Sunday, October 18, 2009


This morning I preached the last sermon I’ll preach at St. Mary’s before we wing off to Louisiana again, and I felt a distinct catch in my throat as I stood on the altar, assisting Sr. Julian at the Eucharist. We owe so much to the kindness and hospitality of the Sisters of St. Mary who “took us in” the first summer we moved to Sewanee.

Following the service, my friend, Rick Sommer, talked with me about retirement and how he had heard a lecture on the subject that helped him make his own adjustment to life after leaving the work force. The lecturer informed retirees that a two-year adjustment period would be necessary before most of them would feel comfortable with themselves and their new environment, if they moved to a place that had not been home to them. My response to Rick was that the Sisters at St. Mary had, by virtue of their presence and hospitality, eased me into my adaptation to retirement at Sewanee.

The conversation prompted me to search out my new manuscript of poetry and short stories that will soon be published by Border Press. It’s called OLD RIDGES and will be formatted and published within the next few months after we return to Louisiana. Here’s a snippet about our leaving Sewanee:


The weather won’t differ,
gray clouds hovering over mountain
are tantamount to thick fog
in a Louisiana swamp;
the boat is leaving The Mountain
bound for old waters,
lower ground of promise,
but I feel no difference now,
trees rustling with moisture,
the same in each place,
the current of light as dim
there as here,
but I will miss this landscape
when I look within while traveling out.

I am unable to write “ -30 –“,
the ancient journalists’ code
for a story completed,
and those things I will miss:
the picture of the black pump
that saved Helen Keller’s life,
pouring words out of a frame
hanging in my Sewanee study;
a square bottle with silver top,
the scent of Romance cologne
a delicious current in my bedroom,
Orientals with red design and borders,
a radiance in every room of the house;
a long harvest table
on which I write my poems
and four bookshelves of poetry books;
small mountain boulders surrounding
the dying shadows of flowers
in a garden at my back door;
deer, fox, skunk, rabbit,
all the wild ones who crossed my lawn
and kept me company at night
when I looked out the kitchen window
at a crescent moon,
waiting for a fuller one;
Morning Mass in the stone tower
of St. Mary’s Convent on the bluff,
the Sisters in their blue jumpers
chanting psalms above
the noise of bluff winds;
a new rosary of silver and stones
Sister Miriam made for me,
carelessly tossed on my bedside table.

I will not make a laundry list
but I am tempted
to turn each thing I will miss
into the poems they are.
I look at the titles of my short stores
soon to appear in a new book,
“The Book of 100 Stories,”
“Doing Good,”
“An Innocent Standby,”
“The Sob of A Cello,”
and, of course, “Raising Cane,”
all defining passages in my life.

Now that the mountain has loosened up,
begun to speak to me,
what will the chapter of this new exodus be?
For now, I will leave it to the shadowy trees
and the old mouth of the mountain
in its prison of stone,
the surge of a mean wind
against my study window bringing
new levels of creation,
the mystery of a language
speaking everywhere.

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