First Things RSS Feed - Brian Doyle
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60A Flurry of Owlshttps://www.firstthings.com/article/2016/10/a-flurry-of-owls
Sat, 01 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400Once again a child asks me suddenly
What is a poem?
And once again I find myself riffing freely and happily
Without the slightest scholarly expertise or knowledge;
But I am entranced by how poems can hint and suggest
And point toward things deeper than words. A poem is
An owl feather, I say. It’s not the owl—but it
Owlness, see what I mean? You imagine the owl, owls,
Silent flight, razors for fingers, a wriggle of mouse tail
Slurped up right quick like the last strand of angel hair,
A startle of moonlight, a fox watching from the thicket,
All that from a feather. It’s like an owl is
A poem is a small thing with all manner of bigger in it.
Poor poems only have a writer in them, but better ones
Have way more in them than the writer knew or knows
About. This poem, for example, amazingly has owls in
It—who knew we’d see a flurry of owls this afternoon?
The Wild of the Masshttps://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2016/09/the-wild-of-the-mass
Thu, 22 Sep 2016 11:30:00 -0400At a funeral Mass today I happened to be sitting next to an older lady who, when the time came for us to say “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed,” said, instead, the older version, “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed,” just as I said the exact same version, and we glanced at each other and smiled, and after Mass we got to talking.
]]>Did You Get to Jersey Much?https://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2016/09/did-you-get-to-jersey-much
Thu, 08 Sep 2016 08:00:00 -0400In a meeting the other day someone says to me, So, you grew up in New York, did you get to Jersey much?, and I started to laugh, which caused confusion around the table, but then the meeting ended, so I did not have time to explain that my family was so New Yorky that we had
of Jersey, and my grand-uncle the sailor had been there, or so he claimed, although he also made some other hair-raising claims that might or might not have been true, such as that he had once almost married an Iroquois princess in Sheridan Square, and that supposedly another uncle had married a Lutheran woman and moved to Jersey, but this second uncle’s name was never mentioned because of that scandal, although sometimes my grand-aunt would suddenly mutter mysterious lines like
It would be one thing to marry an Italian
What, there were no Greek Orthodox girls available?
But these kinds of mysterious remarks were common in my family, and you had to piece together the tribal history for yourself, stitching it from various bright and startling threads offered at the oddest junctures. I remember once when my cousin was entering the convent that one of the elders murmured
Just like her mother,
which addled us children for weeks; didn’t our aunt and uncle have six kids? Could you have lots of kids in the convent? Is that where altar boys were hatched? Is that why there were such sidelong beings as deacons, to care for the troops of kids in the convents? Is that why all the nuns who taught us were so deft and experienced shepherding and corralling kids, because they were so used to it at home? There were so many riveting questions.
]]>Daily Prayers, Daily Vowshttps://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2016/08/daily-prayers-daily-vows
Fri, 26 Aug 2016 08:00:00 -0400My sister entered a monastery slowly, over the course of some years, and she says this is not unusual, that most of the people she knows who have entered monastic life did so cautiously, carefully, thoughtfully, painstakingly, haltingly; they were riveted but unsure, absorbed but leery, quite aware that the decision was an immense one, every bit as epic as marriage—a state with which the monastic life shares many pleasures, pains, and conundrums.
Mon, 01 Aug 2016 00:00:00 -0400By chance I was in New York City seven months after September 11, and I saw a moment that I still turn over and over in my mind like a puzzle, like a koan, like a prism.
Wed, 06 Jul 2016 11:25:00 -0400Among my first memories in this wondrous world were brittle palm fronds folded reverently behind the four crucifixes in our childhood home. As a small child, I assumed they were issued with the crucifix, and had something to do with the poor gaunt man on the cross. Only later did I discover that the palms were an annual ritual, blessed on Palm Sunday, carried home carefully by my mother, and then folded with respect beneath the crucifixes, as last year’s palms were removed and buried in the garden. I remember once that a visiting priest suggested that last year’s palms be burned, but my father said that the days of burnt sacrifice were long gone, and besides if he kindled a fire in the fireplace the squirrels nesting there would be discommoded and discombobulated. I remember those words because I had never heard them paired before, and I liked their alliterative and consonantive gallop.
]]>Confessions to Father Newmanhttps://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2016/06/confessions-to-father-newman
Fri, 10 Jun 2016 08:00:00 -0400I am that rare soul who can remember his First Confession, at age eight, very nearly word-for-word—I think because I was terrified, and hyper-alert, and intent on remembering everything that Father Newman said, mostly because it was my First Confession and I was afraid I would be sent to prison or farmed out to the Lutherans for the many times I had committed fisticuffs with my brothers and failed to honor my mother and father—but also because Father Newman was wry and funny and fond of reminding everyone that he was, as far as he knew, the only Jewish Catholic priest in the diocese. He had been born and raised Jewish, as Jesus and His family and friends had, as he much enjoyed reminding his startled congregation.
]]>Skiffling Shuffling Skittering Scufflinghttps://www.firstthings.com/article/2016/04/skiffling-shuffling-skittering-scuffling
Fri, 01 Apr 2016 00:00:00 -0400As I am sitting at the stoplight under the maple and oak and cedar trees
I see three tiny kids skiffling and shuffling and skittering and scuffling
In the leaves—bigleaf maples, mostly, but also some oak, and a serious
Drift of fir and cedar needles—
is the word for that, a delicious one,
Is it not? They are maybe five years old, these three moppets, and I hear
Their bus groaning a ways behind me, but they are totally into sculpting
Little hills and ridges of leaves, and I can hear them giggling, and in one
Minute the bus will hold out its arms and absorb them, and the parade is
Starting to move in front of me, but for another perfect instant I can hear
And see them skiffling and giggling, and smell the sharp savory death of
The brilliant leaves, and see the shoulder of the mom or aunt or neighbor
In the lee of the apartment building, where she is just lighting a cigarette,
And we get these moments all day long, don’t we, we get them all month
And week and year all our lives, such a flood and flow of them, too many
To count, too many to endure, they are too generous and savory and holy,
We could not bear to see and savor and sing them all; we would go blind.
But without them we would starve and wither and shrink and shrivel. We
Know that too. Maybe custom and habit and the quotidian ramble are just
The things we need to keep us from being overwhelmed by the profligacy
Of miracle, the huge of the tiny, the gift of every single thing there ever is.
But we also peek and glance and notice the light through the bars we built.
I bet you are like me and you crave the unbearable light but bless the bars;
And if ever we needed a wry working definition of
, that’s it.
]]>The Wizard's Boyhttps://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2016/01/the-wizards-boy
Thu, 21 Jan 2016 00:00:00 -0500Another great thing about being an altar boy was getting to the church early, before everyone except the ostentatiously devotional railbirds who actually competed to see who could be there first kneeling at the rail fingering their rosaries and pretending to be lost in meditative reverence but actually counting coup on their competitors; but I, being on staff, as it were, a member of the troupe, an actor in the play, was the only soul allowed past the rail, on the altar, puttering in the wings; and I relished the status, yes I did, I savored it, I spent a minute too long out there, straightening the altar cloth, checking the cruets for the twelfth time, making triply sure the tiny tabernacle key was by the tabernacle where Father could see it easily without his spectacles, which he did not like to wear during Mass, for reasons of his own, though he could hardly see without them, and more than once I had to gently take him by the elbow to lead him to his chair after Communion.
]]>An Open Letter to Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadihttps://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2015/11/an-open-letter-to-caliph-abu-bakr-al-baghdadi
Wed, 25 Nov 2015 00:00:00 -0500I will start out politely, with the traditional
, peace be to you, and I will even use the title you have given yourself, and I will try to keep this note brief, for I can only imagine the press of your days, what with trying to manage a nascent state, and a fractious staff, and keeping a wary eye out for the many people who would dearly love to blow you to ragged bits smaller than grains of sand.