A bishop's first education

The Song that Ena Zizi Sang
As usual one story will have to serve for one million stories.
That is the way of stories. You might think that a lone story
Cannot possibly do that, and you would be right and wrong.
So here is Ena Zizi. She is seventy years old. The house fell
Down on her when an earthquake hammered Port-au-Prince.
She was there in the dark for a week, her leg and hip broken.
In the beginning she talked to a man who was buried nearby.
He was a priest, he said. After two days he fell silent so Ena
Talked only to God, she said. After a week, she was rescued
By a team called the Gophers. They slid her out on plywood.
Ena sang all the way out of the rubble: she had begun to sing
When she heard the scrabbling of the Mexicans’ search dogs.
No one can remember if there were any words in the singing,
But everyone remembers the lady singing. Ena says she does
Not remember what song she was singing. I was very thirsty,
She says. I sang and sang. Everyone there wept, and clapped,
And they went back to work. But Ena is still singing the song.
That’s what I wanted to tell you. You can’t not hear her song.
I think perhaps that’s a song that once it gets born never ends.
I think maybe there are more songs floating than we can hear.
I think we all know that and we all get a little tired and forget,
But look, there’s Ena rising from the dead again, and singing!
Near Fig Tree Road, in Sydney, Australia
Once upon a time I was at dinner with a lean priest named Michael.
This was on a long muscle of soil called Hunters Hill by the harbour.
There was a Catholic school nearby in a sprawling field and around
The field were Mark and John and Paul and James and Mary streets.
What, no Luke and Matthew? I asked. He grinned. Jupiter and Mars
Streets are south a bit, he said. We like to cover all the bases, as you
Say in your country. And aptly our broadest street here is Augustine.
Wondrous lesson, that man, but he has been imprisoned by theology.
Grant me chastity but not yet, everyone knows that hilarious remark,
But we perhaps do not remember that he was African, and had a son,
And a steady girlfriend for many years before his epiphanic moment,
Which occurred under a fig tree not unlike, perhaps, one of our trees.
You will remember that Guatama also achieved light under a fig tree.
So one lesson we could draw for the church today would be more fig
Trees on general principles, a fig being perhaps the very tree of Eden.
The Prophet Mohammed, God bless him and grant him peace, dearly
Loved figs, and they are mentioned everywhere in his Book and ours.
Now, we might draw the lesson from Augustine that all bishops must
Have a child and a steady girlfriend as a first education in God’s love,
But that is…unlikely, in my lifetime and probably yours, so I suggest
We begin with figs, which would not only foment epiphany, but offer
Meanwhile a most delicious fruit. Should we ask for a plate of them?
The Richmond Tigers: a Note
Last year when I was in Melbourne waiting for a tram,
This was the 112, from Fitzroy Street to Regent Street,
I got to talking to a boy who claimed he was age seven
Although he didn’t look a day past six and a half to me,
And near the end of our chat about football and accents
He said what if in another life you were my Yank uncle,
Wouldn’t that be interesting? So then he and his mother
Continued home, they had swum all day in the museum,
But I’ve kept chewing on what he said. I mean, what if?
Sometimes it seems as if the lines between the countries
We are and the countries we might have been or may be
Are written in pencil, you know what I mean? You walk
Along a street and you smell something and you know it,
Or there’s a certain cast of light you remember real well,
Or you get into a conversation and someone laughs hard
And time loses its jacket for a second — not long enough
To see the tram map clearly, but enough so you see there
Are lots of connecting lines, which is scary but excellent.
I mean, things expand wonderfully when we contemplate
A new nephew who is utterly and totally a Richmond fan,
The poor child. Our Tigers will be premiers, he says, and
I believe him. Maybe they’re always the best, somewhere.
PoetBrian Doyle is the editor of Portland Magazine at the University of Portland, Oregon.


Topic tags: Three new poems by Brian Doyle, the editor of Portland Magazine, Augustine, love, Richmond Tigers



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Existing comments

These poems are great. Give us more.
Jim Jones | 30 March 2010

Beautiful. Thank you.
Helen Bergen | 30 March 2010

Good fun, and even more attractively, warm and generous verse. Thanks, Brian Doyle.
Joe Castley | 30 March 2010

Not often I thirst for more from an author.
Thank you Brian Doyle for wisdom & cutting insights.
More please.

Perhaps completion of not less than 5 continuous years as a parish priest in a third world country might also be a good pre-requisite for selection of a bishop....
Lorraine | 30 March 2010

No Lorraine its the baby and the girlfriend that ground him.............and the figs.......such a sensual fruit
thank you Brian.

GAJ | 30 March 2010

To Jim, Helen, Joe and Lorraine. Do you really want more???
Ron Cini | 30 March 2010

Jim, Helen, Joe and Lorraine are clearly glorious beings of surpassing literary taste and discernment, and I for one totally echo their call for more.
Brian Doyle | 31 March 2010

So do I !
Meg | 31 March 2010

What happened to Augustine's girlfriend though? She was just junked wasn't she, while his son went on in his care. "She went back to Africa swearing that she would never love another man . . ."
anna | 01 April 2010

Thanks Brian, you made my day.

I'm in the midst of creating a local native wildflower garden on our 10 hectare (25 acre) property on the mid-north coast of NSW. Last year I planted a Port Jackson Fig, Ficus rubiginosa, that occurs from south-east Queensland to south-east NSW).

I now look forward to sitting beneath its canopy, like Gautama (and maybe becoming enlightened too).
Gordon Rowland | 01 April 2010

Thanks Brian, these are wonderful, I agree with B. Doyle et al (above) - give us more!

'Vita Brevis: A letter to St Augustine' by Jostein Gaarder is a beautifully imaginative response to Augustine from his former lover. Well worth an open-minded read, in my view.

Richard | 05 April 2010

my mum used to give us figs if we were constipated. is that a metaphor?
geoffrey collins | 10 April 2010

Thanks Brian. You show us how to make religious life inspirational fun.
Ray O'Donoghue | 13 July 2010


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