Anarchist Poetry, Fourth Installment: Loaves and Fishes

In Day’s account of the Catholic worker movement in Loaves and Fishes, the element of her political thought that made her stand out among the anarchist thinkers I have read was the centrality of religion to her social movement.  Day’s Catholicism was the driving force behind her humanitarian approach to social engagement, and it is her religious faith and dedication to love that I get at in my poem.  Specifically, I was inspired by her statement, “Jesus is the fat lady.  Jesus is this Jackie who is making advances.  Jesus is Baby Doll, her cellmate.”  During her time in a women’s prison, Day dealt with individuals who made it difficult for her to adhere to her personal ethic of indiscriminatory love, and her belief that Jesus lives in and through everyone is what reminds her that she must try to continue to love even those individuals who seem unlovable.  Her constant striving for an egalitarian, universal love for all is without doubt the defining feature of her particular form of non-hierarchical communal living (i.e. anarchism).  She tells us in her book that “young people say, what good can one person do?”, and she answers “we must lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time; we can be responsible only for the one action of the present moment.  But we can beg for an increase of love in our hearts that will vitalize and transform all our individual actions and know that God will take them and multiply them, as Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes.”  This miraculous multiplication of love through individual action is what I have tried to draw out in my poem.

“Where there is no love, put love and you will take out love.”

Love is patient but
mostly love takes patience
it is greedy like a child
who you cannot give up on
always asking to be held to be
fed to be tucked into bed at night
and you comply and you bite your tongue
when the grape juice is spilled for the seventh time
because patience you are cultivating it
like a slow-growing garden planted
when the ground is still frozen
it takes patience and you know this
and still you love still you bite back
every word you could say that would
end conversations and drive people to
the brink of hatred to the brink of all
falling-outs and cold stares because love
takes restraint and it is something
you might have completely one day
someday love will flow like a stream
down hill and you will love like a river
love like a spring breeze in the country
but now your love is like a faulty train
starting stopping starting lights flashing on
off on sometimes you are in the dark and
you reach out and feel for someone to love
anyone who will have your imperfect
manifestations of divinity of loveliness
and that is all there can be
all you can hope for and have faith in
and that is all you need



8 Responses

  1. Beautiful writing…

    • Thank you! I would highly suggest reading Loaves and Fishes, since you liked this post. I was struck by the straightforwardness and honesty of Day’s writing, and reading about the Catholic Worker Movement was very inspiring (even though I’m not Catholic). It’s very interesting to read it now especially with all of the Occupy Wall St things going on.

  2. Dorothy Day is very important to me, so I was intrigued to see you write of her. Several of her books have disappeared from my shelves, loaned to others and never returned, so I can only hope that they are out doing their work somewhere. Hers was/is a very hard path, and her honesty was amazing. I’m not sure of your last lines, given lines 19-22, and how she sacrificed relationships in her own life at great cost, but I take the point about imperfect manifestations. Thank you for something to think about.

    • You’re welcome! Day certainly gave me a lot to think about, which made writing this poem very difficult. I think because she was so open and honest about her life, I felt uneasy about writing something about her; I didn’t want to misrepresent her beliefs.

      • And I’m still unsure about how I feel about her intense reliance on Catholicism. The reason she was a great humanitarian was because she was religiously devout, and I think I find that troubling because it seems to imply that she believed that everyone should be Catholic. If someone is devoted to a faith, they believe that living according to that faith is the best way to live, and so although Day never openly evangelized, the constant and open religiosity that permeated her humanitarian work said, in a sense, “the only way to be a true humanitarian is to believe in Jesus Christ.”

  3. Hello hctrees, I would like to respond, but if you don’t mind, I will take a little time to think about what I will say. You are always thoughtful and you deserve thoughtfulness in return.

    • Sorry, life and perfectionism got in my way, as usual. I just have to accept that my response will be imperfect. If you have the time, I suggest you read “The Long Loneliness” as a companion piece to “Loaves and Fishes”. Day was “other things” before she was Catholic, involved with radical groups, labour journalism and a bohemian lifestyle. She writes with great admiration of various Marxists and anarchists she knew. She sometimes holds them up as a challenge to herself, looking at the dedication of those who give all without hope of personal reward, as they believe there is nothing after this life. She was very much involved in social justice before she was part of any organised religion. As faith and religion became more important in her life, part of her attraction to the Catholic Church was her life in being involved in such movements, so that she could not be an “unattached” Christian. I think that she did openly evangelise, constantly, in the way that she lived her life, not being defensive about her proclamation of the Gospels, but doing it in the way she thought Christ intended, ie by living the Gospels. The constant and open religiosity permeated her whole life, not just her humanitarian work. Why? Who can say. Her intense reliance on Catholicism was for many reasons – she accepted the truth of it; it provided comfort in her fear – and I don’t mean some sort of existentialist fear, some interviews on Youtube show her fear of living in the poor areas where she did her work, where the safety laws preventing bars on windows in case of fire, did not protect against the local predators; it provided meaning in her life. I think a better phrasing may be (though wrong because she would not have said this), “the only true way to be a believer in Jesus Christ is to live this way”. I agree that it is confronting and a challenge. It certainly challenges me. It challenges Catholics to consider afresh the Gospel message, it challenges non-believers who see it as foolish or offensive, it challenges right wing Christians in their conservatism, it challenges leftish Christians in their own orthodoxy (and it is interesting how some in the present day Catholic Worker movement distance themselves from some of her moral positions). She presents her challenge in the most authoritative way though – here I am, doing it, living this hard and difficult life and getting on with it, not to confront anyone for the sake of it, but to live a life of love and service. I know that I have not expressed this very well, but I think “The Long Loneliness” may be of interest to you. Thanks again for your post, I have been reading her again as a result.

  4. […] Nothing happening in Trevor land this week, however your mate ruminates about the nature of the universe and contact with ET here (if the editor will hit the right button and approve the post, come on Edgarberger you lazy bugger), and conducts a scientific analysis of homeopathy here.  The bad poetry continues here.  On a good poetry page, he has a chat about Dorothy Day. […]

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