Vox Populi

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John Samuel Tieman: Pillars

There’s a blaze of light
In every word,
It doesn’t matter which you heard,
The holy or the broken – Hallelujah!

Leonard Cohen



There were two holy places in my youth. My parish church. And the library.

There was a hymn when I was a boy. “Panis angelicus / fit panis hominum”. “Angelic bread / becomes the bread of humanity”. When I think of that hymn by St. Thomas Aquinas, for a second I am back in that little church, Christ The King. And there they all are, my mother, Uncle Earl, Aunt Helen, my brother, my sister. Gramps and my grandmother. My neighbors both sinner and saint. My playmates. All at the Communion rail. Monsignor Ryan, Father MacCarthy, Father Forst, Sister Mary Amabilis, Sister Mary Rita, Sister Mary Rosella. There they all are. Sixty years wiped away by the holy words of a medieval poet.

I’m Catholic. I believe in transubstantiation. But as I age, I no longer care what I believe. Because, when I was a boy, I witnessed the sacrament of transcendence. And only now, in my 68th year, have I come to some understanding what I knew then.

When I was a kid, I learned a simple lesson. The words matter. Because the words transport us. Because there is so much more than that. More than even their ability to transport us through time and space. Once, in a small church in the Midwest, we sang a poem, a poem beautiful, pure and holy. And that poem was us and transformed us beyond us and transcended time and place and words and even us and took us from the very breast that first fed us to an us that is all of us and beyond us and back again home to that little church.

And then there was the library. A few years ago, on my way to City Hall, I visited the old library, the one I remember from my youth. It was like visiting an abandoned chapel.

As a boy, it was here that I learned the sacredness of the profane.   I knew that transcendence could happen on a altar. I knew the words, “hic est enim calix Sanguinis meum”, become “this is the chalice of my Blood”. But I didn’t know that a page of autobiography becomes an Arabian desert. Or that a philosopher’s thoughts, of good and beauty and truth, are as real as a poet’s pond in New England.


Reading Room

to visit the old library

now a city warehouse

is to be reminded of my youth


15 or 16 and before

all the women and before the war

and before I could write


that in this room I read

Thoreau and Kant and Seven

Pillars Of Wisdom


and never again would I know

as much as I knew then

about ponds and deserts and all


the songs I’d yet to sing

all the songs I’d yet to sing


Copyright 2018 John Samuel Tieman

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