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Monday, November 18, 2013

A November diversion - a rash from "The Dash"

I am truly going to burn.

Father Britto Berchmans, now a pastor himself in Park Ridge, was both a blessing to our community and a good friend to me for the years he served at St. Anne. He is a true servus Dei servorum, a servant of God’s servants, someone who genuinely bears the yoke of being an alter Christus. And he’s a stranger in a strange land, no less. Born in India near Madras to a large Catholic family, he became a Salesian priest, got a master’s degree in physics, and taught in the seminary for a while. Then he came to the USA and got a doctorate in communications from Marquette and U of I, and went to teach at the Salesian seminary in Rome for three years. But after this relatively short academic career, he decided that God was calling him to live his life as a priest in parish ministry. The parish he landed in was St. Anne’s, and Britto Berchmans, whose very name introduced me to two Jesuit saints whose names had not previously crossed my neural pathways, was part of the scenery for six years here in Barrington. We were, and are, the better for his joyful presence.

The only complaint I’ve ever had about the man (and that is saying something) is his infatuation with, and I know no other way to say this, a certain piece of religious doggerel. You know what I mean: the kind of stuff you read in Hallmark cards and forwarded emails that has sunset backgrounds and whose spiritual relevance is like offering an orange-flavored Bayer children’s aspirin to a man with an ax in his head. This poem was his spiritual Achilles heel, but it is I, Hector-like, whose literary corpse is dragged around the walls of poetry.

I'm speaking of a little ditty called “The Dash,” by Linda Ellis, © 1996. If you follow that link, you’ll get the idea of everything I’ve said above. All right, everybody loves it except me, and she has made a career out of that poem. Fine. I'm not jealous. These things are pretty harmless taken in small doses, but as I said, having done scads of funerals with Fr. Britto over the years, I became a barely-controlled lunatic, a Chief Inspector Dreyfuss to his Clouseau, or a character in a painting by Edvard Munch. I can still hear the cadence of his voice as he winds his homily down toward its inevitable hermeneutic Waterloo, that moment when his words of comfort end with the repeated horror comparable to that Cubs “video highlight” when Bartman interferes with the foul ball and gives the lousy Marlins the only chance they’d need to get into the World Series instead of us. I hear his voice head in that direction, I break into a cold sweat, and become another person: the mean-spirited cretin who is writing this blog entry.

Here is my sequel to “The Dash.” I make no apologies to its creator. This thing came out of your laboratory, Dr. Frankenstein. It must be destroyed.
The Dash, the Sequel

There was a man who stood to speak
At the funerals of friends,
Some were just parishioners,
But always at the end

He'd add a couple fables,
Unborn twins and the like,
Or words in Irish abbeys,
Or some dreck by Hank van Dyke,

But one piece of lore was constant,
Causing me my teeth to gnash:
A piece of kitschy misbegot-
Ten drivel called "The Dash."

Edgar Allan Poe on opium,
Bells clanging in his head,
Has nought on me, while wishing
To trade places with the dead,

As I dream that Halle Berry,
Twirling razors, comes to slash
Both my wrists, my throat, and eardrums
So I can not hear "the dash"

Or perhaps a one-way ticket
From the bell-tower to the street,
Or something slow, like poison!
I could force myself to eat

Something growing in my compost,
or some rancid corned-beef hash?
Or stuff my ears with cherry bombs.
Don't make me hear "The Dash."

I have read the works of Edmund Lear,
Enjoyed some Ogden Nash.
Even Gertrude Stein is rosier
Than Britto's awful Dash.

Even now my gorge is rising,
Each obsequies's a rash,
Every day he has his doggerel,
Just kill me—it's The Dash.

O take your cruel flagellum,
Give my woeful skin the lash,
Pour vinegar and turpentine
Into each bleeding gash,

Or Thelma-and-Louise-like
Off a desert cliff I'd crash
At three hundred miles an hour,
Just don't make me hear "The Dash."

That "poem" that gives me scabies,
Makes mind snap and bowels to loose,
Like Robert Frost, with rabies,
Channels Drs. Phil and Seuss.

O Catholic folk of Park Ridge,
Fork over lots of cash,
Perhaps a bribe will silence
Him enamored of The Dash?

O Zombie-Poe, arise now,
From the shadows of Lenore,
Let the raven eat that verbiage.
Let me hear it Nevermore.

If Bradbury had known the
Epic damage it has done,
The Dash might have prevented
Fahrenheit 451. 

So stuff my ears with candle wax,
With ice picks pierce my drums,
For I see him at the ambo:
Something vapid this way comes.

Love you, Fr. Britto. I feel a lot better now. Carry on.