Volume III (Summer 2008)
ISSN 1934-4324

A Spotlight On . . .

M. Kelly Lombardi, Bard of the Bluffs

by Sharon Bray

Editorial Note
M. Kelly Lombardi passed away in September 2008,
a few weeks after this issue of The Aroostook Review was published.

M. Kelly Lombardi writes with a strong voice out of her own amazing life history and travels. She writes under the influence of extensive reading—you should see her book shelves. In her poems, she tells stories from her family and neighborhoods aswell as histories of other people that come to her at the convent in Italy or a stone house in Ireland.

As founder, mentor and member of the Salt Coast Sages, Lombardi is widely active in Maine’s community of poets. She writes the column, “Poetry Land,” for the Machias Valley News Observer.


The Salt Coast Sages

The Sages started when Lombardi taught a U. Maine Machias Senior College course on Irish poets. The class followed up by learning to write their own poetry while continuing to study a wide range of other poetic subjects. Some were already accomplished poets seeking to polish skills; others had never imagined they could write a poem. From a UMM classroom to meetings around Kelly’s food-laden table at Roque Bluffs, the group grew into something beyond teacher-student structure. Members and mentor regularly critique each other’s work and gather for public performance and to attend poetry readings by others. They read at UMM, at Porter Library in Machias, at HomeWords in Orland and at BookStacks in Bucksport.

She and the Sages are in the process of organizing a second summer poetry event at the Roque Bluffs Community Center, including workshops with visiting poets, a gala pot luck, and open poetry readings in the evening.

As a member of the Maine Poets Society, Kelly convinced the group to renew its long-lapsed membership in the National Federation of Poetry Societies. She has won a number of awards for poems submitted to MPS contests.

When she’s not being poet-teacher, Kelly volunteers in community projects including cooking for neighbors and work for the library. She has been a selectman, member of the planning board and played key roles in restoration of Roque Bluffs’ community center and chapel. Her careers have taken her from university campuses to lobster boats and real estate offices.


The Irish Voice

“I have always believed in language and location as a major influence in our lives. Our language begins with our family, our location with our surroundings; both are profound influences as both have their own distinctive rhythms and cadences. My Irish speaking gram who lived with us, Lizzie O'Brien Wright, was the one I learned my rhythms from and I still speak with the Irish lilt—where all statements seem to end upward almost like a question.

 “Visiting Ireland for the first time on my daughter's 18th birthday in 1972, I knew I was home; the language was like clear water to me. There was no question that I was Irish and the Irish wanted to know what part of Mayo I was from. My gram was from Mayo. When I went into Mayo, it was the first time I knew what a person felt and meant when they said home. When I walk around the Mweelrea Mountains near Doolough my heart weeps for my ancestors who died there, and I always stop and say a prayer.

“My collection of Ireland poems is ready to find a home as part of a trilogy.”


San Gimignano, Tuscany

“I got to San G. by a fluke. A friend invited me to go with him to Italy to celebrate the birthday of St. Augustine. Getting to San Gimignano and meeting the prior Brian Lowery, who has become a treasured friend, was a spiritual awakening for me.

“I was raised Catholic drifted away when the Latin service left. In the Italian speaking service, I could imagine that I had found my old spiritual roots.

“While taking part in the services there is optional, I found comfort in them and spent a great deal of time in the chapel with the great Gozzoli frescoes. It felt good to light a candle for departed family members, something I could no longer do in USA Roman Catholic churches. I also found my self going back for spiritual solace, perhaps a throwback to all the nuns in my family.”

She gives money earned from her latest book to the Augustinian Center at Merrimack College and to Convento Sant’ Agostino of San Gimignano.

“My book Tuscany Light is about this place, and I hope it gets translated into Italian so it will sell there and help with the restoration costs.

“The monastery is more than Italian or Roman Catholic, it is part of the cultural heritage of the world. It is a magic place for me, precious and should be protected. If I were dying I can't think of a place I'd rather spend my last few days than with the quiet footsteps of the brothers in their ancient rituals, but to live there would be beyond my financial means.”


Meager earnings for poets

She faces right up to poet as a largely unpaid profession.

“In USA the need for poets is not understood. And, yet, our poetry and literature define us as a people. I wonder sometimes how much of this is our fault. We seem to be the only group in our culture that doesn't understand the virtue of banding together for political power. We are not agressive for ourselves. Take a look at the Maine Arts Commission—how many dollars are there for poets?

“The Salt Coast Sages have built up a wonderful performance reputation, and we all have darned good publishing credentials. In Ireland we'd be offered grants, publication assistance, tax breaks; in Norway we'd be given a stipend and the State would buy copies of each of our book runs and place them throughout the country in the libraries. In USA we're looked on as no account, but people will be reading poets like Kooser, Heaney, and Jacobsen a lot longer than they'll be reading political speeches or NY Times editorials.”


Learning from family

She grew up in western Massachusetts.

“We were poor in a household where the dad was dead and the mom worked. We moved every three months. Back then if you painted a room, you got the first month's rent free so my mom, my two brothers, and I would paint a room. The first month taken care of, we’d pay the second and be contracting with another landlord. We'd move out and leave the landlord hanging for the third month. We moved four times a year, but we only paid rent four times a year. We had a dime a week that we must buy 3 books with from the Salvation Army and read and exchange with each other. I was always the listener, the watcher, the observer. I remember sitting on the stoop, watching the activity on my street and writing things down on brown paper bags that I had cut to a page size.

“If there is any one thing I owe being a poet to, it is growing up in the melting pot in the slummy area of town where you heard all the wonderful sounds, smelled all the wonderful smells, and were alert (for your own protection at all times).  What also helped was the boisterous, rowdy Irish RC family who argued about anything from religon to politics. 

“In my gram’s bedroom, the focal point for gathering, on the wall with the chalice and stuff for communiion were pictures of John L  Lewis, the mine workers leader, FDR, the blessed mother, Florence Henderson (the first woman to swim the English Channel), Amerlia Earheart. We were all over the place but always democratic in politics and pro-union. 

“I think I owe the RC church too—the wonderful chanting, all the sensuality of the Mass. I’ll carry the scent of alcohol and wetness on fur collared coats and wet wool against the scene of candles lit, the church in greenery, the statues, and the choir singing “ Adeste Fidelus” to my grave.

“Poet Baron Wormser talks about the major amounts of poetry that comes out of RC countries. I don’t know if it is the sensuality of that particular religion, the repressiveness or something a little more subtle.”


Food, yes!

“I grew up in kitchens in the Depression. My mom lied her way into a job saying she was chef, ran like hell to our great Springfield Public Library and got cooking books, and bluffed her way. She had the cheapest help in the world, we three kids. From my mom I learned we eat with our eyes—about textures and color in food.

I like food. I like the ritual of preparing and serving, of mingling textures with flavors and selecting the best wine to complement a meal. We use our eyes and our nose with food. Imagine a lovely piece of poached haddock served on some sweet and sour arugula, dressed lightly with lime and toasted almonds—a visual as well as a gastronomic delight.

As much as she disdains self-publishing, Lombardi “would consider a partnership arrangement for a combo cookbook/poetry book as I think it would be a hit and a money maker.”

Here, sample the poet’s food:


Before Compline


Slowly, I peel

 the red, green, yellow splotched

 skins off small sweet speckled

  Forelle pears,

 fingers sticky with

 their golden juices

 until I have twelve ready.

 Carefully, I put three cloves in the

 bottom of the deep copper skillet.

 Next, I put in shreds

 of bright pungent tangerine peel,

 and slowly drizzle in thick fragrant

 Tuscany honey. Finally, I pour

 in a half-bottle of young

 Chianti and set them to simmer.

 Tonight, before compline,

 I'll serve them to the Brothers

 with amaretti, and tiny cups of rich

 black coffee, sweetened

 with squares of dark chocolate.


Living space 2007

“I have a tiny place on the coast of Maine, not much bigger than a one-car garage. It is filled with books, music, paintings placed where I can find a niche. I like traditional folk music, love opera and Gregorian Chants. I have a couple of CDS from the monastery in Zagorsk, Russia. The monks doing the Mass reach right down inside and comforts me when I hear it.

“I have about 50 varieties of antique roses. It has been a misery this year caring for them as I had knee surgery but I am hoping it will be easier for me this season.

“ Lucca, my Irish Weasel dog, who adopted me from a shelter in Canada is a great part of my life. We walk together when I am able and if I am working outside in the rose gardens, she is there. Lucca, good friend, fierce little protector, helps me dig the roses.”


Elizabeth of Connaught

The black shawled women

  closed their faces to me,

  and their likeness to you

  was painful to see

  those sisters of yours

  have suspicious eyes,

  but remembering, grandmother,

  I tried, I tried.


From childhood’s space

  I reached for the words

  so long unspoken,

  so long unheard,

  culled   from the poems,


and the myths of the kings,

  culled from the tales,

  and the songs you would sing.


       I tried for the lilt

       and the roll of the R

       carriedwithin me

       from a place so far.


Where did you learn your love

  Elizabeth of Connaught?

  Where did you learn the grace                                                                                                                 

  denied these black shawled sisters

  of mean and hostile face?

  How did you learn your joy

  Elizabeth of Connaught,

  among these wretched women

  gathered in a knot?


Their faces, so like yours,

 but with mean, not merry eyes,

 oh grandmother, oh grandmother,

 remembering, I tried.


          William Dennis Wright

           B. 1900 – D.1939


My dad died when I was five, but…


There was Uncle Bill, a black-

nailed foundry worker giant

of a man who loved me and

who I loved in return.


Saturdays, he’d take me to the nickel

movies. holding my hand tightly,

sometimes hoisting me up onto his

shoulders if I was tired.


After the movie, we’d walk to church.

He’d go to confession, and then I’d

walk with him while he did the

stations.   Sometimes we’d stop and light

a candle, and say a prayer for my dad.


We’d walk towards home through the

noisy slum streets, stopping at

McCadam’s Drugstore

for a homemade ice cream sandwich.

Then we’d hurry to our bench, under

the big elms, in Jefferson Avenue

Park, and savor the tri-colored treat.

Later, I’d wake up when he’d

settle me down on my bed with my

dollies, Bobby and Nancy.


And it is only now, so many lifetimes

later, that I realize I never told him

I love you, Uncle Bill.

Yesterday Songs


 Horses hooves and wagon

  wheels on cobblestone

  streets with Izzy Cohen’s

  voice calling, tomatoes, big,

  round, five cents a pound.

  Dogs barking and playing

  chase me, chase me, running

  and rolling around on the

  sidewalk. Laughter pouring

  out of Houlihan’s Pub

  along with the smell

  of beer.   Magaziner’s baker

  tack, tack, tacking the signs

  for special bread outside—

  seeded Rye today, 12 cents—

  the Patterson’s at it again,

  him yelling, her screeching,

  sounds of a thump and her

  crying “I’ll tell the priest” and

  Pat screaming back “Up the

  Priest” before he smashes

  the door shut and heads for

  Houlihan’s.   Trolley cars

  squealing to a stop sending

  their Clang, Clang, Clang

  warning.   Trains grunting

  as they’re uncoupled in

  the nearby roundhouse.

  Sunday chants mingling

  with incense and prayers,

  and coughing and sneezing,

  and shuffling feet as we

  line up for communion.

  No one mentions Nora

  Patterson’s black eye or

  missing front tooth

  nor the booze smell of John

  clashing with her lily perfume.




Like the phantom

ache of an ancient loss,

I long for Ireland,

for her mists like cobwebs

tangling my hair,

her soft sibilants and quiet speech,

her sheep dotted fields

with rocks as big as houses,

her donkeys that come to the car

to beg treats and bray at me,

her wonderful music,

her brown bread

with great pots of smoky tea,

and even her underlying sadness                 

that makes my tears mingle

with hers for the unmarked graves

of our ancestors

that line the famine road

where I knelt to pray.                                                                 


                                                                               —M. Kelly Lombardi


About the Interviewer

Sharon Bray is a journalist who lives beside tidal Penobscot River on land that’s been in her family for five generations in Orland, Maine. She earned her living as a writer, photographer, editor and publisher for about 30 years ranging from science writer in Boston to freelance reporter in communities near her home. Her work has been published in Puckerbrush, Echoes, Wolf Moon, Off the Coast, The Aputamkon Review, Narramissic Notebook, a few anthologies and other literary works and many newspapers. She is a member of Orland Fire Department, the Salt Coast Sages poetry collaborative, and Maine Poets Society.