By B.J. Hollars
We meet at Sacred Heart Church in the early evening—a place I’ve never been, but one Andy Patrie returned to daily for five years as a child.
“I went to school next door here to the church,” 40-year-old Patrie tells me as we slip inside the propped wooden door leading us into the foyer. “I spent a lot of time in this church, and probably a great deal of my 20s trying to figure out what that meant.”
For Patrie, poems became the perfect vehicle for untangling his oft-fraught relationship with his faith, a “messy divorce” of sorts that ultimately inspired a series of poems on God, guilt and growing up, all of which inhabit the center of his soon-to-be released second collection, Half-Life.
Yet faith is but one of many themes Patrie tackles in its pages, the most prominent theme, perhaps, explores his candid assessment of his own mortality.
“I was doing dishes and the name ‘half-life’ came to me,” Patrie says, “and I thought, ‘There it is! Now I have sort of a focus for this collection.’”
While many of his poems explore the realities of reaching mid-life, for Patrie, this milestone is hardly a crisis. His poems are more celebratory than elegiac, more filled with wide-eyed-wonder than a dirge-like lament for the past. Whether recounting male-pattern baldness (“Black hole / swallowing strands of light”) or a kayaking trip with his wife (“The lake assures / it will flip / these kayaks / and dip us / as we slip inside”), Patrie always manages to excavate the beauty in the mundane.
Tied to the subject of mortality is legacy, and I ask Patrie what he hopes his nine-year-old child, Simon, might one day take from his father’s work.
“That’s a great question,” Patrie says, leaving it to linger for a moment as the church returns to silence. “I often think of [my wife] Adrienne as the person I’m writing for, but I would say oftentimes I’m thinking about Simon, too, and these little mementoes, I guess, for him, as he approaches these milestones, and what that will mean for him.”
Patrie explains that the collection’s most personal poem is its last—one simply titled, “Simon.”
“Simon is just really different,” Patrie says, “and I know every kid’s different, but in that sense of how he approaches what it means to be a boy. There’s some gender nonconformity going on…so that poem really became just a way to say to him that it’s okay, it’s cool, with me, with us.”
I smile though the night’s grown so dark he can’t see it. By the glow of my computer screen, Patrie reads a poem, and then, at our interview’s conclusion, we leave that place, exiting through the same propped door we’d entered.
Outside, an elderly man awaits us, and, in the kindest way possible, makes clear he’s curious about what we were up to in the church.
“Not to worry! There’s a simple explanation,” I explain, “we’re just two grown men reading poems in the dark.”
Thankfully, before those words leave my mouth, Patrie offers a simpler explanation, explaining to the man that he’d attended the school many years prior, and that he’d just completed some poems on that experience.
The answer seems to satisfy the man, and after a bit more conversation, he promises to see to it that the church door gets locked before the hour grows too late.
We thank him, and then, after Patrie and I say our farewells, we get into our cars and drive off.
In the rearview I spot the church’s twin towers, and between them, the circular stained glass peering out.
Call it what you will—a marvel, a miracle, a mistake—but for me, our time in the church was nothing short of revelatory.
How curious, I think, that for a man exploring life on the outside of faith, on this night, the doors remained open.
Half-Life will be available for purchase at Red's Mercantile and The Local Store in mid-March.
The book release will take place at The Plus on March 19.
Interview music courtesy of Lee Rosevere