Paul Lisicky's memoir-in-essays, Famous Builder, is a must-read for representations of post-Vatican II Catholicism, as well as the complicated intersection between Catholic tradition and sexuality. "Wisdom Has Built Herself a House" is an essential essay in the collection.
His short prose piece, "The Didache," originally appeared in Subtropics (Winter/Spring 2008). It will also appear in his forthcoming collection of short prose, Unbuilt Projects.
I was first struck by the contrast between the title of the piece--a reference to the apocryphal, anonymous document of early Jewish-Christians--and the domestic content. The Didache is instructive, so there's certainly an implicit connection between the instruction we received from faith and that which we receive through a parent, but Lisicky's willingness to allow those elements to only coalesce in a symbolic manner makes this piece work so well. It becomes dramatic rather than didactic.
The narrative begins with a question: "What were you like the last time I saw you whole?" The piece follows with more questions and considerations, the wonderings of a son in relation to his mother (who exists in this piece with a touching, Marian care and concern), noting "It's funny how we end up where we do," and yet the narrator appears quite aware of how life moves.
The language of the final sentences moves comfortably into the Biblical-lyrical. I've seen Lisicky do this elsewhere in his prose, and it always occurs at the right moment:
"As the broken bread was scattered on the hillsides, and so was gathered and made one, so may the many of you be gathered and find favor with one another."
The lines are a lyrical refiguring of a Didache hymn, and the result is powerful. We follow toward the conclusion of Lisicky's piece:
"Take. Eat, says the mother, given up and broken, and pushes the sandwich into the lunch bag, and sends me on my way."
The Didache/Biblical suffuses into the domestic, the love of mother/son becomes eternal. The suffusion of the archetypal/Biblical into the domestic accomplishes several results: it re-establishes the "truths" inherent in these ancient actions and connections, and yet it also reminds us that our present, prosaic world is capable of being legendary and graceful. Lisicky's compressed piece feels like the best of sermons: life observed so carefully it becomes real in the re-telling. It's beautiful writing, a piece worthy of re-reading.
Coming tomorrow: An insightful interview with Paul Lisicky!