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New and Selected Poems: Mystery of Faith

I just watched the film Man on Fire again tonight. There are few films more disturbing about vengeance. And despite the success of its anti-hero, I see violence as a poor cathartic. I do not subscribe to the lynch mob calls for oblique justice like those hoping Roman Polanski will be extradited and forced to pay for his own alleged sins and those of a growing mob’s perpetrators of pain.  It seems to me that it is a bit late to revisit the morality of either Polanski, his accuser or the reportedly power abusing prosecutors and judges in his case.

My motto has become: “Writing well is the best revenge.”  Having to examine, catalogue and give order to horror in order to render it into art can effect great healing. But, I am sympathetic to those who scream our in the name of justice because where forgiveness of abuse is possible, the ability to forget is a myth.

Father Dan Maio, who was in charge of a Pueblo, Colorado youth program in the 1970’s was the epitome of evil: The proverbial wolf in priest’s clothing. Maio, the subject of the poem below, used the power entrusted to him as a priest to emotionally wound dozens of diocesan Catholic youngsters from decent homes and several mentally challenged inmates housed at the Colorado State Hospital. He used drugs, music, personal charm and manipulative psychological seminars and retreats to lure his victims. He was protected by church-bred reverence for his station and the misguided arrogance of accomplices like his assistant Father Jerry Varrone and his confessor Bishop Buswell. This was written both for catharsis and to give credence, and hopefully some measure of comfort, to the pain expressed by those he and others like him have hurt.

Mystery of Faith

There were many boys who knew the sound of black

patent leather coming down the hardwood hall

a floor above the nuns, like Mary Elizabeth,

existing on a belief in simple answers

but who would never feel

the drool, the musk

or late day stubble

on their cheeks

Maybe Sister came here once to answer the same questions:

How do you forget the making and breaking of a spirit?

How do you wash away the incense of aggression?

When does grown-up flesh release its hold

on small bones?

How do women stand it? I cannot forget even one turn of cold brass

or stillness rushing from the room, or prayers taking me

from my body, eyes fixed on the rectory’s stained ceiling.

I would be yanked back by the horrifying

rituals of the familiar: the thin vinegar

of communion wine on his breath,

the tiny cruciform medallion

raping against my chest,

vapors of toxic celibacy


I’d try to hold my breath when he left,

and scrub the stiffening linen,

remove every corporeal trace

of the god who claimed

he was a delinquent’s

last and only chance

Sometimes I thought I knew more about being a woman

than did Sister Mary and I longed for her easy beliefs.

But, I never risked asking the questions

that can destroy such a faith


When do we accept, like her, a God like the wind

who polices the night, rattles doorknobs and whispers

reassuringly to us past locked doors

that I can close my eyes again

to the dark?

American Poet in China,poems,Poetry,sexual abuse

6 responses so far

6 Responses to “New and Selected Poems: Mystery of Faith”

  1. Rick Fenwickon Oct 2nd 2009 at 8:58 pm

    Such a tough read, Lonnie. Beautifully crafted. I think I’ve read this poem a dozen times in your book, and it brings tears to my eyes every time I do.

  2. adminon Oct 3rd 2009 at 10:16 pm

    Thanks Rick….Hard poem to write…

    Do the explanations before the works help or hider?

  3. Rick Fenwickon Oct 3rd 2009 at 10:36 pm

    Lon, The explanations are excellent as annotations to the body of work. I find that to be true with most poetry — and prose — I read. It’s always interesting to hear the writer explain the story behind his work. Not necessarily explicate the work, but explain what caused him or her to create the piece. Keep it up…

  4. Fayeon Oct 12th 2009 at 4:41 am

    Really difficult for me to understand.

    My way to excellent English is still very long, I conclude~~~~

  5. Kevin Malonyon Dec 10th 2009 at 8:18 pm


    I happened upon your poem while googling Dan Maio – a person I haven’t seen or heard anything about in 25 years – and was fascinated. As you know, I was there. I was one of the “arrogant, misguided accomplices”, albiet, at the time, an ignorant one. A fact that to this day astounds me; my adolescent naiveté blows my mind. However, he never touched me or gave me any outward indication of what was happening. My family may have been too close by -a mere block away- and, though drunk and troubled, nevertheless loving and ultimately supportive. I just wasn’t as easy a target (or maybe I just wasn’t his type…who knows?). Years later I was told by Chuck Watson that he and Dennis Houghton got the worst of it. But as I look back, I think you did. At that time, if memory serves, your family life was in turmoil (we all called your mother Gunga Din), you were smart and wild and reckless, and fundamentally vunerable in a way that made you a prime target for the likes of ‘Fr. Dan’.

    As far as The SEARCH Program goes, as a former “staff member”, this is what we did: we systematically hacked away at the the emotional fabric, weakened the psychological and physical defenses, and broke the spirit of young people in order to brainwash them purportedly to pave the way toward a Christian lifestyle. UGH. (remember ‘Harold’?)

    I look at those years of my life and am amazed that I lived them – it is as if they were lived by another person altogether. In retrospect, think I did it because I was into the ‘theater’ of it; I had no concept of the damage being done. But as I dig deeper, I realize that I had real power. And I liked it. I did not abuse it, especially the way Dan did – I was a kid- but I did have power and I was seduced by it. I was 17 years old and I was on staff – fulltime and un-paid. Conducting hardcore, emotially riveting workshops that were potentially psychogicaly damaging to adolescents. I am amazed by this fact. I think this is the way Fr. Dan abused / used me.

    Anyway, I am going on and on. I found this posting and wanted to respond. I am glad you wrote it.

    You may be interested to know that Jan Baird, Ruthie Crews, Marcia Shanstrom and Peter McCarthy are still in my life . We are close friends, though we rarely see each other, except for Pete whose kid lives in NYC and is sort of a god-son (sans the ‘God ‘- part). Anyway – it seems that you have a real life now, and that all this is in the past and is so much fodder for art, which is as it should be. Good luck to you.

    All the best,

    Kevin Malony (nee Maloney)

  6. adminon Dec 13th 2009 at 8:21 am


    So great to hear from you….

    Yes, life was tough then: My mother finally succumbed to Alzheimers disease several years back. When you knew her she was in the early stages of dementia and staggered by the “loss” of my father to Vietnam….He never regained full function or mental capacity and died in a nursing home of pneumonia after being bedridden by the stroke caused by his head wound….

    An attorney called me shortly after this piece was published and asked if I would sign a statement saying that the Dicoese was aware of Maio…They were….I write Bishop Buswell and others, but who was going to believe a teenager riddled with grief and anger and calling out a holy man….The attorney was much better versed than me on all of this….It seems Maio had a long, long list of people he violated psychologically, sexually and spiritually…

    Harold: remember how his eyes followed us around the room?

    Remember Jerry Varrone? He claimed to be co-founder of Search and angrily gave no credit to you, me or any of the team members who came into it for the right reasons….Hindsight is 20/20, but you and I and the rest went into it with god intentions….I have reconciled all the evil that was inherent in that program as I hope you have….

    He is still in Colorado Springs and still as cocky and corrupt and clueless as he ever was…The last I saw him was when he invited me to dinner with, of all people, Maio who was taking young mentally disturbed teens out on home-stay weekends from the State Hospital…Varrone, a counselor, could not put 2+2 together that the patients Maio housed were getting worse because he was molesting them….That remains for me the essence of evil: being so wrapped up in your own fabricated landscape that you cannot see people dying over the grandiose hills you have painted…

    I have thought about you guys often and fondly….

    So good to hear that you and Ruthie, Jan and the others stayed tight….Let’s skype a reunion sometime….In the meantime, tell them “Hi”…

    Yes, I have had an amazing life….I am still a course short of a full load, maybe not nearly as smart, but devoted to art, and education…



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