Poetry – A Celebration of Authenticity- July 31, 2016

– no title specified


Poetry – A Celebration of Authenticity- July 31, 2016
















The element of fire represents passion, veracity, authenticity, and vitality. If the chalice is the supporting structure of Unitarian Universalism, then we are the flame. We are the flame, fanned strong by our passion for freedom, our yearning for truth-telling, our daring to be authentic with one another, and the vitality we sustain in our meeting together. In all of this there is love.







Peter Friedrichs tells a story of a time he was working as a hospital chaplain. He was talking to an elderly patient who told him she was afraid to talk to her doctors.  He tried to reassure her that they were there to help her, and suggested that she just “be herself”. “Be myself”, she said. “Of course I’m going to be myself. Everyone else is already taken!”


We called the service “Poetry – A Celebration” knowing we wanted to use my mom Mary McDonald’s poetry . As we read the poems we realized that the theme of authenticity emerged. What does authenticity mean? Herminia Iberra described it in 3 ways: One, being true to yourself, second, maintaining coherence between what you feel and what you say or do, and third, making value based choices. So our revised title is “Poetry – A celebration of Authenticity”


People in our society often find themselves trapped in a way of life imposed by a religion, or the situation they were born into. It can be a hard road to break away from these strictures and to find an authentic life. This is the journey

illustrated in my mother’s Mary McDonald’s  poetry  ; her longing for authenticity, and the drastic steps she had to take to get there.


Mary grew up in the 1920’s in a Catholic family. This was a closed world, where Catholics only socialized with other Catholics. Life was organized around daily attendance at mass, sometimes even twice a day.  Womens’ roles were tightly centered around homemaking, the kitchen. Men ( as in God the Father ) were seen as superior beings, so a young girl in this environment would be at the bottom of the ranking system. Being a girl in this setting was not a celebrated event. This double standard is evident in her poem about her Mother’s experience at school:


Poems Selection 1 –Family

Tales From The Ontario Woods


I am the bearer of the tales my mother told me,

tales from the Ontario woods

she grew out of

at the turn of the century.


Her father took her to school

when she was six.


        Here’s Martha,

        teach her to cipher, read a little.

        She’s not to take geography.


And when Miss Baker bent

to Martha’s slate,

white cotton tucks

in the teacher’s shirtwaist

brushed the child’s face.


And this, the child thought,

is what I will be.




Her father took her,

when she was nine,

from her schoolhouse desk

to the fields and the farmyard.


        There’s a red fox who turns

        traps upside down,

        snaps them on the dirt.

        Martha, you watch, keep him

        away from the chickens.

        And there’s the cows for you to milk.


Mornings, she hid behind the maples,

hid from cousins

carrying milk pails;

noisy on the road to school.


Martha held the ends

of precious cedar logs,

while her father raised his axe,

till the logs were halved,

then quartered, till he heaved together

the split-rail zig-zag fence,

till her long-fingered

piano-player hands




                           *   *   *



        See, my knuckles,

        from the milking,

        from the fences.

        And my breasts,

        I never had any.


Today, in the teacherage,

my mother makes our supper

on the woodstove,

moves in soft turns as if

stepping between twigs, secretly,

the turnips and salt pork her prey.

She sniffs, licks,

lays out a cache for tomorrow.


And at the schoolhouse social,

if a farmer takes her to dance

from the bench behind the bookcase,

her arms stiffen, she is all

thin  brown  rail.




My Mother grew up internalizing the Catholic beliefs she was taught: the catecisms, the saints, the commandments. But it provided her with an unlikely set of playmates:




I’m not a lonely child, they

come upstairs to play

from off the stacks of glossy pictures

in Father’s office.

(Holy articles to sell his flock)

     Mother says only, “Don’t play so much alone.”

          Michael Archangel wakes me.

          His sword glints morning, white

          muscled wings beat out


          the darknesses of corners.


        St. Francis, friend

        of beast and fowl,

        bare feet, hair shirt, comes to light

        beside me on his wooden stool

        to fast at breakfast.

        Smells of cave.

     Mother says only,

     “Who let that bird in?”

At backyard scrub,

        homeruns, glories,

        are all mine.


        St. Joseph’s too intent

        on shouldering lilies

        to perfect symmetry.


        St. Benedict’s whirling habit

        hobbles his legs.


        St. Helen steadies her halo

        with boneless finger.


        Or else they fall into contention on who

        has patronized more places/people.


It irks me that their well-placed folds and faces

stay tidy whatever

the action.


     Mother says only,

     “Must you get so dirty?”

I am not above

bargaining with any

or all of them

for intercession from high places,

in extremity,

or in mischief.


     Mother says only, “Practicing your Latin, dear?”



Her parents moved from Ontario to Alberta. Her Father was a schoolteacher, and taught in rural one room school houses. Every year the school superintendent would discover her father’s near deafness, so at the end of the year they’d be sent on their way to find another school. The family spent years moving from one rural schoolhouse to another. This constant moving made their isolation within the faith more acute. Mom would later title one of her books “Home, Where Art Thou?”


Summer, in Edmonton


My mother is boiling potatoes

on the narrow gas stove

in our rent-by-the-week housekeeping room.

She jabs the gas jet, her lips as pinched as



Hawr-umph aaaaack,   my father’s noisy coming-in:

Well, Martha, I have a school this time.                                                                    He waves a crumpled envelope.

Postmarked  Hope, Alberta.


My mother twists her head around to him.

I think of necks of horses in the field

beside the teacherage we left,

the white mare’s shying.


My mother makes a sound that cats make

at a garter snake.

Where is it?   the train to Nowhere, Alberta again?

Every year a new address

Every summer  General  Delivery.

What will my folks back in Ontario

think?  My sisters say

Where is this place?   They say Where will we

send the maple syrup to?


Out of his pocket my father takes his

map of Alberta, thumps it flat

at the torn creases. My brother Joe brings out

a ragged railway timetable.


Let’s see,  find Hope .

Crow’s Landing School should be

somewhere in here.

Half-way between a wriggly thread of blue

and a thin black jointed line

My father’s  finger jabs an empty spot.



Sharing of Abundance (Stephen Lewis Foundation)     Music – Simple Gifts






Growing up in the country, Mom felt a close affinity to nature. It was her playmate, her inspiration, her spiritual source. Every time they’d move, her first instinct would be to explore the nature surrounding them. It acted as a refuge for her between home and church.


In one of her books she quoted Wallace Stegner’s book ”Finding  The Place:  A Migrant Childhood”  that speaks to her experience with nature:


. . . . . there is something about living in big empty space, where people are few and distant, under a great sky that is alternately serene and furious, exposed to sun from four in the morning till nine at night, and to a wind that never seems to rest  . . . . there is something about exposure to that big country that not only tells an individual how small he is, but steadily tells him who he is  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  Everything I knew was right around me, and it was enough.




This next Poem expresses the sacredness she found in nature:


Is this a kiss?


The young grass

pulls my feet beyond the fences.

A wild slough-smell

tells the way to the willows.

In the soupy water

the polliwogs will be darting

willy-nilly, easy to catch.

The little blue butterflies will be

everlastingly looking for something

and prairie buttercups will be open,

coins in the pockets of

the young grass.


I kneel a moment.

Sounds of trickling hang in the air,

continuous, like quiet applause

as if music had been playing.

I slide beside a willow bush.

Whirligig beetles and water-striders flick

over the slough.

A hand of willow leaves brushes

my hand. From the far bush a clear

chip chip chip all on one note,

then tseep tseep, high and sweet.


I lean to the willow branch.

It’s smooth and silky, reddish-brown.

My lips touch it, my tongue moves over

tiny knobs, slicknesses,

scars from lost twigs.

Is this a kiss?



Musical Interlude  – Chopin






Mary grew up, spent a year at normal school, and became a teacher herself, also supporting her now elderly parents. Began her own circuit of teaching in rural schools. When she was teaching in the district of River Q’Barre  a farmer in the area, Ranald McDonald, proposed marriage, and seeing it as away to escape her over bearing mother, she accepted.


 Mary and Ranald were married. After a brief honeymoon in Banff, Ranald dropped her off at an empty farmhouse and went back to his mother’s farm to continue the harvest.  Whereas she went back to her mother in Edmonton.


After this auspicious start to the marriage Ranald was convinced to move into Edmonton, where they lived and raised 3 daughters.


Mary returned to teaching fulltime as well as raising a family. At this time female teachers were expected to give up their careers and become full time homemakers.

The marriage might have been an escape from her mother, but not the church. Teaching in a Catholic school system, she was as tethered to its rules and obligations as before. During this time she did not write any poetry. I feel she had a strong sense of privacy about her family, and she also needed to keep up a wall about her true feelings.


In the 1970s Mom divorced Dad.  It was a rough time for the whole family. In our strictly Catholic world this was shocking, a scandal. Shocking for the relatives, the neighbors, the whole Catholic community. She had cut the ties with her Catholic life, and had to find a new way of living without guidelines.


Only when she was older, the children grown, and she was alone did she start to write again. She was now free to become the person she wanted to be. Her poetry writing became prolific, and she wrote as if driven . Her poetry from this time reflected her new felt freedom. She was writing full time now, published two manuscripts, and was involved with the Stroll of Poets.


Dance With DNA




If Dance gets into the spiral hall

of DNA, it will not leave

at closing time, will make a scene,

demand more music,

jig like a two-year old who hears

a fiddler on the mall,

even if the body is 75.


Dance pulls out the arthritic arm,

pries open the fingers,

takes a joint for a spin.


Dance embarrasses the demeanor

of a seventy-something.


Here I am in the back row

of the Dance Moves class

with the thirty-somethings

at the Community League hall.






Puttin on

Puttin on

Puttin on the ritz

Puttin      on     the Ritz


The air in the hall

is tight with youth

and perspiration.


Footnotes from previous lives:

Trying    to recapture

the satisfaction of the whack of heel

on the jazz downbeat,

the rush of the reach

out of my rib cage

on the upbeat.


The moves

move out of sight

too fast, like calendars,

too little time.


Trying     to grow old

gracefully.  I know I can

retain the moves

if someone will reduce them

to slow motion, say

another lifetime

or two.




With this next poem, at the age of 82, she won the CBC National Poetry contest:



Conformity Be Damned


I have spent my life

trying to cheat conventionality,

to escape the accepted




like the time I was called

to the principal’s office

for allowing one of my students

to dress, at Hallowe’en,

as a bum with an empty flask in his pocket.


At eighty, I decided on a Seniors Lodge:

Heartwood Manor.

This tower of brick and glass appeared

as powerful and mysterious

as the castles of my childhood books.

It was inhabited by mythical figures

who sat on guard in easy chairs

at the wide entrance,

and pushed their walkers in and out.



The surrounding formal gardens must have been

picked from the pages of the Summer

Seed Catalogue: circles of nasturtiums,

triangles of snapdragons, rows of

marigolds, all stood stiffly hemming

the boundaries of the building.


I want wild!

I need a field of native grasses

with the sharp smell of humus and leaf,

where I might discover purple shooting stars

and buttercups; or wild violets,

and a robin that doesn’t fly off the fence

until you get right up to it.



One day I entered with my magnet card,

stood in the lobby, crisscrossed by moving

walkers, and felt a sense

of being adrift, of being, perhaps, a thought.

Was I living a real life here? I needed proof

that I occupied space, that I bled, that I breathed.

I took myself to the stairwell, with its island

of light, to find if I had a shadow.




I did, and I am here, where nobody else reads,

who tell me they’re saving their eyes.

I suspect that most of them

have never found the treasures

that are hidden in books


I have now made the decision to take up haunting

as a vocation in the hereafter.

My bag would be packed.

I will not go home first, to become

the holographic swivel of my den chair,

or the pale light you think you see

in the upstairs landing.


Footloose, I shall drop in the shape of a slug

on the lips of the smiling evangelist

who speaks in tongues.

I will confound the network.


I shall hang on windy Mount Everest,

its face as clammily white as my own.

I will hallooo to other challengers:

Look!   No piton!  No oxygen!


And should my new country be tragically empty

of books, even words, then I must haunt,

with disembodied hunger,

the libraries of London and New York,

stream through the 88 miles of shelving,

wriggle out each book that beckons,

curl into a fan-back chair in the great foyer,

and ghost-read.




Her life had come full circle. She found acclaim and acceptance in the local poetry community.




In words

To be who we are is to offer to the world the greatest gift we have to give. To invest our lives and all that we do with sincerity, authenticity, and deep commitment leads us into relationships with other authentic selves. And in entering in those relationships, relationships that are sacred in the true meaning of that word, we cannot help but bring our collective power to bear against the forces of injustice, hatred and oppression. Our collective wholeness will, by definition, heal the world.

In silence


In music – Brian Eno

Poetry 4 Conclusion Poem



And Yet, There are Days


I congratulate myself

on my intelligence. I know

all religions are invented

by man, sometimes in rebellion

against another faith.

I do not find I need

the Ten Commandments

and the Six Precepts

to determine my behavior.

Nor do my morals depend

upon the sermon. So I

do not go to church.


And yet, there are days

when I let in the power

of my unconscious mind,

when I rely more on

instinct than intellect,

and I am overcome

by the miracle of existence.



I approach the country church,

its spire rising above

all neighbor-buildings,

a cross over the wide doors.

And inside: a different light

through the stained-glass windows;




a different air, leavened with ozone;

the pews, so plain, so hard.

I allow myself to be calmed

by the flickering candles

and the steady gazings of the

marble saints.





Closing Words/Extinguishing the Chalice



Our deepest calling is to grow into our authentic selfhood, whether or not it conforms to some image to who we ought to be. As we do, we will not only find the joy that every human being seeks; we will also find our path of authentic service in the world.



Closing Song: Carry the flame of peace and love until we meet again