Turn the page

October 2, 2010

Each morning when I wake
I feel another ache.
I wonder what is going on
and if there’s some mistake.
The heavens move so fast.
I turn another page.
I have too much cholesterol
in my old age.

About the Buddha now
I lecture to the young,
and words about Four Noble Truths
trip lightly from my tongue.
The heavens move so fast.
I turn another page.
I’ve grown so multicultural
in my old age.

To know our neighbor’s sins
our hearts perversely itch,
until we see him jump from bridge
or lie dead in the ditch.
The heavens move so fast.
I turn another page.
Each one must give account, and must
receive a wage.

The trillions that we owe
are nothing when compared
to the collective debt we’ll know
when souls are bared.
The heavens move so fast.
I turn another page.
I’ll trust in the Lord Jesus Christ
from age to age.

How to memorialize the dead?
I won’t burn a Koran today
or paint a Hitler mustache on the President’s face.
I will not perform a symbolic act
to add to the deeply poisonous atmosphere
of this society.
Yes, I worry about Islam:
but some of my neighbors are Muslims
and some of my students,
and I don’t hate them.
I will try this day to remember
the victims of crimes,
heinous crimes that
it would be well if
none of us had seen.
But, because we have seen these crimes,
because they have occurred
within our living memory,
it would be well if we tried to think about
just why and how they happened.
Two planes crashed into two buildings
and the buildings fell down.
Is that the whole story?
People, mothers holding babies,
jumping from a towering inferno:
These are things that no one should have to see,
yet we have seen them;
they indelibly color our minds.
They are images
burned into our hearts —
the sudden, terrible fall
of mountainous towers, sending up
volcanic white clouds of dust and asbestos,
clouds of silicon and evaporated flesh
settling upon the dazed and stricken city,
settling upon the wounded and bleeding,
men and women, silent, in shock,
making their way on foot
out of lower Manhattan.
And, at the place called “Ground Zero,”
subterranean fires continued to burn
for weeks thereafter
scorching the boots
of rescue workers.

Nothing will ever take away
the dignity of those who acted like human beings
in the midst of this inhuman tragedy.

Yet I am forced to ask again:
Why did this thing happen, and how,
and for the benefit of whom?

By the next day, details emerged
of nineteen hijackers, Middle Eastern
nationals, trained at
American flight schools, who,
carrying box cutters,
took command of the planes
and flew them into the buildings
along with one plane that hit
the Pentagon;
while another plane, it was said,
was meant to hit the Capitol,
but the passengers put up a resistance, and
caused the flight to crash
in a field in western Pennsylvania.
And all fingers pointed
to a single culprit,
a single, diabolical mind
who had planned and executed this attack
from a mountain cave in Afghanistan —
Osama Bin Laden.
And, after American forces were sent
to Afghanistan
to bring this man to justice
and destroy his organization,
a somewhat grainy video eventually turned up
in which Bin Laden
(or someone looking somewhat like him)
gloated about his success in this operation
and maintained how he had known,
from prior experience in demolition,
that two jetliners, filled with fuel,
would generate enough force and heat
to bring down the two steel buildings.

Then, to the single culprit,
there was added yet another: Saddam Hussein,
and so a war was fought
to destroy him, too.

And, here in America,
government surveillance of citizens
was greatly increased
in the name of the universal war on Terror.

Like most people, I accepted much of this story,
although I had my doubts from the start
about our purposes in Iraq
and was convinced early on that the pretense of
Saddam Hussein’s involvement in 9/11 was flimsy,
that controlling Iraq and its resources was
a long-standing strategic objective
of Bush and his advisers,
and that they took the attack on America
as a pretext for doing
what they wanted to do anyway.
But I did not doubt the essential part of the story:
that the 9/11 attacks were planned and orchestrated
by an Islamist terrorist organization, Al-Qaeda,
and that violent measures were justified
to stop them.

At this point, nine years onward,
I find much of the original story
hard to sustain.
I do not doubt that Al-Qaeda
had something to do with the attacks.
But I am convinced that, at the very least,
there were people in the American government
who knew that the attacks were going to happen
on that Tuesday morning in September
and who chose to do nothing to stop them.
And it may be that the truth of the matter
is much more damning than that.
I worry that, if, as a nation,
we fail to ask this question about ourselves,
our moral and political rot
will only continue to grow.

When World Trade Center Building 7 fell
some hours after the Twin Towers,
it showed all the signs of
a controlled demolition.
And a serious case can be made,
and has been made by many well-informed,
intelligent people,
that the same thing holds true of
the Twin Towers themselves.

Were the 9/11 attacks
a “false flag” operation
designed to lead a democratic country
into wars it would not otherwise
have been willing to fight,
for purposes it would not otherwise
have deemed worthy
of sending its children to die for?
I don’t know.
But that is, it seems to me,
an essential question,
a largely unasked question,
a question that anyone who loves America
needs to ask, and ask seriously,
and not dismiss offhand with the arrogant credulity
of those who think that, by burning other people’s books,
they can solve their own problems.

The Great Republic

July 4, 2010

In celebration of American Independence Day, I am posting to the blog a song, The Great Republic. It is performed by yours truly (vocals, piano) and Mr. Johny Blood (tuba); the recording was made in March 2005 in a studio in Oakland, California. I wrote it many years ago — in 1986 or 1987 — during the presidency of Ronald Reagan when, as a graduate student at Catholic University, I lived near the nation’s capital; this may account for the language about flags fluttering along the boulevard, coloring the mind, and tourists coming to see the place where Abraham Lincoln used to say grace (I’m not sure that Mr. Lincoln in fact did say grace, but tourists do go to the White House, and I would claim poetic licence in justification of the wording).

The recording takes up about 4 megabytes; it will download to your computer if you click HERE. Be forewarned.

Also, I do mean to post something soon about the excellent conference on Orthodox Constructions of the West that I attended this past week at Fordham University. But it has taken me some days to collect my thoughts and recuperate from driving back and forth to the Bronx, so, for the time being, I would ask my readers’ patience, and hope they will enjoy hearing The Great Republic.

What Is Not Allowed

June 11, 2010

A poem, originally published in the Irish Times, June 5, 2010, and reprinted on the website Global Research, June 7, 2010,

by Richard Tillinghast

No tinned meat is allowed, no tomato paste,
no clothing, no shoes, no notebooks.
These will be stored in our warehouses at Kerem Shalom
until further notice.
Bananas, apples, and persimmons are allowed into Gaza,
peaches and dates, and now macaroni
(after the American Senator’s visit).
These are vital for daily sustenance.
But no apricots, no plums, no grapes, no avocados, no jam.
These are luxuries and are not allowed.
Paper for textbooks is not allowed.
The terrorists could use it to print seditious material.
And why do you need textbooks
now that your schools are rubble?
No steel is allowed, no building supplies, no plastic pipe.
These the terrorists could use to launch rockets
against us.
Pumpkins and carrots you may have,
but no delicacies,
no cherries, no pomegranates, no watermelon, no onions,
no chocolate.
We have a list of three dozen items that are allowed,
but we are not obliged to disclose its contents.
This is the decision arrived at
by Colonel Levi, Colonel Rosenzweig, and Colonel Segal.
Our motto:
‘No prosperity, no development, no humanitarian crisis.’
You may fish in the Mediterranean,
but only as far as three km from shore.
Beyond that and we open fire.
It is a great pity the waters are polluted –
twenty million gallons of raw sewage dumped into the sea every day
is the figure given.
Our rockets struck the sewage treatments plants,
and at this point spare parts to repair them are not allowed.
As long as Hamas threatens us,
no cement is allowed, no glass, no medical equipment.
We are watching you from our pilotless drones
as you cook your sparse meals over open fires
and bed down
in the ruins of houses destroyed by tank shells.
And if your children can’t sleep,
missing the ones who were killed in our incursion,
or cry out in the night, or wet their beds
in your makeshift refugee tents,
or scream, feeling pain in their amputated limbs –
that’s the price you pay for harbouring terrorists.
God gave us this land.
A land without a people for a people without a land.

Richard Tillinghast is an American poet who lives in Co Tipperary. He is the author of eight books of poetry, the latest of which is Selected Poems (Dedalus Press, 2010), as well as several works of non-fiction.

O intrepid driver

February 27, 2010

Earlier this month, when I was caught in one of the blizzards that have recently hit Washington, D.C., my friend Jim Preston showed his great and wonted resourcefulness by helping me get my Volkswagen into a public garage before the roads became completely impassible. The following poem is dedicated to him, in gratitude. (As should be clear, his car has four-wheel drive.)

O intrepid driver through the snow
That falls profuse and heavy on the land:
The memory of thy days in Buffalo
Shall guide thee still to destinations grand.
For wisely thou hast furnished all thy wheels
With motive shafts, to give them added force.
Thy Subaru the tempest hardly feels,
But makes its way undaunted like a horse.
So, whether thy friend Paddy thou wouldst see,
Or wouldst take faithful Bruno to the vet,
The nets that sullen Time propels at thee
Shall not ensnare thy feet, or make thee fret.
For, as thou takest Virtue as thy crown,
Thou hast no need to fear the season’s frown.

The road to Elbasan

February 3, 2010

(Some lines written in 1996, which I found today while rummaging through old papers.)

The road to Elbasan
winds up and over the mountains
looking over the edge of the world
and on the rugged hillside
a shepherdess sits watching
black and white sheep that graze
a difficult land

Here in the middle of paradise
we have to take precaution
When driving round a sharp curve
we listen to Pavarotti
as we drive back to Tirana
on the Rruga Elbasanit

I feel that heaven has been somewhat closer
after having been on this journey
although I still don’t know quite where I’m going

On being cursed

January 28, 2010

What in fact is there to say
when one tells you you are cursed?
Like King David, shall you pray
that his curses be reversed?
Shall you trade a list of sins,
show who loses and who wins,
stand before the public’s bar,
show the soul’s each wound and scar?

Those who seek the throne of grace,
caught up in their deepest faults,
flung far from the Father’s face,
find that man’s unkind assaults
make their misery no worse.
Jesus who became a curse
when he hung upon a tree
blessing is enough for me.

Merry Christmas

December 24, 2009

Ἡ Παρθένος σήμερον
τὸν προαιώνιον Λόγον
ἐν σπηλαίῳ ἔρχεται
ἀποτεκεῖν ἀπορρήτως.
ἡ οἰκουμένη ἀκουτισθεῖσα·
μετὰ ἀγγέλων καὶ τῶν ποιμένων
βουληθέντα ἐποφθῆναι
παιδίον νέον
τὸν πρὸ αἰώνων Θεόν.

Today the Virgin comes to a cave
to bear ineffably
the preeternal Word.
Dance for joy
O inhabited earth
when this news comes to your ears;
along with angels and with shepherds
the God before the ages
who willed to appear
as a little child.

Poems for the war dead

November 11, 2009

Today is commemorated the ending of the First World War, at 11:00 a.m. on the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918, what in Europe is still called Armistice Day, and, in the United States, is now called Veterans’ Day. In memory of the 16 million people who died in this war, and to bring to mind those who are dying in wars at present, I present here a couple of poems, taken from the collection, The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry (2nd ed., 1981), edited by Jon Silkin.

F. S. Flint : Lament

The young men of the world
Are condemned to death.
They have been called up to die
For the crime of their fathers.

The young men of the world,
The growing, the ripening fruit,
Have been torn from their branches,
While the memory of the blossom
Is sweet in women’s hearts;
They have been cast for a cruel purpose
Into the mashing-press and furnace.

The young men of the world
Look into each other’s eyes,
And read there the same words:
Not yet! Not yet!
But soon perhaps, and perhaps certain.

The young men of the world
No longer possess the road:
The road possesses them.
They no longer inherit the earth:
The earth inherits them.
They are no longer the masters of fire:
Fire is their master;
They serve him, he destroys them.
They no longer rule the waters:
The genius of the seas
Has invented a new monster,
And they fly from its teeth.
They no longer breathe freely:
The genius of the air
Has contrived a new terror
That rends them into pieces.

The young men of the world
Are encompassed with death
He is all about them
In a circle of fire and bayonets.

Weep, weep, o women,
And old men break your hearts.

Georg Trakl : In the East

Like the wild organs of the winter storm
Is the people’s gloomy rage,
The purple billow of battle
Of stars leaf-stripped.
With broken brows, silvery arms
The night beckons to dying soldiers.
In the autumnal ash-tree’s shade
The ghosts of the killed are sighing.

Thorny wilderness surrounds the town.
From steps that bleed the moon
Drives off dumbfounded women.
Wild wolves have burst through the gate.

Translated from the German by Michael Hamburger.

From Brussels with love

November 5, 2009

From Brussels the verdict comes down:
No crucifix is to be shown
In schools of a public domain;
That’s something that Europe’s outgrown.

To buildings of private address
It’s well that your faith be confined.
With symbols you there may obsess,
And if you pray there, we don’t mind.

In Europe’s academied halls
Grave tutors cough mildly and nod
And say: “It is right that our youth
Be freed of this baggage of God.

A crucified God is a sign
That we are not fully our own.
It says we have lost the divine.
It says that our hearts are as stone.

We don’t want young people to think
There’s a flaw in this world we have built.
Let them go see a film, or a shrink,
If they’re plagued with despair, or with guilt.”

From Brussels the verdict comes nigh,
And here in my home I must weep
That those who have birthright so high
Should sell it for pottage so cheap.