Ahead of me, cars and trucks inched up the exit ramp curving to the left, onto North Kingshighway Boulevard, site of the sprawling Barnes-Jewish Hospital and clinics. The afternoon sun wilted long grasses along the pavement; the air, sticky with humidity. City pigeons scrounged for seeds.

And yes, there was someone near the stoplight: short, stocky, walking with a limp. A slouch hat covered his head; a graying beard, his square jaw. Safety pins fastened his wrinkled khaki shirt. Around his neck hung three white plastic rosaries of varying lengths and a cardboard sign scrawled with words in black letters. Behind him, stood a battered shopping cart, filled with bags and opened boxes, their contents spilling over its side.

Missing was the City’s ordinance against panhandling, usually posted near the stoplight.

Upon seeing me wave, he hurried to my car, his dark eyes glinting in the sun, his wide mouth grinning, revealing missing teeth. He reminded me of a fun-loving grandpa, full of stories; of an old laborer with a broken body.

“God blesses you!” he repeated over and over, welcoming me into his home. No longer invisible, someone had seen him and he knew it. I was humbled.

Long ago, a friend had taught me that nothing is as it seems.

 

 

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“Sing God a simple song/ Laude Laude/ Make it up as you go along/ God loves all simple things/ For God is the simplest of all.” So begins Leonard Bernstein’s Mass (1971).

These lyrics come to mind while perusing the slim volume of poetry, Coral Castles (2019) composed by Carol Bialock, RSCJ; its simplicity moved me to silence, within which I seek words to compose this blog.

Intimate with the Word and receptive to its imprinting upon her psyche for decades, Sister Carol channels ordinary experiences into poems, replete with metaphors; their simplicity dismantles crusty outcroppings in psyches and brightens skies. One- and two-syllable words couple themselves into indivisible wholes that implode within the reader/listener—like biting into a ripe peach that juices the palate with summer’s color. Single-stroke pen and ink drawings intersperse the pages—again, nothing superfluous—and give needed respite before entering the next poem with its revelation.

What appears so effortlessly composed, however, emanates from the poet’s life-long practice of loving the unlovable around the world: in homeless shelters, prisons, and hospitals, wherever she found them. Indeed, all of creation opens onto the Sacred. Through simple poems, Sister Carol Bialock enriches us by making this connection.

I am deeply glad—So will you if you avail yourself of this treasure, Coral Castles, available on Amazon.

 

 

“This is not a story to pass on.” So concludes the freed black community after its brush with the preternatural, as found in Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel Beloved (1984).

Five years in its composition, the author dives deep for pungent images to express the inexpressible horrors of southern slavery and its afterimage during the Reconstruction, these anecdotes honed from her grandparents’ and parents’ experiences. Through Morrison’s artistry, her characters, no longer silenced, speak.

The setting for this novel is 124 Bluestone Road, on the outskirts of Cincinnati, Ohio. Within this two-story hovel live the protagonist Sethe, her eighteen-year-old Denver, and Beloved, the poltergeist of Sethe’s second daughter. The time is 1873. The narrative follows a circuitous route, with frequent insertions of backstory: Sweet Home, a small plantation in Kentucky where Sethe and five slaves tend the needs of the Garnets, a childless couple; Sethe’s “marriage” to Halle and their begetting four children; schoolteacher’s torture meted out to all the slaves, some escaping, others killed or rendered witless.

At the center of this circuitous route is lodged Sethe’s unspeakable crime that shimmies, beyond all telling. It takes forever to get there: the journey bristles with tension. Indeed, her poetic language crisps the soles of feet, squinches sensibilities, and fuels outrage.

“Love is or it ain’t. Thin love is not love at all,” Sethe tells Paul D, an aging Sweet Home former slave. From her perspective, her crime takes on a different hue—countering Evil and provoking questions that itch, badly, in the night.

 

 

 

Available on Amazon

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