you lived to embrace Christ’s revelation
from the Via Dolorosa’s final station.


Solemn Mass for the Dead

With Dona eis requiem we end
      the Agnus Dei as we pray
the Missa pro defunctis for a friend
       who spent decades astray,
       a solemn way to spend
Timor mortis on a funereal day,

a day to wear my darkest chalk-striped suit
       and polished wing-tipped shoes,
black vestments for the celebrants. A flute
       joins in the Kyrie,
and every candle in the church is a lit fuse
to blow our daily certitudes away.

Ave atque vale, Hail and farewell,
Catullus called after his brother fell.


All Souls’ Night

All Souls’ Night, my favorite poem by Yeats,
spoken from memory once more last night
when Christ as every night casts down the Gates
of Hell to lead His people to the light:

five celebrants, all their silk vestments black
one day a year, save Masses for the Dead
where the departed seek their upward track.
Now seven years after our Savior led

Alan homeward to claim his last reward
for turning David’s Psalms to English verse,
the Rainbow Bridge guarded by Michael’s sword,
my loved translator trying to reimburse

our Savior for his final agony,
I offer Mass in Alan’s memory.


Prayer to Alan

Now I live modestly, much like a monk
who sought no monastery when you died,
my gravest sin Superbia, the pride
taken in poetry. Now never drunk
I take dictation from the Holy Spirit,
go to confession and my daily Mass,
prayerfully hunt my puppy’s prairie grass,
the high bar to salvation? Hope I clear it,
my summons home, pray that I daily hear it.

My dearest earthly comfort is my friends,
devoted few who fear how I grow fragile
unlike that boy bedded when I was agile,
tirelessly trekking to the mountains’ ends.
I trust you hear this prayer your lover sends.


Wintry Gratitude

Modest my martyrdom for poetry,
         no slow roast on a spit,
         only the play of wit
with metaphor, music and memory.

I hope to die singing two kinds of praise,
         the world by which I’m awed,
         the majesty of God,
both of which carry Murphy through his days.

The pole star of my soul is gratitude
         for my deferring death,
         drawing each day the breath
of cold in this high northern latitude.

Thanks too, All-Father, for the friend you gave
with whom I’ll reunite beyond the grave.

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 February 23, 2018 issue: View Contents
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