Abscissa of the Soul


Photo by Brian Federle: Seagull, New Brighton Beach, 2009

“Once we enter again into contact with our own deepest self, with an ordinate self-love that is inseparable from the love of God and of His truth, we discover that all good develops from within us, growing up from the hidden depths of our being according to the concrete and existential norms laid down by the Spirit Who is given us from God. “  Thomas Merton, The New Man

Go beyond
the surface
of things,
than thin soil
in the rain,
but dried to dust
by the summer wind.

Dive head first
into the darkness;
have faith
that someone
will catch you,
that you will
spash into
a warm sea,
that a strong hand
will reach out
and save
your life.

If you wait
for proof
you will find only
a solid stone
at your core.

is like that…
facts dash
your brains,
bring you
to the edge
of nothing.

But faith
will lift you
your limitations,
will bear you up
on golden wings,
make of you
the Royal Ordinate
of time and space
and you will dance
to the music
of the spheres,
as without fear
you reach out
to your Beloved,
the Abscissa
of the soul.


Author’s Note: In mathematics, ordinate refers to that element of an ordered pair which is plotted on the vertical axis of a two-dimensional Cartesian coordinate system, as opposed to the abscissa.  on a graph, the “x” coordinate rises or falls on the vertical line, but never moves forward. Alone, it is doomed to fail, to fall to its eventual death because things that do not move forward always die. But with its abscissa, it has forward movement… purpose… life… and can continue to soar into the ether. I am not good at math but quite good at seeing things.


On the Feast of St. Stephen

The Martyrdom of St. Stephen by Peter Paul Rubens 1616-1617

“The life of the soul is not knowledge, it is love, since love is the act of the supreme faculty, the will, by which man is formally united to the final end of all his striving – by which man becomes one with God.” (Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain)

See how wind tears, how
clouds ravage the sky
to shreds…

Can you hear the geese fleeing
shouting dread
as the savage storm crouches?

Are you afraid?

I know
how the sea sometimes
launches boulders;

but the stubborn land
bows and waits
and, swollen, forgives

with torrents of life;
rivers of joy.





He worked nights, leaving as we climbed
the tall narrow staircase to our shared room,
up into the summer heat, the steel fan
in the hallway window
pulling cool, leafy breezes
from our waving trees.

We heard the kitchen screen-door
slap shut, the Pontiac roaring to life,
and watched as slowly he backed down
the dark driveway, and was gone.

And gladly we glided through misty dreams,
flying over tree-tops, baseball games
and cool swimming pools,

when finally the robin’s enthusiasm
and the fresh morning sun
flashing through green leaves
woke us as we heard the car stop
and Dad call cheerfully, “I’m home!”

The air already scented with bacon and coffee,
we flew down the groaning stairs,
two steps at a bound,
and eagerly started another golden
summer’s day.



One winter day I did something wrong, and
he got angry and drew his worn leather belt
From the loops of his grey, stained work trousers
To teach me a lesson.
Terrified, I ran upstairs to the big closet
and trembled behind coats and sweaters,
as heavily he came up the steps,
righteous anger ringing in his voice,
tears flowing down my cheeks;

when my big brother, teenage and strong,
called defiance to him and drew him down
into the back yard to fight him
and save me, angered by his

memory of so many other beatings,

determined to stop it now!

But facing his own father

he could not fight back, and

weeping, I watched my dad
pummel my brother’s defenseless face,
far worse than any beating
I would have gotten.

From kitchen window,
I screamed to them both
to stop!

That was when my father saw,
in the kitchen window’s glare
his own father’s angry eyes,
and felt his father’s fists

landing hard on his own face,
and he stopped and

embraced my brother.


Seven years after my father died
my first child, my son, was born in spring,
and in the gleaming, sterile room
I first held him in my arms
as, with his impossibly wide, blue eyes
he calmy gazed right into my raw soul,
and I felt in a sudden rush of warmth,
a timeless love
and at last discovered
the reason for my life.

It was then
I understood my father.

In my son’s face I saw my own
and felt my father’s eyes gazing
in warm wonder on me
and I glowed with
unconditional love for my son.

(30 Jan 2011/11-2017)



“There must be a time when the man of prayer goes to pray as if it were the first time in his life he had every prayed.” Thomas Merton

Grey mist
rises and falls
enfolding parched hills
easing autumn’s harsh pain

saturating the spreading valley
with gathering rain
and mercy.

(1 Oct. 2012)

The Humble Man Prays


Sunlight through Dirty Window

“A man who is truly humble cannot despair, because in the humble manthere is no longer any such thing as self-pity.” Thomas Merton


I am like this window
streaked with rain,
obscured by
blowing dust,
yet holding firm
against the wind.

I know
that some fine, clear day
you’ll open
the door,
wipe my sins away
and clean at last
I’ll dissolve
into your face.

(10 Nov 2012)

Down a Bright Way


Close to the center,
near to where silence
fills my straining ears,
where long years
of searching end,

I find you waiting
my old friend.
You take my hand
and in a glance
know all.

Without a word
down a bright way
we walk.

(in memoriam, Maryalice Clare, friend and mentor)



From this holy height,
I gaze into
my Father’s eyes.

His fire scorches
my trembling flesh,
and fills my soul
with sacred breath.

In joyful flames
I suddenly see
I never was
what I appeared to be.

(25 Feb. 2013)