Paul Mariani

Contributor Biography

Paul Mariani is the University Professor Emeritus at Boston College, specializing in modern American and British poetry, religion and literature, and creative writing. He has published over 250 essays, as well authored 21 books. These include biographies of William Carlos Williams, John Berryman, Robert Lowell, Hart Crane, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and Wallace Stevens. His biography of Williams was a finalist for the National Book Award. He has published eight volumes of poetry, most recently Ordinary Time: Poems (Slant Books), and The Mystery of It All: The Vocation of Poetry in the Twilight of Modernism (Paraclete Press) as well as commentaries on Hopkins, Williams, and many others. He is also the author of Thirty Days: On Retreat with the Exercises of St. Ignatius. For over two decades he taught at the Bread Loaf Writers Conference and the Glen Workshops in Colorado and Santa Fe. He earned fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and National Endowment for the Humanities. In 2009, he received the John Ciardi Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2019, he was presented with the inaugural Flannery O’Connor Lifetime Achievement Award at the Catholic Imagination Conference. Poetry editor for America Magazine between 1999 and 2006, he has received honorary doctoral degrees in Humane Letters from The Elms College and his alma mater, Manhattan College.

All That Will Be New in the World

will be anti-Puritan, Williams insisted, in one
of his best prose pieces, his admiration for Père 
Sebastian Rasles spilling out as if confessing.
Larbaud the Frenchman began reading from a copy 
of Cotton Mather’s Magnalia Christi Americana

on the Mosaic-like manifest destiny of New England. 
But Williams wouldn’t have it. No, they were not 
the ones to lead, those strong-willed Puritans 
who saw only dark savages around them. 
Better to learn from that Jesuit priest come down

from Quebec to live with his Abenakis, to eat their 
dried seal and boiled wood if it came to that, and who 
in the end would die with them. No, not Mather, 
with his map in hand, but the man who stayed 
in constant contact with his “cher troupeau.”

How Williams got it so right still moves me 
all these years on. Unlike those who raged against 
the natives, Rasles saw that “the head of logic” 
must be relegated to its proper place, which was
in heaven, residing with the mystery of the Logos. 
                                                                                                 
There was someone who could confirm what 
a Jersey doctor, half Brit himself, and half Puerto Rican, 
someone who saw each day all of life and death 
with its attendant sufferings. Someone who came 
to see in all its scintillant beauty a new world naked.

Rasles too saw what the poet too must come to see.   
That “every tree, every vein in every leaf” was part 
of God’s mysterious flower.” That somehow it was
the “worldly flower of Rome whose perfume might 
still draw all bees,” even here in the mud of the Passaic.

How Williams came to despise the dry and splitting 
logic that cut each flower from the glazed rain 
water we all need to survive and flourish. 
Both legs fractured as a youth, Rasles knew 
what suffering was as he hobbled on with his people,

marveling the more as he learned their incandescent 
words and ways. What warriors they were, with those  
brilliant guerilla tactics they used against those bent 
on robbing them of what was theirs with rum or 
a strand of pretty red ribbon, or logic’s words... or nothing.

 

Rasles knew in time the Englishmen would find and 
kill him. Still, not even death would keep him from his flock.
Back in Boston, his bloody scalp garnered his killers 
a hundred pounds. But you too know the places, don’t you? 
You who’ve lived here now for fifty years? Deerfield,

Hatfield, Hadley, the Abenaki and Pocumtuck names 
long gone. Still, something lingers in the spray that tumbles
to this day at Turners Falls, named for the one who killed
the Peskeompskut while they fished for salmon there, then 
died himself, that sad history that lingers in the river’s mist. 

Supper at Emmaus

Supper at Emmaus by Caravaggio, 16051606

And there’s that hand again, reaching out this time 
to bless the bread that’s been set before him on the table. 
It’s a small loaf, really, just a roll, and it’s been broken, 
much as his body was three days before. To his left
there’s a pewter pitcher with black lines striped across 
it and a glass half hidden, filled with bloodred wine.

He must be real, this Nazarene, because you can see
his shadow on the worn leather jacket the old innkeeper’s
wearing, who’s gazing down at this stranger as he wonders 
what’s going on. In the foreground, seated, are two disciples:
one is Cleophas, the other, strangely, looks like Peter, at least 
from other portraits Caravaggio painted of the man.

The same disciple who denied Christ three times out there
in the courtyard, and who now seems to inch his right hand 
close and closer to Christ’s wrist, as if to check if this could 
really be the Man. In the upper right stands an old woman, 
bent and weary from the daily chores she’s done so long 
that nothing seems to faze her anymore, so that as the Man

breaks bread as an offering of himself, we cannot read 
what it is she’s thinking. And here’s the thing: there’s another 
version of this same scene, which Caravaggio painted 
five years earlier. In this one Christ appears clean-shaven 
and is so much younger, which may be why the men failed 
at first to recognize this stranger who had walked beside them. 

                                                                                                 

But look at what the painter’s rendered. There’s a glass carafe 
of wine, a bowl of fruit and a roasted capon on the table, a Sunday 
feast for sure. And once again an innkeeper stands looking down, 
puzzled as this stranger blesses the bread then breaks it, even 
as those two disciples are clearly shaken—perhaps like us 
as well—by what is really happening here before our eyes. 
 

The Call

Caravaggio, The Calling of St. Matthew, 1599—1600

Like God the Father in Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel 
who searches Adam’s face, stretching his right arm 
out to touch and awaken him to life, so here 
in Caravaggio’s painting above the altar of King 
Louis there in Rome, it is Jesus this time round reaching

out his arm toward the tax collector Matthew, who 
in turn points his own hand toward himself, stunned 
at being singled out like this. In the meantime, two 
young tax collectors, startled as if they too have been 
uncovered, look up for an instant, while another two,

one who’s clearly been in the money–laundering
business a long time now, keep their heads down, 
preoccupied with the pile of silver coins aglitter there 
on the coarse-grained table half hidden in the shadows. 
The preternatural light—let’s call it that—that struggles

with the dark seems to catch the drama of it all: a gift 
offered in that instant that could satisfy a hungry heart.
And—look!—there’s Christ’s hand held out again, ten years 
on, Caravaggio pointing out the truth again, as the dead man 
Lazarus is jolted back once more into the light, his arms flailing 
                                                                                                     

as life begins to flow back into his limbs. He was a brawler, 
no doubt, this Caravaggio. And just how many he maimed 
or killed or conned must be left for scholars to figure out. 
But a many few at least. First he fled Milan, then Rome, 
then in time it was on to Naples. Then on again, this time

to seek protection from those Knights in Malta. Then
finally it was down to Sicily, before he headed back to Rome, 
sailing up the coast, hoping once again to be pardoned, 
this time by no less than the pope himself, in exchange of course 
for those final priceless paintings only Caravaggio

himself could execute. Among the three there’s one 
of Saint Ursula at the very instant the mad Hun’s 
arrow penetrates her breast, as now she gazes down 
at what has just happened, her eyes those of a contemplative, 
accepting of the end she’s reached, while the artist,

who surely knew his share of sharps and gangsters, 
reveals himself as one more member of the gang, staring 
down now in disbelief at what his brushstrokes have revealed 
about himself, even as the scene screams before his eyes. 
Brother, sister, he was much like one of us, I fear.

Someone no doubt who felt unworthy to be singled out, 
yet someone who could paint far better than his rivals, as well 
he knew himself. Someone too who saw deeper than most 
of us, as his paintings likewise clearly show. Yes, there was a price 
upon his head, for sure. But how much only God can know. 
 

The Carpenter

Georges de la Tour, Joseph the Carpenter, ca. 1642 

Out of that darkness behind the man who turns
the augur into the wood which his left foot holds 
steady, note how the light grows stronger

as it approaches the boy. Note too how the fingers 
of the boy’s left hand shield the flame of the candle 
he holds in his right. From the creased brow, and half-

glazed eyes you can see the man is tired. He’s dressed 
in drab like any other workman of the time, as on he works 
into the night to put that daily bread upon the table.

Look again and see how alive the boy looks as he talks 
to his father, trying to comfort him as the man keeps
on working. He’s a handsome kid, dressed in a modest

red garment, so eager to share still one more story. 
Then note how the candle flame which alone illumines 
the scene, seems to pass radiantly through the boy’s

outstretched left hand, as if transfigured. How happy 
the boy seems, his hand raised as if blessing the man 
who raised him and who, except for giving the boy

his name, remains silent throughout Scripture.  
Still, here in this night the boy seems to have all the time 
in the world to spend with the man chosen to be 

 

his protector, here in Nazareth, as in Bethlehem and Egypt, 
though it’s his heavenly Father the boy will call on, 
beginning with those Temple elders when he turns twelve. 

And the boy of course, being who he is, will seem puzzled 
why his parents, who will search three days for him, don’t 
see why he must be about his Father’s business. 

 

But even that scene remains somewhere off in the distance, 
and for now, note how the wood is being readied, like 
the wood that will be waiting for him to complete his work. 

 

By which time Joseph will no longer be there to watch over 
his boy, though by then the hard lessons of patience 
will have been drilled in: that readiness to say yes 

 

to whatever task his Father has for him. How often 
the story’s been told, as here by someone who will see 
his own family wiped out by a plague, along with himself. 

 

Still, the story never grows old, does it? No matter how many
times you keep coming back to it—often in the dark—to see
how a man watched over a boy and the mother of that boy. 
 

Wheat Field with Cypresses

Vincent Van Gogh, late June 1889

“I have a canvas of cypresses with a few ears of wheat,” 
Van Gogh writes his brother Theo back in Paris. There are 
poppies in it, and a blue sky impastoed “like a multicolored 
Scotch plaid.” And below those mottled clouds beckons

that “wheat field in the sun,” its rich thick yellow baking 
in the dense summer heat. To the right are two tall 
cypresses, reaching skyward to catch the eye’s attention.  
It’s late July, 1889, and Vincent’s here at the mental

asylum in Saint-Rémy, suffering his dark night 
of the soul. He’s thirty-six and has just ten months left 
to live before that bullet takes his life. In the time 
he has, he will paint another dozen wheat fields

when the doctors let him walk about and paint 
en plein air. And just now the wheat is ripe for harvest. 
But it’s those mottled paint-daubed clouds that catch 
his eye, like those Father Hopkins, dead just three weeks

now at forty-four, caught sailing over Dublin the year before. 
“Cloud-puffballs,” he named them, as they glittered across 
the skies. And once again you feel it: the wind, the Spirit, 
as life springs once more back to life and dark gives way 

                                                                  

to light. A farmer went out to sow his seed. Some 
the birds ate. Some bleached and burned among 
the brambles. And some fell on good soil, to produce 
in time fields of golden wheat like this. Fresh winds

still shook the banks and brakes as spring came round,
Father Hopkins saw. And, look, once more birds 
were busy building nests. Though just not him,
at least not now, what with sickness coming on.

And yet, both men got up again, again, and did what 
they could with words or paint and soldiered on. 
Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear, Christ urged,
as now another storm sweeps down the darkening fields. 

Edgardo Mar A. Castro

Contributor Biography

Edgardo Mar Alcantara Castro is an architect, educator and heritage worker based in the Philippines. He has spent half of his life in the practice of architecture all over the country. He initiated a civil society organization that promotes community-based heritage programs to different local partners with the involvement of architecture students. He received several research and academic grants related to Filipino architectural heritage.

Their Voyage, Our Journey

They took the voyage to face

the mysterious vast ocean,

the wrath of the raging waves,

the blustery weather.

 

They took the voyage to cope with

the frugal provisions,

the deprivation of comfort,

the uncontainable infirmities.

 

They took the voyage to discover

a new return route,

the source of the spices,

prospects for new economy.

 

They took the voyage to usher the heathens

to hear the word of God,

to receive a new baptism,

to sow the good news to the four corners of the globe.

 

We took the journey to face

the gusty winds, furious waves and petty storms of life.

 

We took the journey to cope with

the day-to-day struggle of life.

We took the journey to rediscover

the meaning of life and real happiness.

 

We took the journey to usher a reevangelization.

 

They had the tornaviaje, we live the tornavida!

To Our Lady, Star of the Sea

Ave Maris Stella

Monstra te esse Matrem!

Author's Note:

The work recalls the maiden voyage of Magellan that brought Christianity to the Philippine archipelago 500 years ago. It ends with a short invocation to the Blessed Virgin Mary.