Hitching a ride, trusting a partner, marrying the same person three times
Subscribe and Save up to 45%
Brian Doyle was a novelist, essayist, poet, and the editor of Portland magazine at the University of Portland. His novels include Martin Marten and The Adventures of John Carson in Several Quarters of the World. Doyle died of a brain tumor in 2017. A collection of his essays, One Long River of Song, was published by Little, Brown and Company in December.
Joyas voladoras, flying jewels, the first white explorers in the Americas called them, and the white men had never seen such creatures, for hummingbirds came into the world only in the Americas, nowhere else in the universe.
She spoke to me. I know it was Her. I have no words with which to tell you how sure I am that it was the Mother. Trust me.
You believed that everything is a form of prayer, including laughter, including tears. Yes, you were a reverential man, but you weren’t stiff or boring or preachy or dour. Your essays were both concise — often just a page in length — and lush, your sentences as intricate and twisty as plants in a terrarium. You combined prose and poem (and prayer, you said) to bear witness to the miracles around us.
Everyone thinks that awful comes by itself, but it doesn’t. It comes hand in hand with normal. No one talks about this. You’re watching the basketball game when the phone rings and you find out your grandfather didn’t wake up this morning. At the scene of the terrible car crash there’s a baseball glove that fell out of one of the cars. The awful is inside the normal. Like normal is pregnant with awful.
Our dad will not walk in the parade wearing his uniform. He declines politely every year when he is asked. . . . He says uniforms are dangerous statements, if you think about it. He says uniforms can easily confer false authority, and encourage hollow bravado, and augment unfortunate inclinations, and exacerbate violent predilections. This is how he talks. He says uniforms are public pronouncements, like parades, and we should be careful about what we say in public.
The man who owned the dairy farm on which the Fair was held was named Max Yasgur. He was born in New York City to Jewish immigrants from Russia. He owned 650 cows. He was forty-nine years old. When he saw how many people had shown up, he instructed his children to give away all the milk and dairy products on the farm to help feed the crowd.
We say yes when we mean I would rather not. We say no when we mean I would say yes except for all the times yes has proven to be a terrible idea. We say no thank you when every fiber in our bodies is moaning oh yes please. We say you cannot when what we mean is actually you can but you sure by God ought not to. We say no by not saying anything whatsoever.
One time when I was seven years old, my aunt placed her hands upon me and tried to drive out my devils. I was not aware that I had any resident devils and said so, hesitantly, as she was a firm woman. She said, You certainly do have devils, and they are beginning to manifest. I did not know what manifest meant but did not say so.
One time for no reason at all my kid brother and I decided to ride our bicycles from our small brick house all the way to Jones Beach. We got maps out of the family car and pored over them and concluded that it was about four miles to the shore. He was twelve and I was thirteen.
Once again a student asks me why I became a writer and this time I say: Because of the staggered, staccato music of my dad’s old typewriter in the basement. Because when he really got going, you could listen to it like a song. Because after a while you could tell if he was writing a book review or a letter just from the shift and drift and thrum of the thing. Because it sounded cheerful and businesslike and efficient and workmanlike and true.
In my family you were allowed to take the train alone from Long Island into New York City after your twelfth birthday. Because you had reached the age of reason, you were responsible for buying your own ticket and for getting yourself to the station. I waited anxiously to turn twelve, and on that autumn afternoon I rode my bike through the woods to the train station and bought a round-trip fare. I wanted to say something wry and mature to the ticket seller, but he just shoved my ticket across the counter and turned away to abuse a colleague. I folded the ticket carefully and put it in my wallet and rode home.
It never occurred to me when I was little that there was a world in which dads did not come home from the bar and beat up their oldest sons. It was totally normal, you know what I mean?