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An infinite number of Tasmanias

Brian Doyle |  14 January 2013


You want proof there are no tiny moments, none?
Only eyes too dim to see the vault of the moment?
Here's one. My son, after a whole year of D and F
On his report card, a steady river of D and F, only
D and F, not even a plodding C, earned his first A.
It doesn't matter what the subject was. Nor what I
Said to him, or him to me, or even what his tender
Mother said, or how his brother and sister crowed
And made a big deal out of it, probably a little too
Much, all things considered. All that mattered was
His face as he flipped the card on the kitchen table.
I don't have any words for that. But I was allowed
To see his face, at that moment. The world ambles
On, burly and hurried, but there are those moments.
Maybe we are composed of exactly these moments.


An infinite number of Tasmanias

If you are like me, which God forbid, but maybe,
You have on your wall a map, or perhaps several,
Of places you know you will never be; not in this
Life, anyway. It's just not going to happen. Cash,
Health, the time away from work and your family.
The reasons are all reasonable. For me: Tasmania.
It's as far away as you can get from where I exist;
Perhaps that's part of the lure — and it's an island,
That's important in my strange faraway dreaming.
And it's dense and wet and confused and haunted,
Its history shot through with blood and stone; why
This is attractive to me I haven't the slightest idea.
Lately I think it is the one thousand three hundred
Forty six lakes. I'll never see them, Lakes Tiberias
And Rufus, Bull and Bill, Fanny and Fergus, Echo
And Nameless, Sappho and Shadow, and the quiet
Lake Lucy Long; but I do see them, somehow, not
Just on my wall but shimmering in a kind of dream
For which I do not have to sleep. We hold compass
Points in our heads for which no travel is necessary.
Perhaps we must. Maybe dreams are a crucial food.
If we just lived in this world we would never reach
Any others, and don't we know there are way more
Than we can even yet imagine? An infinite number
Of Tasmanias, you might say. An equation of lakes
Beyond the reach of numbers, all wonder and sheen.


On reading the Bible while sipping whiskey

The King James, of course. You couldn't read any other translation,
Not in good conscience. You could read the Good News translation,
Of course, but then you would have to drink wine coolers. I suggest
Irish whiskey, substantive but biting, like the prose. Also begin with
Ecclesiastes. Sip language and whiskey; savour the thorniness therein,
For our days are numbered, and full of glory in their wild procession;
And it is the very labour and effort that define the shape of our talents,
Not the result, or accolades, or applause, or encomia, or your storage
Houses filled with money, and sacks of corn, and gleaming machines.
How you did what you did is the measure of your soul. Do not starve
For answers to questions that cannot be answered. God jots notes but
Not letters. From those notes we compose books and concerts. We're
The tools. Without the tools the notes wander freely, and are not read
Or ordered into songs and symphonies. Be an instrument for delivery.
Accept the hints and make of them tales and epics; do not think yours
Is the only epic. As soon as yours assumes or recruits power, choke it
And try again. That which thirsts for power proves itself false to light.
The way to wisdom is wonder. The answer to all questions is mystery.
Close the book gently, for it is a masterful concert. Wash the whiskey
Glass gently, for it too carries hints and notes. His hints are profligate.
Salute the stars before you sleep, for they have sung sweetly and well.


On reading the works of Flavius Josephus which someone left in the Holiday Inn 'business centre'

For reasons that we can only imagine and happily speculate about.
I mean, probably the management got the book along with the rest
Of the ancient unopened tomes flanking the fake fireplace; by god,
There's a Collected Macaulay, and a motley lot of Trollope novels.
Isn't that kind of dangerous, to leave Macaulay near the computers,
What if someone started into his essays and got caught by the song
Of that man's hewn sentences? But maybe Flavius Josephus didn't
Come in an estate sale. Maybe the night janitor is reading the book,
Two pages at a time. Or the housekeepers are taking turns. It could
Be that they lunch with him and some call him by his Roman name
And others call him Yosef ben Matityahu. Perhaps all Holiday Inns
Are required to have a copy of Flavius, just as they are commanded
To use the English spelling for Center. I am an editor by profession,
And so I fix the sign, putting the word back into American, whereas
Here we are in America, but then I cannot resist turning the page, to
Find, delightfully, amazingly, that someone has underlined Josephus
In the most gentle pencil: everyone ought to worship God according
To his own inclinations, and not to be constrained by force.
Snow is falling gently. This is my country. The soul who underlined
Josephus, that soul is my brother or sister. I will not meet him or her;
Yet I know my brother and I know my sister. The false fire suddenly
Leaps. The night clerk tells me later that it is set to double at twilight. 

Brian DoyleBrian Doyle is the editor of Portland Magazine at the University of Portland, and the author most recently of the essay collection Grace Notes. 



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Submitted comments

Poetry is the stuff of memory, reflected in tranquility, as Wordworth opined and Brian Doyle reveals. Thanks, Brian, for sharing grace through your humour, insight, warmth, adroit dexterity and fellow feeling.

Barry G 15 January 2013

Dear Brian The absolute best thing about Tasmania, which I too had thought never to visit but last year did visit, is that it is beautiful far beyond all our imagining. As no doubt will be our ultimate long dreamed of destination...

Margaret 15 January 2013

My favourite quote about poetry - by Robert Frost: "Poetry is a way of taking life by the throat." You do that beautifully Brian. See you in Tassie some time!

Pam 15 January 2013

Thanks Brian. There are indeed many Tasmanias in my mind. Tasmania is an open door. My fall back plan as climate change really kicks in. I am horrified it is not immune from the raging heat and fires. What is happening?

Jenny Esots 15 January 2013

On the two side walls of the smallest room in my house are two maps. On the left is Matthew Flinders First Map of Australia printed 1814. On the right is a Peters World Map which is superior to the Mercator Map in that it give a more accurate portrayal of the size of the different countries. Stuying theses maps like Brian I thought there were places I'd never visit. Then the dog of a lady friend of mine died. With the dog's demise she was bitten by the travel bug and visited friends throughout Australia and around the world. As she aged and became less independent she asked me if I would accompany her, at my own expense, on a cruise ship to Tasmania. My immediate reply was: "Sorry, it is too expensive." To which she replied: "We're not going till December. Start saving." So I did start saving. And I did visit Tasmania, the only Australian state I hadn't set foot on. Since then I have cruised round Australia in the wake of Matthew Flinders and around the world with Christopher Columbus. Unlike Brian I am never going to say: "It's just not going to happen."

Uncle Pat 15 January 2013

I love your sentiments and if I drank whiskey I'd pour a shot to toast you. Looks like I'll have to get your book.

Bernadette 15 January 2013

I'll be in Tasmania, God willing, in February . . I hope it hasn't changed too much - and I'm not talking bushfire damage. I'm talking 'progress'. In Tasmania I once had a glimpse of how God made the world before mankind (or rather 'unkind') got to it. Such a beautiful land, surrounded by seemingly untouched beaches . . and not overrun with tourists like me!!

glen avard 15 January 2013

What beautiful, haunting pieces Brian. How many tiny moments have I missed? Tasmania, the King James and Flavius Josephus - the first I know a little of, the others far less. I'm left with a deep feeling of melancholy and wonder - a good reaction, I think...

HelenH 16 January 2013

A friend forwarded this to me and I am utterly charmed. Two more friends have received it from me now so already it has left Ireland for Devonshire and up-State New York, but will remain long with me, thank you.

susan minish 17 January 2013

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