By Bryan Gruley
Committed a sin yesterday, in the hallway, at noon. I roared at my son, I grabbed him by the shirt collar, I frightened him so badly that he cowered and wept, and when he turned to run I grabbed him by the arm so roughly that he flinched, and it was that flicker of fear and pain across his face, the bright eager holy riveting face I have loved for ten years, that stopped me then and haunts me this morning; for I am the father of his fear, I sent it snarling into his heart, and I can never get it out now, which torments me …
I wish I could write with, at once, such abandon and such skill. The passage above is from an essay called “A Sin” (www.up.edu/portlandmag/2005_fall/asin_txt.html.) by Brian Doyle.
If you don’t know Doyle or his writing, you should.
I’ve been reading his scribblings, as he calls them, since we argued about Salinger and the New York Yankees over Stroh’s and bongs at Notre Dame in the late 1970s. Today he edits Portland Magazine, the University of Portland’s excellent alumni magazine, and he writes: essays, poems, remembrances, ponderings, and a novel, Mink River, that Publishers Weekly called a “fresh, memorable debut.”
He writes with great lucidity and lyricism in an oddly disciplined but fiery free verse in which he’s never afraid to stack adjectives atop one another like chimney bricks. Several of his essays have been chosen for the annual Best American Essays collection. My favorites are about altar boys, Van Morrison, and grace. The last one, “Grace Notes,” begins, “Is there a richer and stranger idea in the world than grace? Only love, grace’s cousin, grace’s summer pelt.”
I always feel better after reading something Doyle wrote. Even when it’s a bittersweet rumination on the heart malady his boy was born with. Always.
I introduce him to the Outfit because Doyle lived for a while in Chicago, loves the city, and has been writing about it. For the last several months, bits and pieces of his scribblings on Chicago have been showing up in my snail-mail box. This one, which came with a pencil drawing of a horse and a long-haired bearded man resembling Doyle, made me laugh:
One time when I lived in the seething salty city of Chicago I met a horse walking down the street – this was on Lincoln Avenue, near the lake. The horse was enormous and reddish in color. We stopped and contemplated each other, and you will think this is fiction, but I assure you that some sort of message was communicated, some sort of graceful exchange of intent – a cheerful witness of the other’s presence, with something added of respect. I mean, a horse is a remarkable being, and it’s not every day you have a chance to encounter one in the middle of a serious city, while shuffling along wondering about baseball and girls and newspapers and trains and ancient scent of the redolent lake as big as a sea.
I asked Doyle in an email what he planned to do with all these pieces, and he replied that he wants to compile them “into a little dinky comic book just like the Silver Surfer comics I loved as a boy – I am going to find a printer here to do it for next to nothing and make like 100 copies on shitty newsprint just for fun.”
That’s the other thing about Doyle. He always reminds me, without even trying, why we write. As he puts it in an essay called, “Why Write?” …
My job—my itch, urge, dream, hobby, entertainment, prayer—is to tell stories on paper, to try to choose and tell stories that both inform and move their readers, and that is what I do to shoulder the universe forward two inches. I was given the urge, and a little of the requisite skill, and I have to do it. It’s what I do, and what I love to do, and no one else can do it quite like I do.