Perfection's main character, Maggie Walsh, shares her personal poetry, covering a decade of her spiritual journey.

Decision: Reception

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

Chapter 10



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

Chapter 11




 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 –

accepted! Conditioned

to His Love, so awe-inspiring,

yet – so real.


Sister Clare Marie, SSM

Inner city, July 1966

Chapter 23



May Altar


                                                                        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. 

                                                                        from garland

and woodland

and hillside

and vale.


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

Chapter 14




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.


Sister Clare

July 1961

Chapter 9



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

Chapter 11


The Chalice


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

July 1964

Chapter 18





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.




Will’s Song…


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.


Will McBride

p. 259

Chapter 26






Departure: Final Profession

For Delores


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

August 1968

Chapter 29





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.



Order PERFECTION at, or Barnes and, or at these local book stores:    The Booksellers on Fountain Square - 513-258-2038    The Bookshelf, Inc., Madeira - 513-271-9140

Order PERFECTION at, or Barnes and, or at these local book stores:

The Booksellers on Fountain Square - 513-258-2038

The Bookshelf, Inc., Madeira - 513-271-9140

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