Monday, April 25, 2005

The Fret of Father Carty
After Last Mass on the Feast of All Saints

by Joseph I.C. Clarke

“Oh, wasn’t he hard on poor sinners this mornin’?
And his voice, begor! Was no silver-tone flute
When he gave us,” said Burke, “the ‘third and last warnin’,”
With a taste and smell of blue sulphur to boot.
Arrah! What takes good Father Carty so quarely
That he preaches of late so mortal crass?”
Said Shea, “It’s surely the getting’ up early,
And workin’ and fastin’ for ten o’clock Mass.”

“The priests,” laughed Burke, “are for takin’ it aisy
As the Holy Father’s four white mules.
But the bishops and cardinals drive them crazy
For spires, marble statues, stained windows, and schools,
And soon as ever a mortgage is lifted,
They must start out fresh for worry and fret.
If they don’t, movrone, they are sure to be shifted
To a Dago parish that’s spanceled with debt.

“Still the life, I am sure, would suit me splendid:
A snug, warm house with your nag at the door,
And then, when the ten o’clock mass was ended,
To breakfast on bacon and chops galore.”
“Yis,” Shea snapped short, “you would ate, I’m thinkin’,
And there your most pious desires would stop.
When a man loves food like that, he is shrinkin’
His soul to the size of a mutton chop.

“But lad, if you lay, a ball on your shoulder,
Blood-soaked and pain-racked and ravin’ with thirst,
And a priest with cool words and something colder
Was there on his knees beside you – the first;
And said as he soothed you, “The good Lord thirsted
And died on the cross for men like you,’
Then whispered : ‘My son, the rebels were worsted!’
You’d face your God with a smile or two.

“And here it’s: ‘Christen the child John Peter’;
‘Please marry me, Father, to Tim McCann’;
‘Make Pat stop his swearin’;’ ‘Make Julia neater’;
‘Give the temperance pledge to my Turk of a man.’
And the vestrymen about debts pursue him,
He’s out upon sick-calls tender and bright;
All day all the woes of the poor drive through him;
He hears their confessions till nine at night.”

“Well, well,” stammered Burke, “I was only funnin’.”
“Fun!” thundered Kelly. “Man hold your whist,
And think of the hour that the last fight’s won in,
And the priest’s face there in the waverin’ mist –
The face of a promise beyond the water
That rolls to your feet without a sound.
Little help is mother or wife or daughter
When you know that your soul is outward bound.

“He leaves the red blossoms of life to others,
And his feet keep step to no earthly guide,
The poor far more than the rich his brothers,
The Christ that he preaches has arms spread wide.
So, if of a mornin’ his temper’s fretful,
And whether he fast or whether he feast,
While he walks toward God, of himself forgetful,
You can see the angel beside the priest.”

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