Nebraska Center for Writers

by Marian O'Brien Paul

Mass—May 8, 1988 Sun-wrapped, the glass of wine shone gold,
Released the subtle smell of grapes,
On the table near it lay the bread,
Sun-white and small.
Within the upper room:
Chairs pulled close;
Wildflowers, purple, yellow—
Just a few—in a drinking glass;
Paper napkin in place of lace.
Through the open window
The sound of fountain water
Falling between the notes of
Bird songs....
Then the Spirit broke the hold of time and space,
Filled the words priest spoke
Transformed bread —
Bright white like
Spring lambs —
Into the Lamb of God;
Transformed sun-warmed wine
Into His life blood
Sacrificed for us:
For you, Tom
For you, Sharla
For you, Robert
For you, Marian
And too for all whose Moslem hands
Picked the grapes
Harvested the wheat —
Crushed, threshed, milled, poured, baked:
Be blessed,
In and our of time touched
With that faith, that love we shared
There in that sun-lit place—we four
Who touched hands, hugged, brushed peace
With soft lips on each other's cheeks,
Together ate the broken bread,
Together drank the golden wine,
Together communed with our God
Who speaks, looks, laughs, touches others
Through us.

Reprinted with permission
from St Anthony's Messenger
Copyright © 1994
by Marian O'Brien Paul

A Sibylline (Im)precation
by Marian O'Brien Paul

ten years shy of death for my dad
but for me? how long?
seventy-four perhaps
the length of thread allowed to unravel
uncut until then for my mom
or — better? worse? — perhaps
the unlimited number of years
assured me by my schizophrenic son
who swears his prayers guarantee me this
but of course he has forgotten
one significant ingredient
for his filial wish — youth
so I worry on occasion
lest his prayer come true
and in slow motion I lose
one tooth after another
followed by each hair
my vision darkened
like a blown out bulb
and I need worry
no longer about fat
to store cholesterol in
nor drop of blood to swish it
through desiccated veins
shriveled like strands of dried grapes
stretched longer than their stems
I wonder how long it takes
for matter to return
molecule by molecule
to pure energy


Reprinted with permission
from Celebrate: A Collection of Women's Writings, Vol II
Copyright © 1998
by Marian O'Brien Paul

by Marian O'Brien Paul

protect us, the article said, rid the body
of "harmful chemicals produced during stress
thereby breaking the chain of events that leads"
to disease of the heart and damage of the brain
and all the time I simply thought that tears
implied the breaking of a heart, a terrible dis-ease
resulting more often than not from some mad
emotional incline. Of course, experience had
already shown me how a "Good Cry" *
does wonders, but you'll excuse my surprise
at tears' much more pro-active role.
"Um hum," I say and shake my head, remember
another article I recently read. It blamed
stress for depressed immuno-systems—result?
flu—unless you have had your yearly dose
of vaccine for influenza. "Hmmm," I say
and read on, learn scientists aren't sure,
merely suspect, having found "interesting hints"
of "connections among stress, tears, heart attacks,
and"—what's this?—"Alzheimer's disease [the stress
is mine!]." I say, "Wow," distressed to read
that your chance increases by fourteen for heart
attack the day that follows your beloved's decease;
but tears, this article asserts, reduce occurrence
of such secondary deaths. Further on the page
I'm informed a recent outline, product of British research
found in Lancet, prophesies adverse effects
of stress on one's hippocampus (not an organ
I'd been given to worry much about)
—seems its job is helping one to learn,
to remember, yet stress disrupts the process
so Alzheimer's may be triggered or made worse
by stress, the erudite Brits hypothesize.
It's got partly to do with sugar, you see,
in solution: stress inhibits the hippocampus
to such extent it reduces its qlucose uptake
by thirty percent (in case you weren't aware,
brain cells die when deprived of glucose).
In addition, stress is not content to cause
just slow starvation but insists on complications,
halving "brain-derived neutrophic factor"
a nerve-growth aid to maintainance of the brain,
the very chemical known to be on wane
in the hippocampi of each Alzheimer patient.
"Hmmm," I repeat and ponder a neighbor's fate—
An example illustrating the ancient riddle of the Sphinx,
he was well on the return trip toward his youth
This former community pillar, happily, did not
realize the extent of his regressive descent although
his wife, unhappily, was so aware. Bent
on "wifely duty," she cared for this aging "child."
She endured humiliation when in the midst of Mass
he approached the altar and drained the communion cup
down his throat then turned and smiled as though praised
like a good boy for "drinking it all up."
In an odd quandry, almost obscene, she begged
him not to leave at night when he fought for her virtue
and his, declaring it highly immoral if he stayed
they two being merely engaged and the neighborhood
full of long-toothed gossips. Eventually this story,
had its happy/unhappy end—on a day
they two, or she at least, planned to spend
with their progeny: married daughters, sons, grandsons
and grandaughters. Having dressed her husband in his best,
after washing his face and combing his hair, she bade
him sit at the kitchen table and read (or look)
at the Sunday comics while she dressed herself.
Always an obedient child (except when it came
to defending his wife's honor as seen above),
he sat. And looked. And sat. And continued to look,
ignoring the phone, the doorbell, the window knocks,
the splintering thuds on the kitchen door before
it was crashed in by his eldest son who rushed past,
receiving the slightest tilt of his father's head.
We heard about it later, how the wife lay dead
on the double bed where she'd conceived her sons
and daughters. A massive heart attack, they said.
I muse now on this article's contents and wonder— I can not believe she hadn't cried, and yet
the sum of all those tears was not enough
to save her broken heart. And he? What caused
his broken brain? What sorrows had he shoved
deep, deep inside to fester so unwept?
*Most of the medical information in this poem was derived from "The Good Cry," by Tom Majeski, Catholic Digest, January 1997

Reprinted with permission
from Celebrate: A Collection of Women's Writings, Vol II
Copyright © 1998
by Marian O'Brien Paul

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