The National Catholic Review
Brian Doyle

So here’s a war story.
A young guy is telling it.
He has been home a week.
He says the men and women
Inside the war call it the beast
And speak of it quietly; no one
Gets cocky in war, that’s for sure,
He says. That’s how you get dead.
Like this one time I was out on patrol
And I got to staring at cars and trucks
For no reason I could tell. It was cold,
You could see your breath, you know,
And there was a car parked up the road
With a little steam coming from the tailpipe
So my brain gets it that the motor is running
But I don’t actually think it, I just sort of see it,
You know? So when I get close to the car and a guy
Jumps out with a weapon I am ready and I drop him.
It happens that fast. It’s your reptile brain or whatever.
It’s hard to explain to people how stuff like that happens.
You get to the point where you don’t hardly think anymore.
I wonder sometimes how I am going to get back to thinking.
Everybody has stories about guys coming back from the beast
And wigging out and going all weird in the woods and all that,
But most of us I bet come back and don’t say anything whatever.
What’s to say? All you can say that’s true is that you made it back.
Brian Doyle

Brian Doyle is the editor of Portland Magazine at the University of Portland in Oregon. He is author of eight books of essays, nonfiction and “proems,” most recently Epiphanies & Elegies (Sheed & Ward).

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