As a boy, every meal with my family began with
Bless us Oh Lord for these thy Gifts
We prayed together, heads bowed, and after
through Christ Our Lord. Amen
we blessed ourselves, opened our eyes
and looked to our father who remained
in silent darkness for…seconds? minutes?
I have no idea
I felt nor sensed no craving impatience
for roast beef, steaming sweet corn
milk, butter and and warm bread
We waited. I think I loved this waiting.
This calm. This truce. This safety.
This crowded kitchen of cherry-pie oven
and the scent of new-mown hay drifting
in from the humid early Iowa evening
Finally, my father would bless himself
and the war resumed with weapons of words
whispered wit and sarcasm
that flew beneath adult radar
and bloodied the canvas that Norman Rockwell
I asked my mother once why did Daddy
sit so long in silence and she replied
I have no idea
Of course. She was not his friend nor confidante
(such a word the climate could never sustain)
She bore his children and bore his moods
She put up with him, he put up hay
Now I am of the age of how I remember him
at that table and I wonder again of his thoughts
Did he ask God to give him the strength to
endure one more meal with this ongoing
punishment for his lust?
Eleven children. Each one born of his sin
Did he say a prayer for each of us and ask God
to show us love in a way he could not?
Did he think of his brother who gave up a farm
and became a Trappist monk in Kentucky?
Did my father long for a vow of silence and
to be able to pray alongside Thomas Merton?
Or was my father just like me and this was
the only time he loved his family
When my daughter turned eight
we spent a week driving around Kentucky
riding horses, canoeing muddy rivers
exploring abandoned mining roads and feeling the stares
of abandoned eyes as we laughed in diners
On the last day we visited Gethsemane
and knelt at the grave of Brother Jerome
my long-dead uncle.
Old monks spoke fondly of him.
He took care of the pigs better than anyone
Next to his grave was that of Thomas Merton
(known to Trappists as Father Louis)
Monks are as flawed as are we all
but they do know an essential truth:
Pig farmers and poets are equally holy men
We ate an evening meal with the monks
the rustling of robes in long corridors
into a stark dining room of tables and chairs
of dark brown wood
Heads bowed, Bless us Oh Lord for these thy Gifts
which we are about to receive from thy bounty
through Christ Our Lord, Amen
Then in silence, my father and I prayed
Dear God, deliver me from despair
from emptiness, from hate
Protect and love this child and all children
who have never felt the love of a father