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A Poem for Daniel Berrigan

Posted by Ryan Hall
05.02.16
Poem for Daniel Berrigan

July
Twenty-Eighth
(For Daniel Berrigan)

By Ken Butigan

You are outside
tonight,
adrift in the whirred glare tiny fragments spin,
missing in action in the
hard artificial light,
that cliche of space
and time.

Wandering, you find
the Salvadoran dead
lying on Broadway,
frozen and numbered.
Traffic picks its way round bodies
that appear by magic.
The public is outraged by the inconvenience.

But you remain.
What memory does this
loosen?
What hand pressed
against the spiraled flesh of your own?
What recognition
scenes unfold?
What poignant dreams?

While the chatter of death
plays on,
upstairs the music

upstairs the music
rattles like stones
swung inside
a bowl big like the earth,
swung by one
whose life
swings out in circles.

Upstairs there is the low bellow,
and the colored stones–
sienna, camel, burnt-orange,
each like eyes–
are wrested from rest
by the fiery feathered dance,
by the chord
struck at the start
of all new things,
which even now
is clear and clean,

which even now
urges the thin crust of the ground
forward and back.

You are here, Daniel,
learning to balance by shaking,
practicing the vertigo of spirit
that fixes you
to this precious earth.

*****

Ken Butigan wrote this poem a few days after a life changing conversation with Dan Berrigan — priest, poet, prophet and protester extraordinaire — on July 28, 1981.

Ken Butigan teaches in the Peace, Justice and Conflict Studies Program at DePaul University in Chicago.  He also works with Pace e Bene Nonviolence Service, a nonprofit organization fostering nonviolent change through education, community and action.

There are many substantive press accounts being published on Daniel Berrigan’s passing.  Here is John Dear’s powerful essay.  Here is the essay in the Washington Post written by writer and nonviolence teacher Colman McCarthy, and here is the long obituary in the New York Times.

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