Here at Last is Love: The Poems of Dunstan Thompson

Dunston_ThomasI get tingly with anticipation when I’m about to meet a new poet. I don’t mean the poet in person; I mean meeting the poems of someone whose work had been unknown to me.

And so it was when I opened the new selection of poems by Dunstan Thompson, Here at Last is Love, just published by Slant. But this wasn’t to be my usual sort of first meeting, because first in the book comes Greg Wolfe’s rich biographical introduction. With gratitude, I was truly “introduced” to Thompson: to a man whose life was shaped by opposing desires—for the Catholic faith of his childhood in the 1920s-1930s and for homosexual love.

Around age twenty, Thompson left the Catholic Church and began a series of tormented love affairs with various men. To be gay in the 1940s was to be doubly cursed: by society and by the Church. Thompson felt himself doubly sinful. At the same time, experiencing World War II in London, he was horrified by war’s brutality. [Read more...]

Lucia Berlin: A Master of Catholic Fiction, Part 2

By Jenny Shank

a manual for cleaning womenContinued from yesterday.

Catholic imagery appears throughout Lucia Berlin’s A Manual for Cleaning Women, the posthumous selected stories that has brought her singular fiction out of obscurity.

The magnificent “El Tim,” a story about a charismatic adolescent Mexican-American boy who disrupts a Catholic school with his sly behavior, begins: “A nun stood in each classroom door, black robes floating into the hall with the wind.” The grade school nuns keep perfect order, but the middle school ones have a harder time: “They could not use awe or love like the grade school nuns. Their recourse was impregnability, indifference to the students who were their duty and their life.” [Read more...]

Lucia Berlin: A Master of Catholic Fiction, Part 1

By Jenny Shank


In September, Lucia Berlin’s posthumous collection of selected short stories A Manual for Cleaning Women hit the New York Times Best Seller list for hardcover fiction.

Vice called Lucia Berlin “the greatest American writer you’ve never heard of.”

Marie Claire predicted that this “highly semiautobiographical collection will catapult [Berlin] into a household name.”

And John Williams wrote in the New York Times, “She put much of her roving, rowdy life onto the page in vivid stories that garnered the respect of a modest audience and now could be on the verge of making her posthumously famous.”

I count myself as part of that “modest audience” who was lucky to know Berlin and her work before her death in 2004. I met Berlin when she was my teacher in the graduate creative writing program at the University of Colorado, and I was immediately taken by her as a writer and as a person. [Read more...]

The Holy Wafer on the Floor

Eucharist001cropSometimes I take the Host in the mouth, other times I take it in the hand. Mostly I take it in the mouth. That’s because of the strangeness of it, the good strangeness. I don’t generally let other people feed me, let alone grown men. Let alone priests.

So, this meal is not like other meals. It is a meal that challenges my desire to have control of what goes into me and how. In this meal, I like to feel I’ve surrendered something, that I’ve become vulnerable standing there at the foot of the altar with my mouth open, giving someone else the power to do what they will.

The other day, the younger priest at my church misfired in his attempt to give me communion. He’s not like the older priest, who sticks the wafer right in there, saliva be damned, germs be damned, all of it be damned.

The younger priest, who is a good man all told, worries about viruses and colds and the transmission of disease. And his hand wavers. He doesn’t want to get too close, the younger priest. Because of that, and surely without ever intending any harm, he has become a Host-chucker. [Read more...]

Poets and Pope Embrace our Planet

5439014802_dc3b80295b_zPoets have no problem seeing the world evolving within God’s care.

Okay, that’s too general a statement. Let’s just take some of the poets in the special issue of Image (#85) on “Evolution and the Imago Dei.” (And since Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Sì came out nearly the same time as Image, I hear the Pope conversing with the poets.)

Poet Pattiann Rogers has for decades traced the minutiae of a natural world alive in unexpected ways. I reach for her collection Song of the World Becoming whenever I want to be drawn afresh into nature’s secret life. Here in Image, in “The Moss Method,” it’s the wondrous protective quality of mosses that Rogers burrows her language into. [Read more...]