A Poem on the Feast of St. Gertrude, Patron Saint of Cats

(Upon the poet learning that his cats had chased off a pack of coyotes)

You wish for assistance?
No, my cousin Okie.
If we die, it is our master’s loss,
But if we live, the fewer cats,
The greater share of honor.
With God as my witness,
I wish not one cat more.

I am not covetous for catnip,
Nor care where I sleep at night.
It irks me not who takes my
Favorite chair, or swats me off a table
That I have leapt upon.

Such things get not my dander up.
But if it be a sin to covet honor
On the field of battle,
I am the most offending cat alive.

No, coz, wish not a cat from Wayland
Over yon stone wall to climb and save us.
I would not lose so great an honor
As one cat more would share with me.

O, do not wish one more.
Rather proclaim it presently
To the host of coyotes before us
That we’ve the stomach for this fight.
Let them depart. Dry catfood pellets shall
Be put in their purse to ease their convoy
Back to the hills from whence they came.

This day is called the feast of St. Gertrude
The patron saint of cats.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home
Will stand on hind legs when the day is named
And rouse himself at the name of St. Gertrude.

He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his fellow-cats
And say “To-morrow is Saint Gertrude’s Day.”
Then will he part his fur and show his scars
And say “These wounds I had on St. Gertrude’s Day.”

Old cats forget, yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember with advantages
What feats he did that day: Then shall our names
Familiar in his mouth as household words—
Okie the King, Rocco the Prince,
Spooks, Chewie and Chester–
Be in their flowing cups freshly remember’d.

This story shall the good cat teach his kit,
And St. Gertrude’s Day shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember’d.

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlecats in Weston now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their cathoods cheap while any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Gertrude’s Day.

Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Cats Say the Darndest Things.”


For Boston’s Irish, Reparations Are Long Overdue

DORCHESTER, Mass.  Mike Doyle’s Kinvarra Pub in this gritty Boston neighborhood is the sort of “third space” that sociologists say is essential to bringing community and a sense of belonging to urban residents.  “You can tell them sociologists they got that one on the nosey,” said pub regular Ernie Sullivan with a laugh.

The Kinvarra: Apologies on three wide-screen TVs!


The parochial character of this particular watering hole doesn’t mean its customers aren’t up on world affairs, however.  “Oh yeah, we watch the news every so often,” says Sullivan.  “Sometimes when we’re changing the channel from the Bruins to the Red Sox in the spring Mike will hit the wrong number and we’ll get CNN.”

It was just such a fortuitous slip of the remote control that alerted the Kinvarra’s patrons, who are overwhelmingly Irish-American, to rising calls for reparations for past misdeeds around the world, from slavery in America, to Korean and Chinese “comfort women” pressed into sexual service of Japanese soldiers during World War II, to Armenian victims of the Ottoman Empire.

“That’s the right thing to do,” says Sean “Butchie” McGrath.  “But what about me?  When do I get my reparations?” he asks, and his friends chime in that they’d like some as well.

Why, this reporter asks, does a crowd of men drinking $2 Bud Light drafts think that they’re entitled to a monetary payments–apart from self-pity–and from whom?

Oliver Freakin’ Cromwell


“Oliver Freakin’ Cromwell, from the English, in that order,” Butchie McGrath replies without hesitation.  “Cromwell invaded Ireland in the 17th century, and killed me great-great-great-great-great grandfather Liam,” he says as his eyes grow misty with tears.  “I lost the paperwork on it,” he adds, “so they’d have to take my word on it.”

“If that Cromwell guy ever shows his face in here, I’m going to pop him one!”


McGrath and his friends suffer from what pathologists have come to refer to as “Irish Alzheimer’s,” a variant of the degenerative disease characterized by loss of memory.  “They forget everything–car keys, social security numbers, children’s birthdays–except the grudges,” says Dr. Philip Mainwaring of Massachusetts General Hospital.  “It’s hereditary, and there is no known cure.”

“As long as you’re handin’ em out, I’ll have some reparations.”


While historians have validated just about every call for reparations heard to date the Cash-for-Cromwell Campaign, as it is informally known, has thus far attracted no academic support, and some say ethnic and religious prejudice is the reason.  “It’s them English professors,” says Tony Doerr, an expert on Boston Red Sox batting averages and obscene limericks, an Irish poetic form.  “If they apologize for Cromwell, they’ll have to apologize for the Potato Famine,” he says, referring to a 19th century catastrophe in which more than a million Irish died from hunger while absentee English landlords exported food from their plantations in Ireland.  “There aren’t enough Andy Capp Pub Fries in Boston to pay off that debt.”

An Indifferent Irishman Signs the Petition

I ask if he can spare a minute and he says yes.
This is about your ancestors and mine, I say,
how, forced off the land, they sailed west
to Boston where, if they didn’t die on the way,
they and their faith were scorned in the schools.

He listens, a bit distracted I can see.
He has work he’d rather do
than listen to a lurid history
told by a man too full of rue.
He lumps me with the zealots and other fools

who have yet to learn that the fight is done;
they won, but so did we, and a truce was called.
We have the jobs they kept us from
if we want them; why should history be recalled
when there is now a fair if tenuous set of rules?

He hears me out and signs the sheet;
it costs him nothing but a moment’s scribbling.
He hands it back, I sense his need to be discreet
with one who holds a grudge–there’s no use quibbling.
What would his forefathers say, the fierce O’Tooles?


Who Will Dig With Dewey Now?

Who will dig with Dewey now,
now that his pal George is dead?
Who will tamp the grave mound down,
from the feet up to the head?

I have been to Dewey’s house,
met his pale-eyed wayward daughter,
seen her sun-shy ghostly pallor
standing idly in the squalor.

She held a child upon her hip,
cigarette dangling from her lips.
Dewey’d left his shovel there
the baby played with the girl’s hair.

All the place was disarrayed,
when we came that day to fetch him.
The father of the child was gone,
they hadn’t even tried to catch him.

George has died, his fellow digger,
gone to his deserved reward,
he’s the one did all the work,
feeble-minded, never bored.

When one of two grave-diggers dies
Who is left to dig his pit?
The place where finally one lies,
when before were two who did it.


For Mary Agnes O’Keefe

You always said you’d put a brick on my head
to stop me from growing;
this, even after you were confined to bed,
grandfather long since dead,
and the youngest of us knowing
you’d gone round the bend,

accusing him of having an affair.
To you I owe what Irish I have;
your wit, the crooked smile from here to there,
irony beneath a head of white hair,
that said it’s a complicated thing, a laugh;
part truth, part jest, best kept between friends.

You were buried in your Altar Society dress we were told;
it was a long way, not a trip for children.
What sins, I wonder, did you confess to the priest
at bedside for last rites, as he blessed you.
Was there one last quip as your life came to an end?


On the Proper Disposal of a Catholic Poet

          Catholic poet Robert Southwell was tortured by Queen Elizabeth’s executioner, hauled by horse on a wooden panel to the gallows, hanged and cut down alive. His bowels were then burned before his face and his head stricken off, and his body quartered and “disposed of at Her Majesty’s pleasure.”

               Ben Jonson: A Life, Ian Donaldson

“So–I guess you didn’t like it, huh?”


If you’ve got a Catholic poet you need to get rid of
just one form of killing won’t do.
Like a cat with a field mouse, have a bit of
fun first—after all, it’s diversion for you.

If he’s been a problem, a really bad actor,
a recusant from the Anglican church,
I’d suggest you start with a home trash compactor,
then whip him a bit with a birch.

“Here, hit me with this.”


If he refuses to renounce his beliefs
unlike his weaker fellows,
barbecue him like a side of beef
with a fire made hot by the bellows.

Hanging’s too good for creeps of this sort
although for most it’s a start.
You might drown him next, for additional sport,
then dine on his liver and heart.

To make sure that he’s dead, drop the guy from a roof
then crush him with a new steamroller.
Get personally involved—don’t remain aloof–
ram him with your baby stroller.

“Whoa–you scared the crap outta me!”


A lawnmower’s nice, for chopping and shredding,
although you should be humane;
leave his skull on, for future beheading,
but don’t let him plead he’s insane.

You’ll find in a while, that you’re starting to smile
because torture can be quite addictive;
but don’t worry if you start to taste of bile
if he gripes that you’re being vindictive.


Study: Mimes Add $300 Trillion to Local Economy

CAMBRIDGE, Mass.  A newly-released study is lending stature to a group of artists long dismissed as either inscrutable or merely annoying: mimes, who according to a white paper funded by the International Brother-and-Sisterhood of Mimes, contribute $300 trillion to the economy of this college town.

“What if I told you . . . never mind.”


“Count me skeptical,” said Professor Aaron Bevilaqua-Stearns of the University of New England School of Business.  “You see these crazy reports about how the arts are such a big engine of economic growth and you’ve got to take them with a grain of salt, but it would take all the NaCl in Utah to make that one go down.”

“No seriously, we’re all BIG contributors.”


When asked to defend the research that led to the report’s startling conclusion, a panel of white-faced mimes shrugged their shoulders and pretended to be trapped in a box, from which they escaped with expressions of enlightenment, causing this reporter to ask a custodian at the union’s hiring hall what they were trying to convey.  “That means ‘out of the box thinking,'” said Gus Tornquist.  “They were in there to get out of an imaginary hurricane, I think.”

“Do you think I need more make-up?”


One in five Cambridge residents has a personal mime character, and the proliferation of the silent artists here means that violence sometimes breaks out at wine-and-cheese parties over which mime can perform first before the sole non-mime person at the affair.  “It was uncomfortable, let me tell you,” says Con Chapman, a suburbanite who was caught in a dangerous cross-fire between “Fifi,” a female mime, and “St. Germain,” a white-faced male at the grand closing of a local used bookstore.  “I lived on the South Side of Chicago, and the gang wars between the 57th Street Disciples and the Blackstone Rangers were tame by comparison.”

Objective measures of the value that mimes add to the gross domestic product of a region are few and far from robust, but mimes themselves say that they produce intangible benefits both to those who watch their performances, and those who don’t.  “If you like what I do, you will smile,” says St. Germain, affecting a bogus French accent.  “If you don’t like it, you will be made much happier when I go away.”