"One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture
and, if possible, speak a few reasonable words." ~Goethe

~ also, if possible, to dwell in "a house where all's accustomed, ceremonious." ~Yeats

Monday, August 29, 2016

All Roots and Reasons

Celine ~ Summer 1994
Visiting Dove Cottage, where the poet William Wordsworth
and his sister Dorothy lived a life of "Plain living and high thinking . . . "
from December 1799 to May 1808
Grasmere, Lake District, England

Celine ~ Summer 1994
Visiting a house once lived in by Elizabeth Gaskell,
one of the major subjects of Celine's research.
Knutsford, Cheshire, England

I am posting a day late this time, on the 29th instead of the 28th in honor of my dear friend Celine Carrigan, born this day 74 years ago. Anyone who knew her, and even some who did not have the chance, can scarcely believe that the world has been turning for 19 years without her gentle, loving touch. How we miss her and always will!

Celine Carrigan, O.S.B.
August 29, 1942 - April 24, 1997
"A Room of One's Own," where Celine wrote her dissertation:
"Versions of the Governess: Narrative Patterns in
Ellen Weeton, Elizabeth Gaskell, and Charlotte Bronte."

Celine was in the PhD program with me at the University of Notre Dame (1984 - 1988). Her area of specialization was Charlotte Bronte & Elizabeth Gaskill. When I knew her, she had already been a Benedictine nun, a teacher, and a death - row advocate for many years. She was at Notre Dame on sabbatical from Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, where she returned upon the completion of her doctorate in 1988 and taught for 9 more years until her untimely death from ovarian cancer in April 1997. As I wrote to Celine's sweet great niece not long ago, Celine was an angel upon this earth! And not just because she was a nun -- she would have been an angel no matter what she did. When she died, our mutual friend Marv wrote: "So sorry to hear about Celine. She was such a gentle soul, and good person. There is clearly no relation between life span and beauty, tenderness, kindness, bravery, intelligence or wit."

Celine's office in the library at Notre Dame.
I like it that of all the book titles,
the one word you can clearly see is "SOUL."

The perfect story for a blog of literary coincidence is the delightful request I received from a girl I had never met; yet, through Celine, we were connected. It seems that there are always so many surprising connections just waiting to be made, so many voices nudging us "to nurture the souls of things," as I learned last year when the following note appeared in my inbox:
Hi, Kitti! My name is Mads Carrigan (as you can see), and I'm Sister Celine's great-niece. Her brother, Pat, is my grandpa. I found one of her poems online at one point, and can't find it. I looked up her name and came across your blog! She died when I was only a few months old, so I never got to know her, but I've been told that she was a wonderful person, and you seem to have thought so, too! I just wanted to thank you for writing about her at all, because I've always loved hearing about her.

Do you by any chance have her poem, "Spring"?


Dear Mads -- The particular poem you mention doesn't immediately come to mind, but I have saved every card and note that Celine ever sent me, and I will gladly start a little project of going through them all until I find anything at all similar to the one for which you are searching.

I would love to talk to you about Celine anytime! I wish you had known her! She was an angel on this earth! She often talked to me about all of her nieces and nephews and loved them all!

How thrilled I was to write back the following month with the good news that I had been able to track down what was undoubtedly the poem that Mads had come across when she googled Celine's name but then lost track of -- so easy to do and so very frustrating (as I well know from many a search and frantic re - search).

This beautiful poem was the re - discovery that Mads was hoping for and a new discovery for me. I was not acquainted with it from any writing that Celine had shared with me previously; yet suddenly, here was her voice ringing back over the years, reminding me of her attention to every sensory detail, her astute perception, her measured pace, her love of the world -- just as it is, combined with her hope for making it even better.

Thank you Celine for remaining near and for leaving behind this poem for us to find. And thank you Mads for letting me know that "Spring" was out there for the finding -- to see, to hear, to taste, to smell, to touch!

And thank you Cindy Carrigan Apple for sending this printed version:


I want to live this spring
not hurry it away, or
neglect its nearness.

I want to look long at
shoots and leaves--
at all roots and reasons
for be-ing once again.

I want to hear sparrows sing,
soft rains fall, and voices
that nudge me to nurture the
souls of things

I want to taste berries,
new flavors of ice cream
and backyard cooking, and
savor long the caring of
those who came and call.

I want to smell roses,
lilacs and lilies, early morning air,
good coffee, and cake rich with
orange rind and cherries and
its giver’s goodness.

I want to touch water and wood,
other’s hands--everything alive,
so steeped in summer sunshine
and the glory of rebirth.

I want to feel pretty, at peace
with memories and surprises.
I want to pray and linger
over time in the open spaces
of my heart.

I want to hope,
and believe,
and love.
I want to live this spring.
[emphasis added above]

~ Celine Carrigan, O.S.B.
Kitti & Celine ~ Ever the Best of Friends ~ Celine & Kitti
Fall 1987 ~ Notre Dame ~ South Bend, Indiana

Next Fortnightly Post ~ also in honor of Celine ~ "Ever the Best of Friends"
Wednesday September 14th

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Because It Is My Heart

Lionheart Lily

London Heart Lily

Lilies as hearts (tulips as lungs). Since last month's Fortnightly post, featuring my professor's advice from long ago -- "listen to your heart, figuratively and literally" -- I've been seeing hearts and hearing heartbeats at every turn. Sure enough, I saw them in the garden over the weekend and heard them a few days ago when I picked up Charley Henley's new book of short stories, The Deep Code.

So many codes structure our existence: computer codes, nuclear codes, Hammurabi's Code, the Fibonacci Sequence, the human genome, our cardiovascular system, and so on and so forth. Naturally, one of the most persistent of all these "deep codes" is the human heartbeat," as in:
"Heart throb, heart throb, wonder past knowing,
Where did you come from, where are you going?
Each of Henley's stories is governed by at least one deep code or another. In connection with my recently acquired understanding of rubato and rubatosis, here are a few passages that struck my heart:

1. In "The Golden Horde of Mississippi," Grandma Lucy and Jessica Sue are conflicted over codes of ladylike behavior and funeral etiquette. Grasping her cousin Bobby's cremation urn, Jessica longs to disperse his ashes "back into the system. . . . she wondered about the countless generations bound up in the meat of her own palm. If you sit quiet enough you can hear the flux of your own nervous system, that great collision of billions upon billions of tiny stones" (43).

2. In "Satellite Mother," the teen-aged son carefully follows his father's instructions for aiming a rifle: "So I did what Pop taught me. I closed my eyes. I fell into the rhythm of my heart and lungs. I breathed normal. I breathed easy. Your muscles need the oxygen, and your heart needs to calm down, I heard Pop say. Your heart needs quiet. You need peace to make this shot. . . . I slipped down into the rhythm between the spasms of my heart. I took hold of the jerking muscle in my chest, and I smoothed it out. I let it all go. I breathed deep and when I opened my eyes, my heart was beating at a perfect sixty beats per - minute" (64).

3. In "Cerrito Blanco," young Tessa runs from certain trouble into the calm "cool sanctuary" of [an old] church. . . . Her heartbeat thundered in her chest. It echoed through the silence, as if the whole world throbbed with it." Meanwhile, her father Leonard recalls with despair the dissolution of his marriage to Tessa's mother, Darcy: "It was like his heart had gotten clapped in the door somewhere, and it was still there, stuck and beating and distant, a heart gone to him now and lost forever" (158, 163).

Equally wrenching is the "feeling like cold steel that crept up his guts when he thought about" Darcy's domineering mother. In the story "Pleco Fez," another fractured character shares Leonard's visceral anxiety: "It gave me this cold feeling . . . Like a lump of wet metal moving back and forth in my guts" (153, 118). Both of these passages bring to mind the aching innards described in my previous post, "Longly, Longingly."

But, getting back to hearts, all of the above characters, in their imprecise cosmic pursuits, embody the words written by Stephen Crane and borrowed by Joyce Carol Oates (and me):
In the desert
I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
Who, squatting upon the ground,
Held his heart in his hands,
And ate of it.
I said, “Is it good, friend?”
“It is bitter — bitter,” he answered;

“But I like it
“Because it is bitter,
“And because it is my heart.”
[emphasis added]
Or how about the determined villagers in Lisel Mueller's poem, "Moon Fishing," who are advised to
". . . cut out your hearts and bait your hooks
with those dark animals;
what matter you lose your hearts to reel in your dream?

And they fished with their tight, hot hearts . . .
Reading Charley Henley's book, I can't help wishing that each story would last just a little (or a lot!) longer. You too will be drawn into the narratives of these folks, hunkering over their hearts, listening intently to the universe, and living by the deep code.


At the heart of our garden ~ thanks to Gerry!

Next Fortnightly Post
Sunday August 28th

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading