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Nuns in love



The Brunswick Street tram

Just before dawn this morning I heard a long cheerful skreeeeeeeeek
Which maybe was a towhee or a jay or a lustish hawk over the house
But I what I heard was the Brunswick tram, the 112, rollicking along
And squawking and screeching and harrumphing and groaning in the

Key of C, it seemed to me. The tram runs through Melbourne roughly
South to north. This is on the other side of this planet. The stars there
Told sharp stories I had never heard. I was far from home. Somehow
The 112 was avuncular and affable. I would get on at Gertrude Street
And ride a while and then ride back. I always felt better. It was a kind
Of a brief neighborhood. People nodded. You learned to set your feet
For balance against the rolling of the vessel. People would read while
Unconsciously rocking back and forth. I do not think you ever forget
Anything that ever happened to or around you; we only lose the keys.
But then years later a hawk screams away over the house and you are
Boarding at Murray, and dozing right through Fitzroy, and finishing,
Today, for once, for fun, just because, for no reason, at Dorcas Street.



I never met a nun yet wasn't in love before

O, I had a sweetheart, sure I did, says a tiny stooped nun
To me this morning. Long tall handsome man he was too.
Did you think I signed up to be a nun before I could fall
In love? No. I never met a nun yet wasn't in love before.
It's good for you as a nun to have had your heart broken,
Seems to me, or to break someone else's heart. It's a way
Of the world. Better to know it so you can be tender when
You see it later. A lot of what we do is to listen, of course.
But there's listening, and then there's listening when you
Know the feeling being poured out, when you felt that too,
When you still feel it. I suppose I'll always love that man.
How could I not? I think about him here and there, usually
After some poor girl's cried on my shoulder. I'd thank him
If I could, for loving me back then when I needed so badly
To be loved. That was a great gift to me then and now, yes.


What's the most amazing thing
you ever saw on a basketball court?

Oh, there are an endless number of candidates for this,
I say to the kid who asks me the question, but the first
One that pops to mind is one time away up in Harlem
When I was on a fast break with the ball and reversed
Direction so fast and with such torque that my glasses
Flew off. I was close enough to the basket that I could
Dimly see the target and laid the ball in, but amazingly
My teammate had caught my spectacles as they flew by,
Snatched them as easily and casually and unthinkingly
Out of the air as you would wave off a flotilla of gnats,
And he handed them back to me as we drifted back on
Defense. Later when I asked what happened he said he
Hadn't even really seen them, quite; there was a flicker
Of glintiness and he nabbed it without thinking about it,
Which seems to me a secret of basketball, that you just
Do creative things without asking your brain for advice.
Total respect for thinking and reasoning and cogitation,
But it seems to me, more and more, that if you prepare,
If you learn a craft deeply and then practice it regularly,
You can often wander way off the map the brain knows.
The brain's job and joy is in seeing patterns everywhere,
But there are far more places than there are roads, right?


All the way into this wild world

When I ask my mom what time I was born into this
World of wonder and pain and love and amazement
She says instantly, 1.08 in the afternoon, I remember
It well. I had fallen asleep and the nurses had to wake
Me and tell me you were being born; you already had
Your head at the door and were scouting the territory.
You were a noticer right from the start. I would guess
You'd already figured which nurse was which before
You decided to come all the way into this wild world.
You were always one for noticing things. If you could
Have talked then, you probably would've interviewed
The doctor about his day, and dilation percentage, and
Birth weight, and prospects for a pro basketball career.
You did talk early, at about a year, and you never have
Stopped talking since. Nor have you stopped noticing.
I think God designed you to notice and relate miracles.
Each of us is shaped for something and if we are lucky
We discover what it is and like it and do it with delight.
You're lucky that way; don't ever take that for granted.
So many people never find out what it is they were for,
Or insist on doing something they shouldn't, or end up
Doing something they're terrific at but never like at all.
You've made your share of mistakes, and maybe more,
But you were supposed to be a noticer and you did that
Very well, seems to me. But of course I am your mom.

The good wood of the guy

I was talking the other night about a friend of mine
Who is a terrific writer, really one of the very best
In my state and nation and for all I know the planet,
And a kid in the back row, a high-school kid I think,
Says What is the very best thing about your friend?,
And you know how true words fly out of your mouth
Sometimes before your brain chews them over? That
Happened to me — out of my mouth fell 'good wood,
Man. If you knocked on him you would hear the cool
Sound of good true healthy wood — see what I mean?
I mean, yes, he's a great writer, and interestingly he's
A riveting speaker and fascinating thinker, and not all
That bad at logging his land and stuff like that, I mean
That's unfair, that a guy could be good with his hands
But also a riveting thinker and typist, but all this pales
To the good wood of the guy. You see what I mean?'
And the kid said yes, he knew guys like that who were
Noted for one thing but actually what they were best at
Was being good guys, and we agreed that being a good
Guy was better than anything else you could be good at,
Which I think is true and crucial and should be shouted
Far more than it seems to be just now. But I have hopes.


Out there in the high sage desert

Was sitting with a quite elderly woman this afternoon
And when I asked her what was the very first sight she
Remembered from her girlhood in country Oregon she
Said the next baby. I was not even a year old when my
Sister came and then another and another. It seemed to
Me that my first twelve years were spent with a girl in
My lap. Not that I didn't love them, I did, but so many,
So fast, the washing and feeding. So what I remember
First and best is their skin, I suppose. They were clean
And new and smelled good even when you know. And
Their cotton cloth in summer. We were out in the sage,
And all my life cotton and sage went together to be my
Sisters. Still does. I smell sage and I am holding one or
Another of them. They are all gone now and I am alone
Just like it was at the start out there in high sage desert.


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.

Topic tags: Brian Doyle, poetry, nuns, basketball, Fitzroy



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Existing comments

Brian, I have been taught by your nun. Thanks for the reminder.

Vic O'Callaghan | 31 May 2016  

Thank God for Brian Doyle, who remembers that story reveals more than theory - and who is himself, 'good wood'.

Steve Daughtry | 31 May 2016  

"To be loved"....Brian Doyle is a loving spirit and a fine writer/commentator/poet and recommendation for faith. Pity he's a Geelong Football Club fan but nobody's perfect.

Peter Goers | 31 May 2016  

'I think God designed you to notice and relate miracles.' 'being a good Guy was better than anything else you could be good at' Brian Doyle does it again! Long may he keep on noticing and relating miracles.

Glen Avard | 31 May 2016  

Yes - and of course not only basketballers. A great description of the play of Byron Pickett and I guess 1000s of sportsmen and women to mention only the sporting field. Once when he ran and got the ball from the very edge of the boundary and with his back to the goals and a long way to the side, kicked a goal - I rushed to the phone and yelled to his niece in Port Lincoln- Byron Pickett is a GENIUS!

Michele Madigan | 31 May 2016  

Thank you, Brian, for that lovely evocation of that sturdy workhorse of the West Preston line, the 112 tram. Not much glamour but reliable.

Jean Dawson | 31 May 2016  

I didn't think there was anything more I'd like about Brian Doyle. But today I learn he knows about riding the Brunswick St tram! And the sage women...

Joan Seymour | 10 June 2016  

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