I have been writing too many condolence letters lately.
I am using the same sorts of words and the words have
Become husks of what they used to be. Like the people
I am writing about. Who are there on the page, illusory
But adamant. Good thing for ritual. How else could we
Say anything without saying anything? Could it be that
Most of what we say aims at something other than what
We say? Could that be? We use words so casually, such
Flow and fluidity and panache, but what we want to say
Are the rocks in the stream, the occasional brilliant bird,
The serpentine mink, the lugubrious heron, the drowned
Ancient fungus-riddled salmon. I am writing about tyee,
The great chinook, the king of fish, and he held adamant
Behind a boulder for a while as he began to dissolve and
Now his time has come and he slips away and I type this
To his widow using words like my most sincere sorrows.
She knows and I know what I mean but for a moment all
I see on the page is the weary dignity holding in the pool.

Brian Doyle (1956-2017) was the longtime editor of Portland Magazine at the University of Portland, in Oregon. He was the author of six collections of essays, two nonfiction books, two collections of “proems,” the short story collection Bin Laden’s Bald Spot, the novella Cat’s Foot, and the novels Mink RiverThe Plover, and Martin Marten. He is also the editor of several anthologies, including Ho`olaule`a, a collection of writing about the Pacific islands. Doyle’s books have seven times been finalists for the Oregon Book Award, and his essays have appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, OrionThe American ScholarThe Sun, The Georgia Review, and in newspapers and magazines around the world, including The New York TimesThe Times of London, and The Age (in Australia). His essays have also been reprinted in the annual Best American EssaysBest American Science & Nature Writing, and Best American Spiritual Writing anthologies. Among various honors for his work is a Catholic Book Award, three Pushcart Prizes, the John Burroughs Award for Nature Essays, Foreword Reviews’ Novel of the Year award in 2011, and the Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2008 (previous recipients include Saul Bellow, Kurt Vonnegut, Flannery O’Connor, and Mary Oliver).”