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When I complete this post, I’ll be leaving for the Church of the Nativity in Menlo Park, California to attend Moore Moran’s funeral mass.
I got to know Moore Moran–known to his friends as “Mike”–because several of his grandchildren went to school with my kids. Mike would appear at sports events, birthday parties, and holiday dinners, always laughing, talking about sports, and working his way through his second beer. If he had lived in Greenwich, Connecticut instead of Atherton, California, Mike, a retired advertising executive, might almost have been a character in a John Cheever story. Or so I thought.
Then somebody told him I’d been a speechwriter. Mike engaged me in conversation–he must have been testing me–asking what I liked to read. Eventually he worked the conversation around to poetry, and, when I told him how much I admired Robert Frost–the lack of sentiment, the use of distinctively American diction, the constant awareness of the natural environment–Mike must have decided I was all right. Soon afterwards he sent me a copy of Firebreaks, a volume of his own poetry. I read the book with astonishment. Mike, a poet? But he was just that.
Mike, I learned in conversations with him as our friendship deepened, had studied at Stanford with Yvor Winters, publishing, making friends in the literary world, gaining a reputation. Then he had walked away from the literary life that would have been open to him, instead embracing ordinary American life. He loved being a husband and father, loved throwing big, loud parties, and loved–above all, I came to see–watching his children and then, by the time I got to know him, his grandchildren, all wonderful athletes, play basketball and football and swim. But all the time he was turning out ad copy and raising his family, he was composing poems. Beautiful poems. Some simple, some intricate. Most rhymed–Mike often quoted Frost’s quip that writing poetry without rhyming was like playing tennis without a net. His subjects included his family, his faith–Mike proved a questioning and sometimes disgruntled Catholic, but a Catholic–and the beauty of California, a feature for which I owe him a particular debt. An often uncomfortable and bewildered Easterner during my first years out here, I came to appreciate California through Mike. ”Towers in the wind,” Mike wrote in To The Golden Gate Bridge, singing above the sea.”
As we approach Lent, take a moment to read the poem below–and then, if you like poetry, Mike’s collections, including his most final collection, The Room Within. Mike was a grandfather who liked to raise a little hell, knew as many jokes as Ronald Reagan, loved to laugh–and was, I believe, one of the finest American poets of the last half century.
Moore Moran, rest in peace.
Tonight I ask You in to help me mourn.You who help whom you please,don’t leave me just with these–a loincloth, timber, nail and scarlet thorn.
I‘m what I earn to think, not think I am.Nor love, wisdom or artsustains the baffled heart,and fact contains no holy anagram.
Be more, Lord, than my hope, Your innocence.Reason has never knownhow to live with its ownimmaculate, hard-hearted arguments.