Photo: Leslie Mixon
John Morearty was born in Milwaukee in 1938, studied in a Catholic seminary, at Marquette University, and in Munich and Calcutta, and earned a Ph.D. in Social Thought from the University of Chicago in 1969. In 1967 he co-founded Callison College at University of the Pacific, where he taught philosophy and Indian history, and began speaking out against our country’s wars of empire.
He left academia in 1975 to become a carpenter and furniture maker. In 1979 he joined Ellen Lyon, Reid and Ann Cerney and other San Joaquin County peacemakers in opposing nuclear power, nuclear weapons, and the U.S. wars against Nicaragua and El Salvador. He was arrested several times for civil disobedience at Livermore Lab, the offices of Congressman Norman Shumway, and the Nevada nuclear test site.
The group founded the Peace and Justice Network of San Joaquin County in 1984, and under editor Laurie Litman the newspaper San Joaquin Connections in 1986. John has worked with the Network and written for the paper ever since. In 1991, sponsored by the Network, he started “Talking It Through,” a weekly public affairs talk and interview show on public access cable TV in Stockton/Lodi/Manteca, and served as producer and host till 2005, producing some 500 shows including many documentaries.
He retired from carpentry and the TV show in 2005 and spent nine months writing his memoirs, which he self-published this summer: Walking to Omega, Tales of a Peacenik Carpenter. It can be previewed, downloaded or purchased through his website, www.johnmorearty.com.
John lives in central Stockton with his wife of 18 years, Ria deGroot, ten rose bushes and a young valley oak; their blended family has four children and ten grandchildren. He can be reached at 209-464-3326, or email@example.com .
It was bright shining cold and blowing Decembrrr
in the San Joaquin Valley yesterday, icy north wind blasting,
breaking branches off Farmer Lou's eucalyptus trees
and dropping them in our road.
Despite the cold, and a little cold,
I fixed old Charlie Ramirez' cellar door,
on the south side of his house, out of the wind,
just below the kitchen window where he sat in the sun.
Asked Charlie did he know about nuclear winter,
how hydrogen bombs and sun star fire are the same,
he said, “oh, sure.”
In the evening my cold got worse.
Drank brandy, ate an orange, spirits of summer in storage,
and read about surviving Auschwitz.
Waking in the dark, my cold was worse.
On the shortwave among waves of solar static
I listened to Beethoven, Radio Moscow news
and winter storm warnings in the North Atlantic:
winds to 45 knots, waves to 25 feet.
Got up, turned off the heat,
and curled up again under cotton, goose down and wool.
This morning, my cold is worse.
I twist a knob and the gassy essence
of ancient dinosaur jungles heats my house.
I twist another and make herb tea with summer flower honey.
Turn rocking chair to the southeast window,
I sit and close my eyes,
breathing in bright morning sun.
Praise God for thermonuclear fusion,
so far away,
safe and warm.
— John Morearty
December 13, 1987
Ozymandias (after Shelley)
In truth, they’re bleeding and dying in Iraq.
Brown-eyed girls and boys, mothers,
old men limping with canes like me,
and yes young warriors from Tracy and Baghdad,
white black yellow brown,
killing and dying,
guts spilling out.
Sorrow mounds up in the desert like
the monuments of cruel old kings.
And for what?
The Activist Carpenter Poet Reflects
Twixt hanging doors and stopping wars there’s little time for poring,
wondering, soaring, thundering rain and rainbows,
do-si-do swallows swirling above green grass
swooping high catching bugs as the sun sinks down,
black wings tracing particle paths in blue cloud chamber sky.
‘Cause giving birth to poetry takes time takes rhyme and season,
and pleasin’ the muse takes paying dues to quiet.
My, it goes on quite a while, just doing nothing
in particular, funicular, lenticular, auricular,
railroads up the mountain, lenses in silent senses,
ears without fear.
Oh hear dear heart the parting sobs of fathers
burying soldier sons untimely young;
hear the wails of mothers for babes cut down
by those same soldiers, songs unsung.
If you open the door on war all hell comes screaming—
so close the door, turn the bolt, find peace for dreaming,
But well I know: no prose nor poesy, no nose in posies
can make un-so what lies and cries beyond that dreadful door.
I rest, make poems, but after a few short hours
will I step through that door into war, arms full of flowers?
© John Morearty 2007
On traveling to Santa Rosa for the Jesus Seminar workshop on parables
A certain man arose before dawn, drank strong coffee,
and drove through heavy traffic to a far country.
All day he talked with sages and scholars, seeking the meaning of life.
Then the man bought a loaf of bread, drove home
and found his wife.
A Tiny Study in Poetry
I write my poems in a tiny study,
jammed with words from wall to wall,
scribble them down on scraps of paper,
barely space to squeeze them all.
With minuscule thoughts in tiny letters
this question to myself I put:
not how many feet will fit in the metre,
but how much metre will fit in a foot?
Santa Cruz, October 12, 2002
The hands remember
Pretty easy work it was in young professor days,
sitting on padded swivel chair,
fingers flying on Smith Corona keys,
carriage return ringing and slapping,
typing memos to colleagues about revisions in curriculum:
Sunny Plato in the Heritage of Man?
Notes from Underground, No Exit?
Ruminate, expatiate, cogitate and evaluate,
compose, revise, and rip out crackling bond with a zip.
Another brilliant memo, if I do say so myself.
But—it’s awfully easy work for a grown man.
What am I practicing for?
Denial of tenure, divorce, and twenty-five years of carpentry later,
sheetrock and 2x4’s by the truckload,
posthole digger and 57 sacks of concrete mixed and poured in a day,
twenty foot redwood decking so green and wet and heavy
the birds were singing in it last week
snaked down a narrow walkway and boosted above my head around the corner
into the customer’s back yard,
heavy boxes of tools up stairs and down,
dusty attics and muddy crawlspaces,
slinging a long dense doug fir 2 by 12 on the horses and measuring, marking,
bending down in the July sun and picking up heavy wormdrive saw for the hundredth time
At age 62, this is not easy work.
Next morning drag out of bed, wolf buckwheat and coffee, hoist body into
On horses, the plank still sits.
Grunt down, grip the saw—and grand surprise,
the smooth black handle welcomes my curling morning fingers and palm like a longtime
the saw lifts in balance like a bird taking flight
and nestles on the board’s end, waiting.
Aluminum square in the left hand slings and rings against edge of wood, thumb
Slide square against saw, aim blade at the pencil mark,
look sharp, pull the trigger,
and slip saw ever so slow till a tiny nick appears,
a little right or left, go for it now, whine saw dust,
an empty space one eighth inch wide floats across the board leading invisible teeth.
Oh, yes. Hands know how to do this—and they love it.
I’ll live this one more day.
a poem to be followed by shakuhachi music
On sharp lava rocks, in the very pit
of a young volcano they said was dead,
my wife and I sat down. Carefully.
Alone in that gray cone
we could see for ourselves that this whole world was ash,
nothing but ash and cinders
and rocks so harsh they shredded our soles.
Bare sky. No bird.
But the cosmic moment passed,
we opened our pack to eat and found
Thirstily peeled that tender golden ball,
acid burning under nails, tearing off sections,
juices all sticky all over our hands,
sour sweet squirting our mouths.
Two aging lovers in an ashy depression,
tired from the climb, no place to lay our bodies down
and yet we were consoled:
We knew that somewhere, far in the south,
existed still green watered valleys
from which this juice and pulp had come.
And not only that.
The fertile soils of those valleys, eons ago,
had once themselves been lava, boiling red from the deep.
As we ate we would pause and listen,
like a sipping hummingbird watches for cats.
Did the earth tremble? No.
Could we smell any sulfur? Not just yet.
In the belly of earth under rock and mud,
In the dark of the heart in dark times,
hope burns long.
In the hollow dark of the bamboo flute
© John Morearty 2005