Perfection's main character, Maggie Walsh, shares her personal poetry, covering a decade of her spiritual journey.
an open road, an open heart – and choices:
the emptiness, the fear of Love – and noises:
the Spirit speaks, a silent call – no voices:
the soul that fled pursuit accepts – rejoices!
Sr. Clare Marie, 1961
To a Friend
May Christ Who gave you to me as a friend
give of Himself to you.
May His Love, immeasurable, hold you close,
closer than I can do.
In this great bond our souls will ever blend
in perfect harmony,
the Lover’s wider arms encircle us,
His gift to you and me.
Sister Clare Marie – 1962
Alive! For the first time breathing,
pulsing, living, be-ing, fulfilled!
In this moment consummated
in the Word of God, made whole,
enclosed, set free,
impoverished, enriched –
to His Love, so awe-inspiring,
yet – so real.
Sister Clare Marie, SSM
Inner city, July 1966
Bring flowers of the rarest,
The porcelain Virgin Mary was a prize I won
in fourth grade. I loved her –
lovely lady dressed in blue, dark hair flowing
under long white veil.
bring flowers of the fairest
Most months she stood in the shadow box
above my bed, safe from breaking.
But during May, Mary had
center stage in my attic bedroom with the
splashy pink and rosy wallpaper.
Our full hearts are swelling
The Virgin, her hands outstretched, stood
on my mother’s embroidered doily,
draped over the old cedar chest.
our glad voices telling the tale
Surrounded by kitchen jars holding
forsythia branches, sweet spirea,
pungent backyard lilacs, nodding daffodils.
of the loveliest rose of the dale.
Even an apple blossom branch or stray magnolia
knocked too soon to earth might find its way to the feet
of the woman who crushed the serpent and crowned the globe.
O Mary we crown thee
with blossoms today
Queen of the angels
Queen of the May.
Kneeling before the flickering vigil lights
dancing on the wall, I’d send some bedtime prayers
to the gentle face, asking for everything,
asking: Pray for us sinners, now,
and at the hour of our death.
O Mary we crown thee
with blossoms today
Queen of the angels
Come June – the doily grey with dust,
the candle wax used up – Mary returned
to the shadow box. I remember the glow
my May altar cast, how my fingers caressed
the rosary beads, long past childhood.
Queen of the May.
Sister Clare Marie, SSM
A cobbled street – deserted – quiet – I
can get away, and rest… the morning filters.
How I dread the light. The night’s
my marketplace. A traveler comes…
will he stop here and buy my trade?
He’s young and handsome. Why that
group of people following? Fishermen?
That tax-collector? But the leader…
he is coming towards me. I must go!
His eyes – they’ve locked with mine!
It’s strange, but somehow I can’t
turn away – can’t move or speak – I
cannot take a breath! Those eyes. He
knows me. Somehow…I know him,
and know he loves me…wants me.
Now he’s gone. My clothes – they’re dirty.
I’m uncovered, feel as if my soul
were lying open, bare, for everyone to see.
He saw and now I see. He’s gone.
Who was he? I must follow – run –
must find him – got to find him. There!
At table. Ah! He sees me coming.
Look! Those eyes… My heart – it aches
with sorrow. Tears – his feet – I’ll
kneel and – O my Lord – my life – my sin –
you know, you love – I am forgiven. I believe
that you have power – no words needed.
How he smiles. I cannot take my eyes
from his – those eyes! He looks around…
around? We weren’t alone? I’d thought
we were. No matter now.
He speaks to my detractors: “She loves much.”
No, it is he who loves me much.
Yet, it is true, I do love him.
He motions: “Go and sin no more.”
Then, it is over.
A cobbled street, the light of day,
the warmth of sun, a song of peace and
love. A traveler stopped. I’m going home.
I’ll find him soon enough again.
I’m going home.
A novice sets the dinner tables,
balancing on her wrists trays of butter plates.
She hurries to finish her nightly charge
before community prayer. Startled
by another rushing novice, she watches with shock
as butter dishes slide to the black refectory floor;
they crash and break, the yellow squares of butter
scattering from broken shards of china, clanging
in the silence. She saves a broken piece
to show the Novice Mistress, where she will
confess her carelessness, and ask for penance.
Later, in the quiet after evening supper,
mixed with the bustle of sisters setting down
their sewing for the hour’s recreation, the novice
finds the Mistress behind her desk,
hands folded on the glass top,
waiting for the day’s transgressions. Shoulders tight,
the novice caresses the broken plate as she kneels
and says, “I carelessly broke this…” a lump in her throat
cuts off the explanation – the accident of flying trays
and crashing plates, the butter pats melting on the floor.
Fragments spill out before she manages to say that
the butter too was ruined. Mother frowns, unclasps
her hands, and accuses the novice of failure
to disclose the truth, “A broken plate is nothing
compared to the waste of food you’ve caused.”
“But I didn’t mean...” she whispers, as Mother
waves her to silence and doles out her public penance.
She must go now to the center of the community room,
kneel for one hour, while the rest are recreating,
before the statue of Mary who stands on a pedestal,
larger than life, in the center of the room,
“Yes Mother,” the novice replies,
not knowing how she will face
this public shame. She knows better than to say,
“But I didn’t mean to…” She is still on her knees
when Mother adds, “And because you concealed
the truth, you will kneel with your arms extended.
May this be a lesson to tell the whole truth.”
The evening bell for recreation calls the novices
to their places around the tables. They smile and
unpack their mending or set up games and puzzles.
The hour begins with a hymn to Mary. The girl-women chat
and laugh and darn their black stockings.
All of them practice custody of the eyes,
never once setting eyes on the novice kneeling,
arms extended, before the Virgin,
in the center of the room.
Sister Clare Marie, SSM – 1961
If I could reach the bottom –
if there were a bottom –
if, by Grace’s goodness I could see
with eyes of heart
what lies beneath – Who dwells –
what Mystery, in depth, is here for me:
I think, as I look deep within this chalice,
as I see my own reflection,
there – within my heart and soul –
there lies the Answer, Depth,
the Mystery: Not me
but Christ – and not just Him
but Him in me.
Sr. Clare Marie
Malvena planted herself on the front stone steps
most days around one. “Settin’ a spell,”
she’d say, but that didn’t mean she was
ripe for talk. I was a volunteer sent out
to “meet ‘n greet.” I would teach these
lost souls to hope, get a job, go to school,
at the very least, bring them into the spiritual fold.
Malvena smoked her Lucky Strikes, drank lemonade
from a jar, and sat. Gradually she cleared a spot
on the stoop for me. Her “Yup” and “Nup”
left no inroads. I gave up trying and settled
into a silence louder than her corner at 14th & Vine,
darker than her musty stairwell, heavier
than the greasy summer air.
Sometimes Malvena sighed so deep it left her
visibly lighter. Her losses floated around us,
dropped onto my sandals, fell into the folds
of my skirt. Memories sat on our shoulders
and slid down our backs with the sweat from the
summer swelter. Elbows propped on our knees,
chins in the palms of our hands, we sat. After
a time, I’d pat her hand and move on.
Summer ended. I returned to my teaching
where I felt the need to dole out answers before
the questions were asked. One day I held up
a glass of lemonade during lunch
and thought of Malvena. I fell into mourning
for those scorching afternoons
when I first learned to be quiet.
Sr. Clare Marie Walsh
Chapter 26 –
The priest in purple vestments sweeps
down the Gothic aisle along the
fleur de lis and crosses embedded
in the cold tile squares warmed by candlelight
and hanging chandeliers and sweetened
with the scent of burning incense.
The ancient organ music vibrates through
the massive pipes. I feel it underneath
the hardwood floors. And through my schoolgirl's
frame and throbbing heart, it pulses
in my fingers tapping on the wooden pew.
Tantum ergo chants the choir,
I follow in the Hymnal. I intone
the rhythmic verses, sense the Latin rhyme
and order. Sanctity and power
stir me, they infuse and carry
me above the tile, the wood.
I am a visitor praying in a world
reserved for mystics, saints, the chosen.
Setting sun bleeds through the windows
stained with mysteries, rich in age
and grace and wisdom. Rays reflect
the gold procession cross swaying
slightly in the altar boy's tall grasp.
I want to be that boy, robed in
floor-length black cassock, trimmed
in white starched ruffled surplice.
I want to be the server swinging
the golden smoky censer over
filmy stone and marble. I would
make the holy holier, I would
purify and cleanse. I want
to hold the Missal for the priest,
balance the thick carved golden candlesticks,
light the altar candleabra
with the long brass pole.
I would smooth out the linen folds,
pour the water, set the banquet,
ring the bells, shine the chalice,
lay out the silken beaded vestments.
Insignificant in my pew,
drawn, dreaming, senses filled,
alert in this holy place, I long
to be close, to be one in the ritual.
Spring came early
I should have seen her coming.
She blew in with a smile
and shining eyes of April blue.
Then came summer
I should have felt it blossom.
It opened with her words,
the laughter in her voice.
Home came easily
I should have known I’d find it.
I felt it reach and touch me
the moment Spring came calling.
Each new meeting
I have a deeper knowing
that Spring has come for me
and I am home for good with her.
Shall I tell her
I’ve always felt it growing,
or did she know already
the moment that we met?
Home came calling
across the spinning seasons
and love came calling,
came calling to me.
Departure: Final Profession
An open road, an open heart – and choices.
The Spirit speaks, a silent call – no voices.
The one who fled pursuit accepts – rejoices.
Cathedral bells ring out with joyful noises.
We kneel before the Bishop in our places.
Profess our until death with faith-filled faces.
Process to meet our Sisters’ warm embraces.
But you have slipped away – you’ve left no traces.
Your empty place has struck a dissonant tone.
Your leaving leaves me – in this crowd – alone.
Sr. Margaret Ann Walsh, SSM
What of God, who now appears to me
in even the simplest natural forms - God
in glistening drops of rain, the falling leaves,
my nephew’s laugh, crawling insect, writhing snake.
God in the mineral world, channeling energy,
white light opening wide the swirling wheels
of light, the spirit I’m learning to call, call back,
to send in search of Goodness. God - more present
in my everyday stuff of life: Where are you now?
God I thought I knew, who are you now?
There is a rising inside me like a yeast,
from my gut to my throat, a kind of urgent energy
bubbling up. Be patient I say, even as I
tamp it down. What’s about to come out?
Where should I go for release? What must escape?
Be patient, wait, rest here beneath this tree.
I’m not wasting my time, the tasks can wait,
I will never complete the list, there’s always more –
there’s always time. Be in this time,
this presence, accept this present as gift.
Be here in this place, this school of polished floors
and paneled walls, be with the smell of wax
and echoing halls, the noise of idle girls
and lectures leaking from behind closed doors.
Be with the doubt, the open hands of promise,
the ground in fissure, voices whispering No.
Be with the God who brought you to this point.
Be here today. Be with Me. I am Now.
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