Posted in Short Stories

J. F. Powers: Lions, Harts, Leaping Does (Deal Me In 2018 – Week 32)

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He suffered the piercing white voice of the Apocalypse to echo in his soul: But because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will begin to vomit thee out of my mouth. And St. Bernard, fiery-eyed in a white habit, thundered at him from the twelfth century:”Hell is paved with the bald pates of priests!”

A few weeks ago I read Paul Horgan’s story “The Devil in the Desert” about a dying priest and a rattlesnake. This week I read J. F. Powers short story “Lions, Harts, Leaping Does” about a dying priest and a canary. As far as stories go, the canary wins hands down!

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Powers puts the precise amount of cynicism into Father Didymus to keep the story from being soft and sentimental but yet still tug at our heart strings.  The rambling thoughts of  the dying Didymus along with his short conversations with Father Titus, a priest with more going for him than meets the eye, parallel the flitting canary in a cage provided by Titus. Powers makes the canary into one of my favorite non-human, non-speaking characters:

So far as he was able to detect the moods of the canary he participated in them. In the morning the canary, bright and clownish, flitted back and forth between the two perches in the cage, hanging from the sides and cocking its little tufted head at Didymus querulously.

The canary gives both a humor and a sadness to the wrestlings of Didymus over his past failures and his attempts to reconcile himself to his life as he heads toward the end of it. I think this story has broken into my top ten favorites for the year.

In Powers’ classic story “Death of a Favorite”, he also uses an animal, this time a cat, to tell the story of two priests with less than noble intentions.  He has a way with animals.

“Lions, Harts, Leaping Does” is included in my copy of The Best American Catholic Short Stories edited by Daniel McVeigh and Patricia Schnapp. I read it when I selected the Ace of Diamonds for Week 32 of my Deal Me In 2018 short story project. My Deal Me In list can be found here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

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