Heart of my country—paradox and pearl—
Where cherry trees paste snow against the sky
In spring, where the stone monolith projects
Into the humid, choking nights of summer,
Where autumn burns the leaves, and rain
Drops on the vacant benches by the river,
Where winter brings the Appalachian cold—
Here you receive the kit and the caboodle,
The sweepers who clean up your boulevards,
The Texans and the Oregonians,
A Moslem mosque, a national art museum,
Buildings for bureaucrats, and slums
Within the sight of palaces and parks.

How many casks of wine have emptied here?
How many tons of feces fill your sewers?
How many hansoms, hacks and Cadillacs have run
Between the Mayflower and your seats of power?
How many secrets have you filed away?
How many murders fill your calendar?
How many generals curse your tarnished name?
How many widows weep within your shrines?

Your traffic thickens and coagulates,
Your landscape fills with cheap, depressing homes.
Your streets become less safe to walk at night.
Sociable ladies leave the house with fright
Because your two-bit hoodlums and thugs
Have given some the shake-up of their lives.
A filibuster threatens in the senate,
Civil servants plow through paper piles,
Children gape bored at Lincoln’s stony form,
A tan-skinned teacher leads the “Frêre Jacques,”
The airplanes hover waiting turn to land,
The pigeons indiscreetly line the wires.

Heart of my country, when the cherry trees,
The choking summer nights, the burning leaves,
The anachronistic mid-December warmth
And the long-accustomed mid-December cold
Bring back your infinite variety,
Pierre L’Enfant’s beginning and your climb
Into the center of the world’s dominion,
I hear a Voice above the voice of armies,
Softer than rippling water, full of might,
Higher than by a million monoliths,
Stronger than by a universal fission.
It covers every edifice of pride,
It drowns the meaningless babbling of your sins,
It levels all your knowledge in the dust,
It speaks to you Its deep eternal silence
Through cherry trees, through trees against the sky,
Through the humid, choking nights, the nights of summer,
Through the burning leaves, the burning leaves of autumn,
Through the vacant benches in the winter cold.

Copyright 2008 © George Edward McDonough.  All rights reserved.


It was an evening at the edge of summer,
And we were standing in the apple grove:
The imbricated branches of the trees
Latticed the ground with shadows, and the sun,
A golden ostensorium in heaven,
Lighted the grass between.

Nothing prepared
Me for your question, no pressure from your hand,
No tender hesitancy in your voice.
A sudden shattering were your four small words,
“Why do birds die?”

Your intonation was so soft, subdued,
So non-protesting, so unanswerable.
Intuitively you knew, a child of three,
I could say nothing.

We were powerless,
You with your question, I with no reply.
A touch from me were violence, so I stood
An unintruding distance, weighted down,
Rooted, not able nor desiring to move:
And you seemed rooted like the silent ferns.

“If I were God,” I thought...
And instantly
A reconciliation gathered up
The fruited globules and the saffron light,
Gathered the question, the question with no answer,
Gathered the father in the grove, the son,
Gathered the poignancy of first-felt death,
Fracture, probing, pitying and loss,
Gathered them up and led us into peace.

We were not given leave to walk away
Until a star came out above the roof.
Then you suggested that we go inside
To eat our supper before time to bed.
How loud the tinny crunch of wheels was
As I pulled you in your wagon down the path!

Copyright 2008 © George Edward McDonough.  All rights reserved.


Suddenly the wind came in from Shilshole Bay,
Took in its hand a host of rustv leaves
And scraped the quiet shell of afternoon.

Mirroring the mar, my peace cracked
Like an alabaster wall.
The solid premise which it took for base
Had its own isostatic terms to meet
And had to make accommodations not to man
But to the planet’s tilt, the sun’s declivity,
The same Design which turns the wary trout
Into the gulping death of caddis flies.

Copyright 2008 © George Edward McDonough.  All rights reserved.


How alien they seemed,
My elders with their furrowed skin,
Eyes cataracted,
Veins wan-blue,
Clumped on the back of their legs
Like cross-sections of pomegranates.

They treasured yellowed letters never read,
Pressed ferns in books,
Ate gruel,
Vaguely remembered who they once had been,
Felt kindness but forgot all human names.

Their houses were too hot.
They coughed, mumbled complaints
Against snowfalls
And the high-winded madcaps of winter.

Silence and sameness were their intimates,
Dark clothes their sad adornment.
The years calved off their lives
Like sterile icebergs in a northern sea.

I turn from the mirror.

Copyright 2008 © George Edward McDonough.  All rights reserved.


What shall I do to fill the sense of void?
The night is heavy like a coverlet
Upon this fevered man who cannot move
His feet, his legs, his hand, his giddy head.
The smell of citronella, Insects’ whir,
The slender assagai against the fence,
The aardvark pawing at the rotting stump,
The eerie sheen of moonlight on the veldt
Press in upon the vanguard of my life.
In the kraal the intermittent cry
Of Lumba’s baby measures out the hours;
Its swift incision cuts the straining ropes
That hold the bastion of my sanity.

Out of my panicked depths the swell brings up
Two lines I learned from Auden on Yeats’ death:
  ‘The provinces of his body revolted
 The squares of his mind were empty.'

Never shall I return to Oregon
Nor see the gulls by Neal-Kah-Nie light,
The moist, clean forms of holly, razor-edged,
The fruit trees on the foothills of Mount Hood.
Even when I was only eight my wish
Was to be buried in a country plot
Near Bethany, Damascus, or Monroe,
Not one well-tended but knee-deep in leaves
Of peeling-barked madroñas in the rain.

Not dying, God, but dying in this place,
Dying where there was never from the first
A sense of home, a sense of knowing love,
A sense of unity with smells, with soil,
With flowers, landscapes, birds, familiar sounds,
A sense of sharing one’s most transient life
With those whose eyes one understood at once.
Here there was always mystery in their eyes,
Never the light for me but vacant stares
Looking through me as if diaphanous
And what transfixed them were outside of me,
As if I were an interference poised
Between them and their nameless numina.

Until the precipice of this last hour
I believed that You would order life for me
To end the way that You had ordered-five
To follow four or be the half of ten.
I would go home. I moved by that sole hope.
Whether to live or die I would go home.

I will not go. The end is destined here.
Thoughts of all man-made consolations, God,
Increase my pain. There now is no pretense.
I go out to this death with no defense.
Lumba’s baby cries my requiem,
My final terror in an ochre land.

Copyright 2008 © George Edward McDonough.  All rights reserved.


Julia Todd is eighty-eight,
Widowed, childless, alone.
Her house is white and made of wood;
It has a fence of river-stone.

Her lawns are lime-green cool and wide,
Her hedges high with porticoes.
Suet skewered on a string
Hangs from pear and apple boughs.

Of all the flowers in the town
Hers are far the loveliest;
Of all the eaves from which to choose
The swallows fly to hers for rest.

Bowed and rounded like an arch,
Her head the level of her thighs,
She feebly picks the dandelions
That do not miss her failing eyes.

Fixated by the ground, she shuns
The upward glance to spire, to sky.
To get acquainted with the earth
By no means would she have to die.

But when she does, at any hour,
Her final living wish will be
To press her lips against the soil
In one enfeebled ecstasy.

Then I will cease to trim the hedge,
To mow the grass, to string the suet:
Without her scuffling on the path
I would not have the heart to do it.

Copyright 2008 © George Edward McDonough.  All rights reserved.


Though we all had to come into this life
By a conception unimmaculate,
And grow as foeti at the ordained rate,
And suck the teat or rubber substitute,
And multiply and bloom till our pubescence
And pass through middle age into senescence,
We differentiated too.

  I am American, you Algerian.
  She’s from Ceylon, and he’s from Paraguay.
  My father was a watchman, yours a priest,
  His a ventriloquist, hers a thief.
  And I became a poet, you a clerk,
  He a chemist, she an acrobat.
  Time, instead of equalizing us,
  Brings out our individuality.

Swedenborg said the differences persist.
There is a sociology in heaven, too,
And certainly one in hell.
Think of high-hatted spirits snubbing us,
Or introverted loners pouting on their clouds,
Melodramatic children bodiless
Nagging their parents for ambrosia,
Or kind old ladies without flesh or bone
Knitting Platonic sweaters in the air.
Perhaps we’ll find things most familiar there.
And though we have to die a common death,
That’s no more of a terminus than being born.
As the commuters at Grand Central file out
And fan into ten thousand different spheres,
I think that we shall find eternal amplitude.

Divine surprise may be there’s no surprise.

Copyright 2008 © George Edward McDonough.  All rights reserved.


Sometimes I see a man, I see a woman,
I see a girl, I see a boy,
Who stop me like the end of a long search.
They make me hushed.
It always is their faces.
Their faces have an aureole of light
That brings new silent mornings
To the dark and parched arroyos
Of my heart.

Copyright 2008 © George Edward McDonough.  All rights reserved.

New Poems


Long, long he hunted
For the myth-inspiring tiger.
Endlessly he trod
The forest’s deathful haunts.
Far past the chasm
And the uttermost abyss
He tracked the footprints
And he did not weary.
Always he hoped,
Always he whispered,

Copyright 2008 © George Edward McDonough.  All rights reserved.


Your yesterdays of joy are past
And brief is your tomorrow;
The cloud is poised above your head,
A harbinger of sorrow.
Love will not walk the empty house
Where death has placed its silence;
Doomed is the heart that nurses grief
Or dares to show defiance.
Forget if you would ease your fate,
Forget and do not wonder;
Wiser than you and not so wise
Have torn their hearts asunder.

Copyright 2008 © George Edward McDonough.  All rights reserved.


Place on my shield-large platter
Glazed grey-mauve,
Lemons large pored,
Intensely yellow;

With peel-indented
And navels honeycombed;

Clusters of riber grapes,
Their frog-egg-green interiors
And acrid seeds
Skinned in black purple;

Eggplants with sage-green glaciers
At their caps;

Shining Wenatchee apples
The stems poled straight
From dark-welled holes
Buckled symmetrical
Around their standing ends;

Burgundy-sided bartletts,
Anjou pears of jade.

Set them upon the table
Where the window opens out
To the trees,
To the lake,
To the snow-capped eastern pinnacles.

 Copyright 2008 © George Edward McDonough.  All rights reserved.


A mist of verdigris
Monets the day.
Through crystal grills
Of angled-summer rain
The pond bridge disappears
            at half its span.
The water has no shores.
An intimated patina of sun
Glazes the shimmering trees.

What new harmonics
Of reflected light
Dissolves the stale landscapes
            of my mind,
Makes supple its fixed gazes
And empowers my eyes
To reperceive
The structures of the world!

 Copyright 2008 © George Edward McDonough.  All rights reserved.


          Creating Spirit and my Origin,
Who,          Through my earthly father’s
          And my mother’s
          Enfleshed me,

Who,           Through their own desire,
          Desire born of your engendering,
          Brought me to life,

You           Come to me in infinite disguises:
          In cells’ divisions and in comets’ dives,
          In leaping whales and in magma flows,
          In Brahms’ concertos and in Buddha’s peace,
          In suffering organs where a cancer grows,
          In my lungs’ breathing and my prayers of thanks.

 Copyright 2008 © George Edward McDonough.  All rights reserved.


Lord of the Unforgotten, have mercy on five kinds:
The signtless sailor telling of piloting ships;
Willowy girls in sanitaria
Tracing designs on tables with their fingertips;
A Navajo busboy gathering caked plates,
Singing of rain-gods to a heartsick tune;
Widows lying afraid in lonely rooms;
A child trying to catch the enormous moon.

Copyright 2008 © George Edward McDonough.  All rights reserved.


I send an unceasing invitation:
Come to me for love.
I make an unending imploring:
Come to me with love.

          Had you receptors
          For my frequencies,
          They would invade your soul
          Almost unbearably.

With waning hope
From my lone mountain top
I transmit unremitting signals
To your inner galaxies.

              Day after unrequited day,
              Year after year unanswered,
              Nothing returns.

 Copyright 2008 © George Edward McDonough.  All rights reserved.


Interpret my words.
My words interpret you.

Copyright 2008 © George Edward McDonough.  All rights reserved.


How strange, 0 God, I am because of Thee!
But, stranger still, Thou art because of me!

Copyright 2008 © George Edward McDonough.  All rights reserved.


He spread the netting of his ear
Around the gliding school of notes
Cascading from the coitus
Of throbbing instruments and throats,
And drew the sea so harkendly
It seemed to them that there
Was nothing but the emptiness
Of silent, sterile air.

Copyright 2008 © George Edward McDonough.  All rights reserved.


What made you shudder
When the sun went dead
Eclipsed by the bird-cloud overhead?
Did the phalaropes and grebes
On the tufa towers
Recalibrate your mind?
Did the broken chick shells of the gulls
On Negit Island give you any clues?
Did the brine-fly waters mirrors back to you
Presences that you had not dared imagine?

 Copyright 2008 © George Edward McDonough.  All rights reserved.


Walking at dusk on Druid Hill Avenue
Susan Ann Newcomb, Baltimore bred
Rotates her sound-locator head.
It is the head of the sensitive deer
When the wind-wisps of presences not in view
Poise her for flight when come they do.

Susan, O Susan, O Susan, beware
Of the basilar twitchings in your ear!
They record the impalpable swelling flood
In a menacing blockful of skum-buckets' blood
And the gathering crisis for maidenhood
In the bowels of this crack-crazed neighborhood.

Copyright 2008 © George Edward McDonough.  All rights reserved.


My love is like the fallen leaf
Upon the grass.
Unknown, undreamt of by the world,
My love will pass.

My love is like the gentian wild,
Which few have seen.
Alone and still and beautiful
Amidst the green.

My love is like the smallest tree
Within a wood.
My love is loveliness itself
And all things good.

Copyright 2008 © George Edward McDonough.  All rights reserved.


In this memorable collection of poetry George Edward McDonough speaks about his faith and his lack of faith, about his certainties and his lack of certainties, about his maddening despair and his joyful gratitude for life in all its manifestations. His words are not a theological discourse nor a sectarian argument, not an attempt to convert or proselytize, but a deeply personal expression of his own individuality. He opens the door to himself, and in his utterances both he and his readers find a home.

McDonough's poems allow one to let go, to relinquish oneself to what is beyond the self. He reaches out for the divine presence while simultaneously reflecting the changing moods that condition him. It is certain that many individuals will identify with him and feel their own lives enhanced.

Each poem can be understood in context, and there is more than one. The first context is his own life and culture, which may require at least some study and reflection to grasp. Another context is the tradition and heritage through which he voices his universal humanity. The third emerges when the reader interacts with the poem and transposes and adopts its expressions to his own existential situation. In regard to the convergence of vastly different contexts we may think of the distance between two horizons and the two becoming one.

An analogy illustrates the communion between the poet and those who encounter his work. An actor studies his role in order to duplicate another person, reincarnate another character on stage. He does more than mimic or memorize a part. He places his own gestures and actions at the service of his role. He mobilizes talents of imagination and concentration to embody the role with all the strong and subtle, tender and violent emotions of that character. On stage the actor aims for a credible replica of another person.

This illustrated what happens when we seriously participate in McDonough's poems. The aim of attending to the texts is to make them at home in our own context. Thus we can use them to understand ourselves, to articulate our own experience. A transaction takes place when the poet's sentiment and expression are translated into our own heart, and ultimately the poet's experience becomes the vicarious experience of one who often lives distant in time and space. The effect is a happy one: our horizons are broadened; a more profound and richer insight is achieved.

Many of George Edward McDonough's admirers find that the deep sentiments of his serious poetry apply to their situation. The threat of death is no stranger to us; and its allies come in manifold forms: Loneliness, political enemies, unfairness, sickness, psychological depression, advanced years, fears. This panorama of suffering belongs to all of us, even though one may feel chronically alone in his or her own personal suffering. The drama which the poems in his book play out is real and applicable to our lives. We can impress them with the tone of our own voice, the waves of our own emotion. But at the same time the poems mould us and become our own. Ultimately, it is a question of letting the spirit of the poet invade our spirit.

Very Rev. Konrad Schaefer, O. S. B.
Prior of the Benedictine Monastery
Guernavaca. Mexico

A Long Perspective

Copyright © 2008 George Edward McDonough.  All rights reserved.