Our Lady of the Angels, December 1, 1958

In memory of the children who died in the fire at Our Lady of the Angels school on 1 December 1958 in Chicago, Illinois. Et lux perpetua luceat eis.

I. Incipit Lamentationem Jeremiah Prophetae

Holy Mother, earth goddess of Europe,
Pray for us now and at the hour of our death.

The children sat in neat rows in alphabetic order
The nuns were among them with things that made a clack
What was known, was known,
America had never lost,
God made me to love and serve him,
Do not eat meat on Friday,
One and holy and Roman and Apostolic.

II. Smoke

But then the smoke began to pour
Under the door
Like Satan
In the imagination.

III. The Boys with Hair and Checkered Shirts

The boys being boys, in checkered shirts
Three for a dollar at Woolworth’s at State
Got restless, wanting to do something.
“Hey, Sister Augustinia, I can go
And get the firemen to bring the ladder,
I ain’t scared.”
But they were told to stay and pray.

IV. The Men Come

The fathers and the firemen came, filled with rage
And they found the children in rows,
Black snot leaking from each nose.

“What in the name of Goad were they thinkin’
Keepin’ those kids in those classrooms?
Hell if I go to church again
God died today, I saw his body it was black.
I saw Japs looked like that on Iwo Jima,
But for Christ’s sweet sake, these were kids.”

V. To Catch Him Should He Fall

Many parents called out to their children to jump, I will catch you.

VI. The Curse Pronounced on Betty

“Our son is dead Betty our son is dead
You listened to what Father Reilly said
And he told ya it was a mortal sin
For us to send him to a modern public school.”

“I give you those children to raise
While I work sellin’ cars.
I come home they’re asleep…
And now they are charcoal.”

“I curse you for this, Betty, oh yes I do
Lay not your withered hand upon me.”

VII. WGN TV Was There

My friend Kenny Mihailovic
Actually appeared on WGN TV his face was black.
“You look like a Negro” the Nuns would say to the dirty boy.

VIII. St. Mary’s School, Evanston, Illinois, 1963

A few years later a younger nun
With bad teeth, told us that segregation was wrong
In a sort of morning…a sort of dawn.
But every Tuesday on the dot
The air raid siren would sound at ten o’clock.


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