Learning Detachment in the Attic

By Elizabeth Duffy

attic1When my cousin became a Dominican sister, she gave away all of her belongings. My sister and I were invited to come and shop in her closet and salvage any clothes we wanted before they went to charity. More valuable items she bequeathed to family members, and I was the lucky recipient of a pretty pair of lapis lazuli earrings, as well as a Honda Civic, which I, in turn, drove to Rhode Island to discern my own calling to join a religious community there.

Ultimately, I didn’t stay, but I met my husband’s sister there, and she set me up with the man I would marry less than a year after my return.

I never had it in me to give away all that I own, such a sad and rich young woman was I.

So little has changed.

My husband and I have just cleaned out our attic. Everything that was in there is now gone, so that we might begin the process of converting it into another bedroom for the kids, who now sleep stacked like sardines in the two bedrooms upstairs.

What became clear as we went through the piles is that, contrary to all my big talk about detachment and anti-materialism, I’m the packrat in the family.  I’m the one with fourteen Sterilite bins in the attic. [Read more...]

Here at Last is Love: The Poems of Dunstan Thompson

Dunston_ThomasI get tingly with anticipation when I’m about to meet a new poet. I don’t mean the poet in person; I mean meeting the poems of someone whose work had been unknown to me.

And so it was when I opened the new selection of poems by Dunstan Thompson, Here at Last is Love, just published by Slant. But this wasn’t to be my usual sort of first meeting, because first in the book comes Greg Wolfe’s rich biographical introduction. With gratitude, I was truly “introduced” to Thompson: to a man whose life was shaped by opposing desires—for the Catholic faith of his childhood in the 1920s-1930s and for homosexual love.

Around age twenty, Thompson left the Catholic Church and began a series of tormented love affairs with various men. To be gay in the 1940s was to be doubly cursed: by society and by the Church. Thompson felt himself doubly sinful. At the same time, experiencing World War II in London, he was horrified by war’s brutality. [Read more...]

Lucia Berlin: A Master of Catholic Fiction, Part 2

By Jenny Shank

a manual for cleaning womenContinued from yesterday.

Catholic imagery appears throughout Lucia Berlin’s A Manual for Cleaning Women, the posthumous selected stories that has brought her singular fiction out of obscurity.

The magnificent “El Tim,” a story about a charismatic adolescent Mexican-American boy who disrupts a Catholic school with his sly behavior, begins: “A nun stood in each classroom door, black robes floating into the hall with the wind.” The grade school nuns keep perfect order, but the middle school ones have a harder time: “They could not use awe or love like the grade school nuns. Their recourse was impregnability, indifference to the students who were their duty and their life.” [Read more...]

Lucia Berlin: A Master of Catholic Fiction, Part 1

By Jenny Shank

Lucia_Berlin

In September, Lucia Berlin’s posthumous collection of selected short stories A Manual for Cleaning Women hit the New York Times Best Seller list for hardcover fiction.

Vice called Lucia Berlin “the greatest American writer you’ve never heard of.”

Marie Claire predicted that this “highly semiautobiographical collection will catapult [Berlin] into a household name.”

And John Williams wrote in the New York Times, “She put much of her roving, rowdy life onto the page in vivid stories that garnered the respect of a modest audience and now could be on the verge of making her posthumously famous.”

I count myself as part of that “modest audience” who was lucky to know Berlin and her work before her death in 2004. I met Berlin when she was my teacher in the graduate creative writing program at the University of Colorado, and I was immediately taken by her as a writer and as a person. [Read more...]

The Holy Wafer on the Floor

Eucharist001cropSometimes I take the Host in the mouth, other times I take it in the hand. Mostly I take it in the mouth. That’s because of the strangeness of it, the good strangeness. I don’t generally let other people feed me, let alone grown men. Let alone priests.

So, this meal is not like other meals. It is a meal that challenges my desire to have control of what goes into me and how. In this meal, I like to feel I’ve surrendered something, that I’ve become vulnerable standing there at the foot of the altar with my mouth open, giving someone else the power to do what they will.

The other day, the younger priest at my church misfired in his attempt to give me communion. He’s not like the older priest, who sticks the wafer right in there, saliva be damned, germs be damned, all of it be damned.

The younger priest, who is a good man all told, worries about viruses and colds and the transmission of disease. And his hand wavers. He doesn’t want to get too close, the younger priest. Because of that, and surely without ever intending any harm, he has become a Host-chucker. [Read more...]


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