November 29: Remembering Dorothy Day

Dorothy Day, 1929
Dorothy Day, 1929

November 29 marks the anniversary of Dorothy Day’s death. I owe much of my formation as a Catholic, as an activist, and as a writer to Dorothy Day and the Worker movement. Currently, I’m making my way through the recently released The Duty of Delight: The Diaries of Dorothy Day, edited by Robert Ellsberg. Dorothy’s personal papers were embargoed for 25 years after her death. Ellsberg has done a phenomenal job in sifting, collecting, tracing, and editing. (I’ve written a few times about D. Day and the Catholic Worker movement for Sojourners.)

Below is a poem by my friend Ted Deppe, recalling Dorothy:

House of Hospitality
Tivoli, NY, 1976

Down the hall, someone’s playing Schumann and cursing,
and Dorothy says, ‘That’s why we call this a house of
hostility. At least we don’t turn away those in need,
but all our farms are failures.’ She quotes Dostoyevsky
to sum up fifty years of the Worker: ‘Love in dreams
seems easy, but love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing.’

Outside, the ice on the Hudson keeps breaking with loud booms,
and Dorothy recalls the San Francisco quake
when she was eight. Which prompts an elderly man, silent so far,
to clear his throat and say, ‘I was there—I heard Caruso
sing from the window of the Palace Hotel. We were running
down Market Street when Mother stopped, pointed up,

and there he was, testing his voice they say—he was afraid
he might have lost it during the disaster—singing from La Boheme,
that magnificent tenor of his floating above the sound of collapsing
buildings.’ ‘And you heard him sing?’ asks Dorothy, ‘you heard
Caruso?’ and the man—a very articulate schizophrenic—says,
‘I saw a city destroyed and heard Caruso sing on the same morning.’

‘What a life!’ Dorothy says. ‘See, I was in Oakland,
where it wasn’t so bad. I only read about Caruso. And his valet—
did you see him? A character out of Ignazio Silone!
I mean, I love opera, I love Caruso, but this valet, when the quake hit,
reportedly came into the maestro’s hotel room
and told him, “Signor, it is nothing—nothing—but I think

we should go outside.” Then, once he’d waited in the shaking
building for Caruso to sing, a cappella, the complete aria,
once he’d finally escorted him safely to the open square,
he climbed six floors to that Room with a View
to pack the great man’s trunks, and carefully—apparently
calmly—carried them down, one by one.’

This poem appeared originally in The Shop and will appear in Orpheus on the Red Line (Tupelo Press, 2009)..

Howth: “Spiritual Direction”

Dateline: Howth, Dublin, Ireland, overlooking the Irish Sea

The sun has poked up over Howth Head this morning and the sea is bright and blue. Howth harbor is a seal sanctuary, so the seals are rolling over slowly in the surf and the seagulls are harassing them with glee.

Last night, our writers group gathered at a local pub, Krugers, for a poetry reading by Ted Deppe from his forthcoming collection Orpheus on the Red Line (Tupelo Press, 2009). It’s a collection with great tenderness, wisdom, and a touching feel for the rough sides of ordinary life. I especially loved his poem “Houses of Hospitality” about Dorothy Day. I’ll try to get a copy and post it here.

In the meantime, below is one of Ted’s poems:

Spiritual Direction

Because she poked fun at the way his white robes
flew out behind him as he biked back
to the monastery for vespers

and then, recording her jokes in his journal,
he tried to recall each thing she’d said or done.

Because his hands shook when he phoned her
and later, when they walked beyond the gatehouse,
how the hills wouldn’t stop trembling–

he told himself he knew at least this much,
if the world shakes, pay attention!

Because of the long night, then, when he couldn’t not
think of her. Or the energy surging
through his ordered life, a wind

rising within him, the same energy he’d followed
long ago into the abbey, almost helpless again before it.

His reaching out of bed for his journal,
trying to describe the sound of her laughter
in the gatehouse corridor. As if God was leading him

away from the church, away even from God.
As if he was at last at the mercy.

-Theodore Deppe (from The Wanderer King).

A Taste of Eire

Oysters
by Seamus Heaney

… Our shells clacked on the plates.
My tongue was a filling estuary,
My palate hung with starlight :
As I tasted the salty Pleiades
Orion dipped his foot into the water. …

I’m headed tomorrow for Dublin and then the Dingle Peninsula. I’ve got my copy of the new Sister Fidelma murder mystery, Prayer for the Damned, by Peter Tremayne. I’ve got my Lonely Planet Ireland book. I’ve got my pocket Bible and a paperback of Seamus Heaney’s Station Island.

I’ll be attending a writers workshop in Howth, outside Dublin, with poets Ted Deppe and Annie Deppe, and non-fiction writer Suzanne Strempek Shea. I’m really looking forward to having concentrated time to rest and write.

Then I’m catching the train north to Belfast to visit Anthea McWilliams, founder of the HoiPolloi Dance Company. Anthea’s just completed a fantastic project called Slow Dancing Up Ireland. Part public performance art, part peace initiative, Anthea did sneak dance performances from the tip of Northern Ireland to the bottom of Ireland. She danced on country roads in response to the “sounds” of the land. Check out her project here.

Finally, I’m going out to the Dingle Peninsula to the region of the Gaeltacht, where Irish is still spoken, to visit the ancient monastic beehive hermitages and make the pilgrimage up Ireland’s Holy Mountain (Mt. Brandon).

I’m also planning on downing Irish oysters and tasting a Guiness or two! Look for updates from the Emerald Isle..