I've known Fr. Ray East for a long time, thanks to the conference circuit to which I was occasionally attached from the mid-1980s for 25 years or so. Ray is still a frequent speaker at major conferences, in fact, he was a plenum speaker at this summer's NPM in St. Louis. Ray touched Terry's and my heart forever when he came to our hotel room in the summer of 1995 after another NPM (Cincinnati?) just a month or so after Desi had been born, and sat on the bed with Terry and blessed Desi in that way that Ray has that makes you know that that baby was really blessed, and things would be good for him.
Ray was also a passenger on the famous Big Island Bus Ride of 1992, and he and I stayed together, with the late Fr. Jim Dunning, at the house of some Malia Puka o Kalani parishioners. My most persistent memory of Ray that year was that somehow he loved to eat breadfruit, which I found puzzling to the point of incredulity. That is some nasty food, at least it was to my then-carnivorous taste buds, and I could only shake my head in amazement at his apparently bottomless appetite for the stuff.
Anyway, in the subsequent weeks to that trip, I wrote this poem about him, which still resonates with me a little bit, the ideas helping me to overlook the shortcomings of my poetic style. Without any further self-pity, here's the poem.
For Ray East, my brother
in the United States of America.
Not one of the fifty, but deep
in the City of Compromises.
He rejoices when a man’s years
exceed his ability to live them,
for he has spent too many nights
like this, tracing oily crosses
on the bloodied brows of boys,
watching the foamy convulsions
of girls whose innocence did not dim
when they opened themselves to strangers
to buy, from a looking-glass Moses
escape or orgasm from a rock.
when he drives, sings 'Been So Busy,’
or Paul Simon, Jacques Brel.
Saturday night in the District
crouches around him,
lies and broken promises roam freely here,
they resent the rich baritone with tears in it,
hold their ears until hell
can silence him with sorrow, sirens, street beat.
a small man who lives on his smile
he takes his bread
at the table which invites him.
Moses, and says, Yes, my brother,
Jesus and says, Yes, my brother,
in Sojourner and Harriet and Rosa, says, Yes, my sister,
Martin and Malcolm X, Desmond and Biko, says, Yes, my brothers.
and wonders why the children don’t cry
why the police don’t cry
where are the mothers, fathers,
and why doesn’t the city stop?
Hasn’t a piece of the continent
been washed away?
for this boy whose heart has a steelblown hole,
this girl whose dead black eyes need more
this baby whose screams burst her lungs,
the scene in silence.
darkness is cocked like a gun. Then
It is Sunday, raymond thinks,
today I will tell them a story.
Today the ancient Spirit
will enter raymond, a zebra
Spirit, Bantu Spirit, gazelle.
raymond’s people will remind him,
—God is good ALL THE TIME—
sirens. a baby cries. someone
says, Amen, amen. Fat flies
circle over wine like blood.
When the heaven’s black light turns him
to a river of obsidian fire
where his people can swim,
we hear (sirens) drums and music
hammer on spike, a stone rolls.
Rory Cooney, © 1992