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Luckier man's lessons in grace


old reading glasses














Song to hum while opening mail from a friend

O the very fact that there are friends who write with their hands
Even if just the forefingers hammering away on keyboards, and
Also then print out the resulting muddle and scrawl and scribble
And pop it in the post-box! The lickable areas on the envelopes!
The Return Address Just in Case! The choice of stamps, and we
All blessedly have friends who carefully choose their stamps, and
Stand in line at the post office asking for the ones with Authors,
Or members of the Simpson family, or stamps with Polar Bears!
And the fact that there are fifty addresses in your memory, some
Of them no longer inhabited by the people you loved to write to;
Much like your mind retains past phone numbers and exchanges,
Like Mayfair and Ludlow and Allegheny and Cypress and Tulip!
And the fact that you can draw all morning on an envelope or by
God paint it flagrantly with horses and angels, and your postman
Will deliver it anyway! Probably grinning at the nut who mailed
It to you! And you can put a few grains of sand inside your note,
From the beach we went to as children, or a feather from a hawk
Who glared in the window like an insurance adjuster with talons,
Or a painting by a child, or a photograph of four of the names of
That which we call God for lack of a better label. Even the folds
Of the paper, and the paperness of the paper, and the fact that it's
All about miracles and affection, which is to say, of course, love!
Sure it is. All the good parts are about love, in all its many masks.


The blue room

I was in a library in Utah the other night when
A small boy asked me to help him find a book.
The boy was perhaps four years old and intent.
I said what book would you like, little brother?
And he said 'One with blue in it. A lot of blues.
One I can smell the blue. I love that blue. Mom
Says people can like other colors too, but why?
Is there a shelf for blue books? If lots of people
Read the book does the blue wear out? Is there
A blue bank where you have to get a new blue?'
You know, many times I have sighed that I am
Not able to help people who ask me for advice,
Or directions, or counsel about this or that. But
I don't think I ever wanted so much to say, hey,
Little brother, come with me to the room where
All the books are so blue that you have to laugh
At the seethe and soar of it; books about oceans
And herons and jays and the sky and Vida Blue,
Books about how blue used to be and might yet
Become, books brimming with azure and cobalt
And cornflower and iris and periwinkle and teal,
Books so blue that you dream in blue for days ...


Fluid mechanics

Sitting in a chapel high in the golden sculpted hills of California
A few minutes before Mass I reach down to a small wooden box
By my chair, where missals and songbooks are stored, and I find
A set of ancient eyeglasses folded into an old cloth case, so worn
That it feels like a pelt, and I realize that my chair must belong to
A certain sister here at the old mission. Maybe she's here at Mass,
Trying not to be annoyed that I snagged her seat. After Mass I ask
Around and a sweet sister with a cane says o no, dear, that's Sister
Maureen Mary's seat. She passed over two years ago. She was tall
And hilarious and subject to fits of darkness. She'd been a student
Of engineering, a really brilliant girl, when she decided to join our
Community. Her parents were appalled, or as Sister Maureen liked
To say, aghast. She became a wonderful teacher with us. When she
Died we got hundreds of letters from her former students. Teachers
Have to cultivate the long view, as Sister said herself. You haven't
Much immediate evidence of your labours. But you get flashes, here
And there, and hugs at the end of the year, she would say. She was
Still an engineer, she said, still working in fluid mechanics of a sort.
Her parents began to come visit once a year, and then once a month.
Her sister never visited even once although she sent money. Sister's
Parents died and willed us the truck in which they came to visit their
Daughter. We use it all over the place. You'll see it go by today, for
Certain. When Sister died we left her glasses there just for moments
Like this, when someone discovers her. Often it is us, of course, and
We laugh, but then you spend the rest of the day remembering Sister
Maureen Mary, who was a most remarkable soul, one we miss terribly.


When stuff is tough

One thing I hardly ever manage the grace to say
To my children when they are struggling is how
Proud I am about them when they are struggling.
I just can't find easy ways to slip it into the fray,
But I feel it enormously. Sounds condescending
And trite and boringly paternal when I articulate
It, though, or try to. Sounds like a smug old guy
Lecturing the muddled young, and what a cliché
That is, you know? But I feel it so deeply I can't
Stop thinking about it: thus this miniscule poem.
A lot of the ways you love is when stuff is tough.
There's not even a way to say that easily and we
All know what I mean. A lot of love is attending
To how people you love stand up again defiantly
After being rattled and rocked. A lot of daditude
Is watching, and wincing, and feeling something
Like joyous rage that they refuse to quit. Lots of
Being a dad, it turns out, is being reminded what
To remember. I always thought it would be great
If I could take all their pain on me, but that turns
Out to be exactly wrong. Poor brave Jesus Christ.


The luckier man
In memory of the late great Dick Hayward 

I knew a man once who taught me a sweet lesson without a word:
He sent me a wedding present. It was an umbrella. This is Oregon,
So it was a particularly apt and suitable and thoughtful gift. Here's
The thing, though: he was the father of my lovely bride's longtime
Boyfriend, the guy she almost married but didn't. So let us review:
A man sent me a deft wedding gift even though I was the man who
Was marrying the girl his son had loved for years, and sure the dad
Loved her too, she's that kind of woman, the dad was sad when the
Young couple broke up. But he was delighted that she was married
To someone she loved, he told me years later, and of course he sent
Me a present, out of affection for her and respect for me, the luckier
Man. So it was that yet again I learned about grace, and about being
An actual man, not just being the size of a man, or dressing like one.


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

Glasses image from Shutterstock

Topic tags: Brian Doyle, poetry



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Existing comments

'All the good parts are about love, in all its many masks.' Beautiful use of the language, canvassing a wide field of glorious, earthy images - I love the 'daditude', also. Thanks!

Barry G | 03 March 2014  

Not sure which one I like best, they're all pretty good. (Although the post office is a place I like to visit).

Pam | 03 March 2014  

"So it was that yet again I learned about grace, and about being An actual man, not just being the size of a man, or dressing like one." That is a lesson many of us men need to learn continuously. Grace is one of those words which I hope we never throw out the window because it really means something.

Edward F | 03 March 2014  

Love all your articles and thank you for championing the 21st Century Boat People, so cruelly treated by our government(Aust,) :"For those who come across the sea, we've boundless plains to share" ( from our National Anthem ) HUH!

helen c. | 04 March 2014  

Oh Brian Doyle how I do love reading your way with words. You are obviously a Lexophile. Keep those wonderful words spinning through the universe please Brian from Marie

Marie O'Leary | 04 March 2014  

Brian does it again.Ordinary things made sacred. Snail mail ,spectacles, the hard times of our lives and those of our children, moving on from disappointments. Like our Leunig he captures the essence of living and inspires us to reflect and do better.

Celia | 04 March 2014  

I love what's in your head. I love what you share so generously with us. LOVE - what a word!

glen avard | 05 March 2014  

Keep writing Brian, I love the reading. Make sure it gets into Eureka Street. M.P.

M.P. | 06 March 2014  

Brian is truly a gift to one's soul. I thoroughly enjoyed his glimpses into his life.

Donna Kerrigan | 07 January 2015  

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