(For Pietro Ferri, OSC, in grateful remembrance)
The report of your passing came
in from New York or Phoenix
through a text message, cold and clear,
its meaning clinical and certain.
And then this email tonight
that flashed on the screen
with the urgency of quiet grief.
But then it came as well
in a dream of beauty and blessing,
in a dream of truth
and the terror of tears.
And that living memory of kindness.
The late seventies
come rushing to me now
at this later hour in a foreign land
as I try to imagine
the twin votive candles
holding vigil at the altar without
the trappings of remorse and regret
but with redemption
in hard stone for the miserable mind
that we are at this time.
How could you leave the missions,
the slums, the novitiate house,
the home where your heart is?
How could you leave the place
and people you came for
to witness to the constancy
of the sun rising in earnest
rising as we rose to recite
despite the many nights
the dictator came
his flamboyant wife came
the war generals came
the martial law minister came
the lieutenants of death came
to rob us of our future and fate?
How could you ever leave
the other missioner
shepherding you in the dark
as in the light,
in pain and in hurt,
in sorrow and in joy?
How, but how could you have come
in our midst, we who knew little
about the faith that delivers,
the faith that promises patriotism
even as you taught us
how to decline
love of the creator and neighbor,
ablative and genetive, the cases,
in the fluid Italian of the confreres,
the sing-song of the words
the same O sole mio of the soldier
who was saved,
hailed in holiness eventually,
called to heaven like you
to pray for the graces we all received
so many we stopped counting them
from the 80s onwards
when your retired in silence
in your corner, the smile on your face
still sad and shy as before
but contentment oozing
in those serene eyes
that knew so much but said less
or nothing at all
like the monks
in their caves, away from it all,
away from this quandary mortal life
gives us in illusion as in reality
that we all need to invent and reinvent,
each day, each hour, each moment
that we submit ourselves to all the forces
that claim us, the forces that have franchise
of the fates of moonlights
in the manicured garden and ground
we made sure it was verdant
even as the bells rang for angelus
that arrested our hours
with words and worlds
our troubled walled lives?
I saw you through in anger
as in anguish, in despair as in devotion,
in the step-by-step appointment
with the sacred and the sorrowful
in the untouched universe
you made and imagined
in the novitiate
for our struggling souls
as we prepared to pronounce
our vows to be perfect
in the imperfections
of our thoughts,
tamed and tortured
by seminary loves.
That universe steeped us
in the loneliness of the elect
in the solitude of the few
in the calm of evenings
in the muteness of mornings
that greeted us in warm
as well as in the cold days.
Your spiritual exercises taught us
to believe more and more
to be resigned more and more
to submit more and more.
And they were most difficult,
these exercises that showed
us the way
to our inner selves
to our hidden voices
to our sacred secret sites
where there we met up
with the maker of all life
with the energy of all that is
with the reason of all that matters.
Ah, but our days were wild fantasies,
four young habited religious
with the spirit of fire and brimstone
with the passion and the raw emotions
of mercenaries of redemption and relief
from all that made us mortal and malevolent
from all that made us saints and sinners.
Your death is a form
of cheating, I say.
For we are all here,
far and near, and yet we are here,
in the now of the remembrance
the despair that grips us so,
with your leaving
without ever asking us
to bid you goodbye
to bless your going away
to execute that snap salute
for your reporting for your duty
to the one that sent you to us
to the one that made it possible for us
to get into your salving life story.
But then again, we say:
Go, go now, father stranger.
Go, go now, and prepare
the banquet of bounty
for us all.
In the love of the one that sent
you to live with us for long years
you will have your fill even
as we pray you will.
Aurelio S. Agcaoili
Waipahu, HI, Jan. 26, 2005