In A Late Style Of Fire

By Ken Bruen

This sounds like an Irish joke and a very sad one.

170,000 Irish blood donors had their details stored on a laptop and on February 7th, the laptop was stolen in New York.

"Not to worry,” say the blood bank.“It’s encrypted.”

Thus throwing down the gauntlet to every would be hacker out there.

And … all of the donors will be informed by email.

That is a lot of email.

There will certainly be Irish blood circulating for St Patrick’s Day.

Mostly they say, the important thing is not to panic?

My postman who tells me all of the above, says

“Blood will out.”

Is there a response to this, I mean one that bears any semblance of sanity?

The title of today’s blog is from a poem by Larry Levis. If ever there was a poet of connection and separation, he’s it.

He termed “souvenirs," the symbols objects and places by which people interact during their lives.

If you had to name one vital one, what would it be?

For me, it’s always the same, books.

As I prepare to move home again, I gaze with dismay at the mountains of books that cover my study and I can’t take them all with me.

I’m listening to my MP 3, sent to me by Craig and just now, Leonard Cohen is doing “Who by fire."

Pure coincidence, I think, as I finish reading the Levis poem, a line resounding

It is so American, fire. So like us.
It’s desolation. And it’s eventual , brief triumph.

The very essence of the Irish mentality is also in those lines.

I remember at college, a lecturer describing what makes a writer and after a long winded harangue, he finally said
“Fire in the gut.”
Without that, he said,
“Go work in a bank.”

Tony Black, in an email, working on his 2nd book, wrote
“It’s cooking, I’m on fire.”
No sweeter words or better feeling.
God, when it’s hot, when it sings, you think you’ll always have the flame.
Would it were so.

Most mornings, if you can rise to a damp squib, you’re lucky. I don’t think the flame is ever fully extinguished but it sure does dim.

Alex recently wrote an amazing blog about The Price, not only the title of her 2nd stunning book, but the deal we do to get published/reviewed/known.
The price we pay as Bruce sang, and how much you’re willing to give for your craft.

Charles Willeford was asked what was the hardest thing for a writer to do?
“Stay in print," he said.

There was a time I’d thought it would be bliss to be a painter and I actually went to Art college for a year, completed the course and my tutor on graduation asked me
“So, are you any good?”

He was genuinely interested in what I thought.
I told him the truth, I said
“I have a certain technique but talent, no."

He smiled, said
“You’re right.”

I’d done a few paintings and gave them to friends who were gracious enough to say thanks and nothing further.

A month ago, one of them turned up on e-bay and I’d love to say it was going for a small fortune. The only word that really applies is small.

My grumpy priest was round the other evening, one of those bitter cold nights, your breath making clouds of, if not unknowing, certainly of desperation.

Flattering me is not one of his traits but he did manage
“You make a great fire.”

It’s true, turf and the tiniest hint of peat, it lights up the whole room, you could almost aspire to contentment. Throws odd shadows along the bookcases and you’re glad you don’t have any real reason to head downtown.

He said
“I’m perished.”

Which not only tells me he’s freezing but is a heavy hint to get the Jay out.
I make it with cloves and sugar, brown sugar, not of the Rolling Stones type I hasten to add, and the real trick is ensure you have heavy tumblers. Literally add weight to the enterprise.

He gets on the other side of that then picks up my notebook, looks at some lines I’ve scribbled down

… the slightest comprehend If slight-indeed
As such
The comprehension.

He has no compunction about reading whatever is to hand and I’m putting it down to long friendship as well as sheer nosiness. I wait and then

“What does that mean?"

I’m not sure yet and tell him so

He is holding out the tumbler for another and says
“I suppose we’ll find it in the next book when you have another lash at the clergy.”

He is standing in front of the fire, so close that I’m half afraid his pants will burn. Burning a priest will do wonders for my rep but not much for my friendships.

He spots the Louisville slugger in the corner, goes over and takes a swing of it, says

“Now that’s a handy yoke.”

He reads the inscription on it and asks
“Who do you know in Ohio?”
Before I can answer, he says

“Tis nearly as good as a hurly."

No higher praise

And dare I say, he knows I have a hurly because he gave it to me
In lieu of communion perhaps.

Then, as is Irish habitual, he veers off in another direction, asks

“How’s the young wan?"

My daughter
I say she’s doing good and almost like him more till he adds

“I haven’t seen her at mass?"

I go and get him a refill

He nods when I hand it to him and comments

“You’re not having one?"

I say I’ve work and he laughs

“Sure that writing isn’t work.”

I give him my best smile as that usually makes him nervous.

Alex comes into my head and I ask him

“What do you think of the devil?"

I can see by his expression he thinks I mean the government then realizing what I really mean, he tosses off his drink, gets his coat and at the door, leaves me with

“As long as he isn’t thinking about me, I’m leaving him to his own tricks."

I’d meant to tell him about Rabbi David and his latest email where he wrote
‘Shrouds have no pockets.’
But it will keep
I’ll let it … simmer.

My daughter was going out with friends last Friday and for the first time — she is fifteen — she had eyeshadow, lip gloss and it shrieved me heart.
I know the whole gig about father’s not wanting their little girls to grow up and go out into the world and Jesus, maybe run into the likes of me.

I could see by her serious face how essential my answer would be when she asked

‘What do you think Dad?"

I lied
I lied big
I said
“You’re gorgeous."

After she’d gone, I stood in the hall and if I wasn’t such a hard ass, I’d have wept

I kept telling me own self
"This is like a cliché, father’s always react so."
Damn cliché didn’t ease one bit the agony in me soul.

I finally moved and said aloud what I’d promised my friend Lou I would, I say
"The very meaning of the word Grace, is, a free gift."

My surrogate sister, Kathy in New York, is having a real tough time and I resolve to get to the church and light her candle

The email brings Lisa from Delaware agreeing that "The Blessing” by James Wright is her favorite poem by him.

I try to count me blessings and would love to have just one that isn’t in disguise!

Mainly I wish, and I know how selfish it sounds but fookit, I wish my daughter was five years old all over again.

Me home looks like a battlefield in the process of selling it and the killer is the books. I give a ton away but there are obviously signed copies from friends that mean more than money.

To make me smile on all of these shenanigans, C.J. emails to say … you want to make the sale go smooth, bury a statue of St. Joseph in the garden!

Of course I have St Joseph, and I do have a shovel, one that the troops use in Iraq, sent to me by Craig, I have a garden but do I have the … suspension of disbelief, vital to burying a saint?

I just know I’ll get caught

See the headline


As I pass through the sitting room, where St. Joseph is perched, I can’t look at him, I’m thinking, “I’m on the verge of burying you buddy."

I head for the garden and sure am going to miss the basketball mini court I’d built for Grace.

There is a nice plot (sic) under me one oak tree and as I survey it, I mutter
"C.J. … hell of a woman."


7 thoughts on “In A Late Style Of Fire

  1. Michael Haskins

    I have twin daughters, Seanan & Chela, one Irish, one Mexican, go figure. Both married now, one expecting her first child in a few weeks (my 3rd grandchild, 2nd granddaughter) and I have told them since their teens I wished they were always 5 or 6, because that’s when they needed me! You are right, there is something about fathers and daughters that is universal, I believe. I’ve got a priest too, but that’s another story. Thanks for all the books and good luck with the move.

  2. Louise Ure

    I’m definitely rising to a damp squib this morning.

    But … you’re moving house? No fun. Especially in the midst of your crazy travel schedule.

    I’ll be asking St. Joseph to pull out all the stops.

  3. Tom, T.O.

    Damn it! You always make my eyes well up.

    I threatened to handcuff my daughter to the radiator until she was 35, then the laws changed…, and we didn’t have a radiator….

    You’re a good man, Ken Bruen.

  4. Elaine Flinn

    Oh, but Ken – you do have ‘great fire’.

    St. Jude is the one to talk to…

    I had the same lump in my throat when my daughters first began ‘going out’..but I found the more you ‘let them go’-the closer they stay.


  5. j.t. ellison

    What does it mean? The quintessential question. I’ve learned to accept that I may not know, and it’s serving me well.

    Ah, Ken. I love the vision of you as the fierce Irish Father, standing in the doorway, letting her go. Elaine spoke the truth above, the more you let them go, the more they stay. Couldn’t have said it better myself, as a daughter, that is.

    I’ve just booked a flight to go see my parents, just because I miss them like hell.

    Kisses to you and Grace.

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