Gary Percesepe ~ Berrigan

My mom just called from the nurs­ing home. She sur­vived anoth­er painful heart episode. She asked me how the peo­ple liked the Italian songs I sang in church. She has asked me this before. I have sung no Italian songs, in church or any­where else. Then she sang a lit­tle bit over the phone. It was love­ly, though her light sopra­no voice is now low and hoarse. I asked her to sing some more. I thought, I need to learn some good Italian songs and sing them in church.

I’ve been read­ing Berrigan’s auto­bi­og­ra­phy, as some of you know, the der­ring do of the rad­i­cal Catholic priest who loved America enough to speak the ter­ri­ble truth about America’s addic­tion to vio­lence, racism, and war. And again and again, Berrigan tells of his moth­er, who stead­fast­ly stood by him. “With her, a thou­sand dif­fi­cul­ties did not cre­ate a sin­gle doubt.”

After his broth­er Philip was arrest­ed for throw­ing human blood on draft files in Baltimore, while he him­self was arrest­ed in Washington dur­ing a protest against the war, Daniel called home. His mother’s calm on the phone touched him. He explained things, as best he could. “You mean,” his moth­er respond­ed, “that you are out of jail and your broth­er is in?”


Gary Percesepe is the author of eight books, most recent­ly The Winter of J, a poet­ry col­lec­tion pub­lished by Poetry Box. He is Associate Editor at New World Writing. Previously he was an assis­tant fic­tion edi­tor at Antioch Review. His work has appeared in Christian Century, Maine Review, Brevity, Story Quarterly, N + 1, Salon, Mississippi Review, Wigleaf, Westchester Review, PANK, The Millions, Atticus Review, Antioch Review, Solstice, and oth­er places. He resides in White Plains, New York, and teach­es phi­los­o­phy at Fordham University in the Bronx.