Bill Bly's old weblog

23 Apr 2005
7:35 AM

Many of the poems in Andrew Kaufman's Earth's Ends dwell on the squalor if not the suffering of the poor in Southeast Asia and South America. But in this one he presents, hauntingly, a different end of earth:

The Observatory on the Altiplano, Hours from La Paz

Just as it is summer there when winter here,
to study the stars they did not look up, but down,
into a cistern
built to reflect the heavens --
the sky was too vast
in the thin air

for those who would study the future
in the permafrost of the Milky Way
to crane upward for hours against the terrible
night winds. The emperor's statue stands
nearby, head hunched forward as if he had no neck,
shoulders squared in the posture
of a tyrannical American mayor. His eyes are rectangles,
mouth a straight line, nose gone. His hair

is bird shit and lichen, his legs covered with wind-
smoothed hieroglyphe, the language
undeciphered. At this altitude a pinprick
of blackness opened in my head,
threatening to spill, like ink. Across the high plain
scrubgrass glowed and flared

in the late sun. The driver
who brought me to this wind-
blasted ruin, hours from La Paz,
nothing between but altiplano,
stepped from his taxi again.
He measured what daylight was left
against the dangers of night roads.
Their names lost, I stared for the last time
into the faces of gods
eroding on what palace walls still stood,
their features open to the prophecies of the stars
and the judgments of the winds.

22 Apr 2005
9:22 AM

After years of coaxing, my wife Deborah has finally been persuaded to blog. Rejoicing all round! It's called Blytherings: The blatherings of a Bly.

Latest entry is a lovely rant on the coverage of the oft-postponed nuptials of poor Charles and Camilla got in the media. One gets a lesson in the history of the antient Praier of Confessioun, which Leno and other know-nothings stinking up the noosphere with blue fume seemed to think was written especially for the occasion, haw haw.

Well, ourDeb takes them to task, and highlights (in case we needed it) the utter craven pusillanimity (say that ten times fast!) of the fourth estate (or whichever one it is).

I say: you go gril!

21 Apr 2005
7:48 AM

Andrew Kaufman's Earth's Ends won the 2003 Pearl Poetry Prize, and I'm just reading the complimentary copy sent to the rest of us who entered. Here's an exemplary poem:


"Write about yourself," the white-haired poet said,
bored with my toddler-beggars and drunk shamans,
with gods of orphans and bargain child brides,
tired of stupas piled with human bones.

"The naked girls in your temple vines are stone.
Why should I care about the shyness of whores
in leather skirts who kneel with flowers
for Buddha? Yourself -- not children in the foam

your wake leaves, greeting and cursing your boat."
But even in my home I wander half lost,
having outwalked the farthest city light,
to return pre-dawn across soot-flecked frost

my lusts bright domes of gold in the sun,
my terrors beggars with stumps for hands.

-- Andrew Kaufman, Earth's Ends, 35.

16 Apr 2005
12:07 PM

The geese are leaving us -- the ones that leave -- headed north in a ragged chevron above and against traffic on St Pauls Ave, bound for Atlantic Canada (they *are* Canada geese) at least, if not the thawing shores of Hudson Bay or Baffin Island.

This migration started at least a month back, when whole swarms of snow geese swirled and settled in fair-weather drifts across the stubble fields just off the highway as I charged past, mighty Haakon hemmed in by a pack of rampaging tandems on US 22 just east of the Nazareth Pike.

The light at this time of year -- it's still winter-white and it angles in instead of beating down as it will when it yellows and mellows in May -- somehow makes me think of my childhood in the proto-burbs of western Pennsylvania, and after some cogitation I think I know why.

My folks had built their dream house on the western border of what was once a cow pasture, and a handful of other families were doing the same over the next few years. What trees there were within the neighborhood were brand new -- the only old ones left fringed the housing plan and screened it from the road; the rest had all been cleared. All year long the light was bright like it is today, with nothing to break it up but telephone poles and power lines.

Back from the road, behind the raw new houses, were the real woods. More on them later.

7 Apr 2005
6:09 PM

I have a special e-mail folder called Deb's pics for sites my wife likes enough to send me the links to. Today I visited CrashBonsai and spent the next half hour simply enthralled.

A few years ago a friend showed me some similarly enchanting photographs taken by his son, and when I praised them he agreed that the boy had made the most of the education that he, my friend, had provided him. But what struck me wasn't the composition or technique of the images, but *what he saw* -- and I wouldn't know who to credit to for that.

5 Apr 2005
4:25 PM

I don't know what it is about this time of year, particularly on a lucious day like today -- clear sky, balmy breeze, what they used to call shirt-sleeve weather -- but hypertext haunts me like a dream I can't quite recall after waking. It could be that I first discovered hypertext in this season a dozen years ago; or that I went to my first hypertext conferences, in Washington and then Southampton, in early April, and on both occasions the weather was super-fine like this; or that I started teaching Hypertext Theory and Practice at Fordham in the spring a couple years after that.

Or maybe it's just the ineffable feeling that spring itelf engenders on a dreamy afternoon such as is just now sauntering into evening, this first week on Daylight Savings Time, when the crokes and daffos and tulies are poking they little fingers out of the ground, and, famously,

smale fowle makyn melodye....

It was on just such a day that Samuel Beckett and a friend were walking through the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris when the friend asked, "Doesn't it just make you glad to be alive on a day such as this?" To which Beckett replied, not without a smale smyle, "I woudn't go that far..."

5 Apr 2005
12:25 PM

About 2:15 this morning a car alarm started wailing down the street, ran through 2 cycles (the maximum permitted in NYC -- or so goes the legend), and fell silent. 10 minutes later it was howling again, and kept up this pattern until I finally left the house before 7.

Nothing seemed to be setting it off -- no passing Harley or heavy truck, not even a speeding bus -- and, until just at dawn, it didn't seem to disturb any dogs or other neighbors -- even my wife was able to sleep through it (or pretend to). Before long it wasn't the noise keeping me awake so much as the rage the noise engendered: pinned my Sputt-o-Meter(R), as a friend once described what happened to him every time he heard Shrubya or one of his handlers hold forth on pretty much any subject.

It's impossible I'm the only one born into that much quieter world before the middle of the last century who simply can't handle the insult -- not just to my senses, but to my sense of minimum basic civility -- by regarding it as, say, another opportunity for spiritual development. I had the alarm ripped out of Mighty Haakon the WonderVolvo as soon as I discovered that it would go off by itself if rained on too long, or that a passing naval destroyer could disable the remote control by doing a radar sweep of the harbor.

By then I'd long made up my mind that its primary purpose was to annoy the neighbors, but after last night's performance, I feel forced to conclude that the *only* purpose of *any* car alarm *anywhere* in the world is to KILL *ME* by pissing me off so bad I bust a vascular gasket.

What a country!

3 Apr 2005
7:56 AM

My friend Paul's wife Nancy died Tuesday, after a long bout with breast cancer. The last time Deb and I last saw her was on West End Avenue back in September, looking happy and relaxed as we picked Paul up for a junket to the Catskills, where we were to sing the Jewish Holidays. Nancy was a singer as well; she'd subbed for Deb at Grace & St. Paul's a number of times, and sang in the concert choir at St. Michael's Episcopal on 99th Street.

Paul came to Grace & St. Paul's as bass soloist about 7 years ago, recommended by an old Trinity Choir buddy who was (& still is) his voice teacher. But Paul & I really became friends as roommates at Kutsher's, where we sang both the High Holy Days in the fall and Passover in the spring — a gig he helped me get. It was like being in the college dorm again, though at our age the bedtime bull sessions didn't last much past midnight.

During my first go-round with the Kutsher Symphonic Choir (a pick-up group of 10 old hands), both Deb and Nancy were ill. I could see reflected in Paul my own sick worry, and that made it a little more possible for me to keep going past the exhaustion of not knowing what was going to happen with the love of my life. And I think it helped us both to explain to each other what we thought would happen if this, what we'd try if that.

One thing we both found was that our friends were great at first, but after awhile couldn't keep up with the tsuris, which after all was under no obligation to go away just because we didn't find it *interesting* anymore. How could we blame them for shying away after awhile? Hadn't we done the same when someone else was stricken?

Everybody goes through this, every part of it, sooner or later; doesn't make it any easier when it's your turn.

2 Apr 2005
10:23 AM

I've been consulting with a new Tinderbox buddy, Alwin Hawkins, about updating this blog. Here's what I wrote to him today:

You know how when you're setting up your stereo system you're always missing some $3.95 connector? That's where it seems I've been in this process since, oh, January. Every morning I set the objective of finishing off this configuration boogie so I can get back to just *writing* the dang thing, and next thing I know the sun's going down and I still can't get everything to work.

This morning it's Radio's themes — I downloaded a half dozen that I like better than the ones that come with the installation, dragged them into the Themes folder, but they don't show up anywhere (except the Finder) so I can see what they'll look like with my stuff. I'm running OS X 10.3.8 on an original iBook (toilet seat model); Radio version is the latest as of last week. Don't know if these data make a difference.

On the Tinderbox side, which is still in the running for publishing my blog, I can't get the little XML button to produce a readable feed. But I'll be pestering Mark about that. *Sigh!* I'm really getting too old for this.

We'll see...

29 Mar 2005
11:56 AM

I'm having a terrible time making up my mind about updating this blog. Originally, it was just a simple table format with date & location on the left and whatever I had in mind to blog on the right. I made a new page at the beginning of each year, changing the color slightly, and adding navigators at the bottom of the old ones. That was before Tinderbox.

Or rather, before I started using Tinderbox for *everything*. I began with the Simplicity Weblog template (it comes with the program), tweaking here and there until I got something that I sort of like (what you're looking at). Problem has always been my tenuous grasp of CSS and templating (*language police!*) in general, but except for a couple persistent conceptual issues, I've got the dang thing to work.

Then a good buddy asked if Tinderbox "generates an xml feed page" so he could add my blog to his track list. So began an ordeal still in progress. I'll keep yinz posted... via RSS — as soon as everthing's hooked up.

28 Mar 2005
8:32 AM

Present devotional reading is Shirley Hazzard's Transit of Venus, which appeared in 1980. Very early, we come upon this quietly astounding passage:

Charmian Thrale's own reclusive self, by now quite free of yearnings, merely cherished a few pure secrets — she had once pulled a potato from a boiling pot because it showed a living sprout; and had turned back, on her way to an imperative appointment, to look up a line of Meredith. She did not choose to have many thoughts her husband could not divine, for fear she might come to despise him. Listening had been a large measure of her life: she listened closely — and, since people are accustomed to being half-heard, her attention troubled them, they felt the inadequacy of what they said. In this way she had a quieting effect on those about her, and stemmed gently the world's flow of unconsidered speech. Although she offered few opinions, her views were known in a way that is not true of persons who, continually passing judgment, keep none in reserve. — Shirley Hazzard, Transit of Venus, 25.

Another world, ne? Any people like this left?

23 Mar 2005
5:49 PM

Ugh! after an utterly dreamy spring day yesterday, it's disgusting outside — perfect for bringing this blog up to date!

If Deb and I were still working for the Episcolopians, we might be doing a Tenebrae service this evening, but I'm grateful to be sitting at the keyboard of my trusty iToilet, watching what was just rain this morning become sleet-turning-to-snow beyond the french doors as darkness falls. It's not exactly toasty warm in this drafty old house, but two sweaters and a shawl seem to be keeping the chill off my spine.

Tomorrow is Maundy Thursday, when, at Grace & St. Paul's, our little Lutheran kirche on the Upper West Side, we'll sing some simple canticles & hymns while Pr. Hauser washes selected feet, then chant that direst cri de coeur, Psalm 22:

My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?

as the altar is stripped and the lights snap off one by one.

If the world's going to wake up, it has to be put to sleep first, I guess. Like Elijah, who takes his sweet time coming to dinner...

15 Mar 2005
6:30 PM

Nelly Bly has posted an album at Ofoto for all to admire:

Elijah's First Days

My favorite, predictably, is #7 of 25, "Rat Tail" — the title of which somehow seems to miss the feature that how you say kills me dead...

2 Mar 2005
11:44 PM

Finally got my hands on my first grandson. I want to say I'm always amazed by how solid newborns are, but one isn't always amazed, one is amazed over and over.

So with me. There are photos, taken by Mike & Nelly, and by Deb & me, as we took turns hefting the little guy, gazing into his perfect face, wondering that perfect fingernails come that small.

Eli was snoozing when we arrived just after church, but woke up for his post-prandial lunch within an hour, after which he posed for a couple dozen dotographs before going back to work (i.e., to sleep).

The kids are happy parents, already talking about going into the baby business, it's been such fun so far. Well, they have some months of sleep dep ahead; we'll check in on that prospect after that.

The newborn nanny's name is Queen, a Jamaican matron whose manner is so calming I felt myself drifting off whenever she was around.

After that, there was time for a lightning raid on Uncle Billy, Nell's brother, upstate. We found El Boyo boogying in the kitchen while dinner was getting rounded up, and we had a most amiable visit, though short. Pix of El Boyo Loco and A Boy Pats Heez Dad at the end of the page.

1 Mar 2005
10:15 AM

Deb has finished Marilynne Robinson's new novel, Gilead, so now it's my turn. Here's a typical scene, if there is such a thing in this wonderful story. You'll recall that the narrator is a man in his 70s, the preacher son of a preacher son of a preacher son, writing a journal for his own 7-year-old son to read when he grows up, presumably long after the speaker is gone:

A few days ago you and your mother came home with flowers. I knew where you had been [to the graves of his first wife and child, long dead]. Of course she takes you up there, to get you a little used to the place. And I hear she's made it very pretty, too. She's a thoughtful woman. You had honeysuckle, and you showed me how to suck the nectar out of the blossoms. You would bite the tip off a little flower and then hand it to me, and I pretended I didn't know how to go about it, and I would put the whole flower in my mouth, and pretend to chew it and swallow it, or I'd act as if it were a little whistle and try to blow through it, and you'd laugh and laugh and say, No! no! no!! And then I pretended I had a bee buzzing around in my mouth, and you said, "No, you don't, there wasn't any bee!" and I grabbed you around the shoulders and blew into your ear and you jumped up as though you thought maybe there was a bee after all, and you laughed, and then you got serious and you said, "I want you to do this." And you put your hand on my cheek and touched the flower to my lips, so gently and carefully, and said, "Now sip." You said, "You have to take your medicine." So I did, and it tasted exactly like honeysuckle, just the way it did when I was your age and it seemed to grow on every fence post and porch railing in creation.

28 Feb 2005
4:57 PM

Dear Ones, please help us welcome Elijah Bly Arougheti, son of Nelly Bly and Mike Arougheti (my favoritest son-in-law), born 26 February 2005 mid-afternoon, 8 lb. 15 oz., 23" tall.

No pix yet, but we're having a Nor'easter, and Deb & I haven't been able to get up to Suffern NY, where Nell & Mike & Eli are staying at Good Samaritan Hospital until Wednesday, after which they return to their lovely home in Nyack at the foot of the Tappan Zee Bridge.

Love to you all,

BBly, doting grampus

27 Feb 2005
2:52 PM

Of things by which to be offended or made indignant there is no end.

24 Feb 2005
10:44 PM

I wouldn't take a million dollars for the experience I had, but I wouldn't give a red cent to go through it again.

— Army engineer, on building the AlCan (now the Alaska) Highway in 1942, from a documentary on PBS tonight.

14 Feb 2005
8:44 PM

Waves of colonists in any development sequence:

1) Visionary, who sees what no one else has ever seen — e.g., Dan'l Boone

2) Disciples inspired by him or what he saw; they don't necessarily see the same thing, but believe it's important; these are the inspired amateurs, willing to try their hand at anything that seems necessary or promising, who build the first settlement on the site of the Visionary's campfire

3) Prospectors (entrepreneurs) who see an opportunity for a big strike in an open market; they build the first enterprise, including transport and delivery infrastructure

4) Stabilizers of what's been developed; they create the first communication networks and introduce "cultural" improvements — i.e., quality-of-life enterprises such as schools, churches, government

5) Dependants (including parasites) whose burden must be carried by others; artists may belong to this category, as may many politicians

6) Predators who cull the weak and worn-out, but who may also have an eye on the throne of those in power; certain businesspersons & politicians may belong to this category

7) Bureaucrats, whose function, if not strictly intertial and entropic, is difficult to divine

8) Historians and critics, who tell "how it is with us" and transmit the stories of the folk to the future and elsewhere; artists may belong to this category, as may retired businesspersons & politicians

Someday it will be useful for someone to write a(n) history of the hypertext movement; I sometimes dream of doing such a thing, in conjunction with a Great Road Trip to visit the pioneers and collect their stories — the Hypertext Pilgrimage....

9 Feb 2005
2:54 PM

While I'm at it, let's listen to another magical tune from our respected Poet Laureate:

Lobocrapsis griseifusa

This is the tiny moth who lives on tears,
Who drinks like a deer at the gleaming pool
at the edge of the sleeper's eye, the touch
of its mouth as light as a cloud's reflection.

In your dream, a moonlit figure appers
at your bedside and touches your face.
He asks if he might share the poor bread
of your sorrow. You show him the table.

The two of you talk long into the night
but by morning the words are forgotten.
You awaken serene, in a sunny room,
rubbing the dust of his wings from your eyes.

— Ted Kooser, Delights and Shadows, 58.

9 Feb 2005
2:44 PM

I believe I mentioned elsewhere that, when I joined the Science Fiction Book Club in 8th grade, I got a ticket for the first commercial flight to the moon as a bonus. (Seems unlikely, in this benighted era, that I'll be able to redeem it in this lifetime.)

But I also got a serious discount on my first real telescope, a cardboard-tube reflex job with swappable 10X and 100X eyepieces that let me look at craters on the moon, the phases of Venus, and, once, the "ears" of Saturn.

Recently, I finally had to put the dang thing out of its misery — too many years in my soggy basement, to my shame — but before that it served for many years to bring our near neighborhood into the house.

Our Poet Laureate has another take:


This is the pipe that pierces the dam
that holds back the universe,

that takes off some of the pressure,
keeping the weight of the unknown

from breaking through
and washing us all down the valley.

Because of this small tube,
through which a cold light rushes

from the bottom of time,
the depth of the stars stays always constant

and we are able to sleep, at least for now,
beneath the straining wall of darkness.

— Ted Kooser, Delights and Shadows, 62.

6 Feb 2005
7:02 PM

My dear friend Mary Milton, the angel of Storyspace, told me about a new book by her dear friend, hypertext pioneer J. Yellowlees DouglasBusiness Writing CPR, (Pearson Custom Publishing) by way of encouraging me to diversify my portfolio for writinglessons.

3 Feb 2005
8:47 AM

Just before Christmas, Deb & I saw a TV profile of Ted Kooser, the new Poet Laureate of the United States, and I determined — since I'd somehow missed out totally on the reigns of two of my favorites, Louise Glück and Billy Collins — to pay more attention. This morning I started our PL's latest book of poems, Delights & Shadows (2004), and found them much to my liking. Kooser writes in the plain style I admire so much. Of the three that I copied out, here's the sunniest:


She was all in black but for a yellow ponytail
that trailed form her cap, and bright blue gloves
that she held out wide, the feathery fingers spread,
as surely she stepped, click-clack, onto the frozen
top of the world. And there, with a clatter of blades,
she began to braid a loose path that broadened
into a meadow of curls. Across the ice she swooped
and then turned back and, halfway, bent her legs
and leapt into the air the way a crane leaps, blue gloves
lifting her lightly, and turned a snappy half-turn
there in the wind before coming down, arms wide,
skating backward right out of that moment, smiling back
at the womaan she'd been just an instant before.

31 Jan 2005
6:44 AM

Three remarkable passages from the last few pages of Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping:

... If the mountain that stood up behind Fingerbone were Vesuvius, and if one night it drowned the place in stone, and the few survivors and the curious came to view the flood and assess the damage, and to clean the mess away with dynamite and picks, they would find petrified pies and the fossils of casseroles, and be mocked by appearances. In much the same way, the tramps, when they doffed their hats and stepped into the kitchen as they might do when the weather was severe, looked into the parlor and murmured, "Nice place you have here," and the lady who stood at the elbow of any one of them knew that if she renounced her husband and cursed her children and offered all that had been theirs to this lonely, houseless, placeless man, soon or late he would say "Thanks" and be gone into the evening, being the hungriest of human creatures and finding nothing here to sustain him, leaving it all, like something dropped in a corner by the wind. Why should they all feel judgment in the fact that these nameless souls looked into their lighted windows without envy and took the best of their suppers as no more than their meager due?

Imagine that Noah knocked his house apart and used the planks to build an ark, while his neighbors looked on, full of coubt. A house, he must have told them, should be daubed with pitch and built to float cloud high, if need be. A lettuce patch was of no use at all, and a good foundation was worse than useless. A house should have a compass and a keel. The neighbors would have put their hands in their pockets and chewed their lips and strolled home to houses they now found wanting in ways they could not understand. Perhaps, pious as they were, these ladies did not wish to see me pass into that sad and outcast state of revelation where one begins to feel superior to one's neighbors.


... There is so little to remember of anyone — an anecdote, a conversation at table. But every memory is turned over and over again, every word, however chance, written in the hear in the hope that memory will fulfill itself, and become flesh, and that the wanderers will find a way home, and the perished, whose lack we always feel, will step through the door finally and stroke our hair with dreamiing, habitual fondness, not having meant to keep us waiting long.

Sylvie did not want to lose me. She did not want me to grow gigantic and multiple, so that I seemed to fill the whole house, and she did not wish me to turn subtle and miscible, so that I could pass through the membranes that separate dream and dream. She did not wish to remember me. She much preferred my simple, ordinary presence, silent and ungainly though I might be. For she could regard me without strong emotion — a familiar shape, a familiar face, a familiar silence. She could forget I was in the room. She could speak to herself, or to someone in her thoughts, with pleasure and animation, even while I sat beside her — this was the measure of our intimacy, that she gave almost no thought to me at all.

and finally

The house stood out beyond the orchard with every one of its windows lighted. It looked large, and foreign, and contained, like a moored ship — a fantastic thing to find in a garden. I could not imagine going into it. Once there was a young girl strolling at night in an orchard. She came to a house she had never seen before, all alight so that through any window she could see curious ornaments and marvelous comforts. A door stood open, so she walked inside. It would be that kind of story, a very melancholy story. Her hair, which was as black as the sky and so long that it swept after her, a wind in the grass . . . Her fingers, which were sky black and so fine and slender that they were only cold touch, like drops of rain . . . Her step, which was so silent that people were surprised when they even thought they heard it . . . She would be transformed by the gross light into a mortal child. And when she stood at the bright window, she would find that the world was gone, the orchard was gone, her mother and grandmother and aunts were gone. Like Noah's wife on the tenth or fifteenth night of rain, she would stand in the window and realize that the world was really lost. And those outside would scarcely know her, so sadly was she c hanged. Before, she had been fleshed in air and clothed in nakedness and mantled in cold, and her very bones were only slender things, like shafts of ice. She had haunted the orchard out of preference, but she could walk into the lake without ripple or displacement and sail up the air as invisibly as heat. And now, lost to her kind, she would almost forget them, and she would feed coarse food to her coarse flesh, and be almost satisfied.

I learned an important thing in the orchard that night, which was that if you do not resist the cold, but simply relax and accept it, you no longer feel the cold as discomfort. I felt giddily free and eager, as you do in dreams, when you suddenly find that you can fly, very easily, and wonder why you have never tried it before. I might have discovered other things. For example, I was hungry enough to begin to learn that hunger has its pleasures, and I was happily at ease in the dark, and in general, I could feel that I was breaking the tethers of need, one by one. But then the sheriff came.

22 Jan 2005
4:55 PM

A blurb on the front of the paperback version of Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping says,

"I found myself reading slowly, then more slowly — this is not a novel to be hurried through, for every sentence is a delight." — Doris Lessing.

Here are two passages I found myself reading slowly, then more slowly (then stopping altogether to copy them out):

The woods themselves disturbed us. We liked the little clearings, the burned-off places where strawberries grew. Buttercups are the materialization of the humid yellow light one finds in such places. (Buttercups in those mountains are rare and delicate, bright, lacquered, and big on short stems. People delve them up, earth and all, and bring them home like trophies. Newspapers give prizes for the earliest ones. In gardens they perish.) But the deep woods are as dark and stiff and as full of their own odors as the parlor of an old house. We would walk among those great legs, hearing the enthralled and incessant murmurings far above our heads, like children at a funeral.


When we did come home Sylvie would certainly be home, too, enjoying the evening, for so she described her habit of sitting in the dark. Evening was her special time of day. She gave the word three syllables, and indeed I think she liked it so well for its tendency to soothe, to soften. She seemed to dislike the disequilibrium of counterpoising a roomful of light against a worldful of darkness. Sylvie in a house was more or less like a mermaid in a ship's cabin. She preferred it sunk in the very element it was meant to exclude. We had crickets in the pantry, squirrels in the eaves, sparrows in the attic. Lucille and I stepped through the door from sheer night to sheer night.

— Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping, 98, 99.

22 Jan 2005
4:45 PM

Overheard in the Walsh Media Lab at Fordham, where I teach Hypertext Theory & Practice:

Why can't I excape from this thing?

15 Jan 2005
6:44 AM

Some months back I read a story called "Gilead" in the New Yorker. I didn't remember the author, but the story was unforgettable: in a letter, an old man tells his grandson the story of a journey that he took with his father to find the grave of his grandfather — thus transporting us across five generations.

Just before the New Year, the new book by Marilynne Robinson was announced — her first novel in twenty years — and when I heard it too was called Gilead, I knew what it must be. So we ordered it immediately from

But Deb remembered that we had her previous novel, Housekeeping, published over twenty years before, somewhere in our very disorganized library. So while we were waiting, I dug it out and started to read it as part of my morning devotions.

Here's a brief passage that shows why it's worth waiting twenty years between novels by Marilynne Robinson. It's from the end of chapter 4, in which is described a spring flood in Fingerbone, a small town in what must be eastern Washington state, sometime in the middle of the twentieth century.

During those days Fingerbone was strangely transformed. If one should be shown odd fragments arranged on a silver tray and be told, "That is a splinter from the True Cross, and that is a nail paring dropped by Barabbas, and that is a bit of lint from under the bed where Pilate's wife dreamed her dream," the very ordinariness of the things would recommend them. Every spirit passing through the world fingers the tangible and mars the mutable, and finally has come to look and not to buy. So shoes are worn and hassocks are sat upon and finally everything is left where it was and the spirit passes on, just as the wind in the orchard picks up the leaves from the ground as if there were no other pleasure in the world but brown leaves, as if it would deck, clothe, flesh itself in flourishes of dusty brown apple leaves, and then drops them all in a heap at the side of the house and goes on. So Fingerbone, or such relics of it as showed above the mirroring waters, seemed fragments of the quotidian held up to our wondering attention, offered somehow as proof of their own significance. But then suddenly the lake and the river broke open and the water slid away from the land, and Fingerbone was left stripped and blackened and warped and awash in the mud.

14 Jan 2005
2:48 PM

In the most recent issue of Narrative is Part One of Rick Bass's The Diezmo, where I found this tasty little passage:

Most distressing of all, [the priest] said, were those who waited until the end to pray. He glanced around at us as if in secret commiseration rather than indictment. As if we were, and always had been, men of god, to whom he could speak frankly about such things.

Certainly, the priest said, as a man of God himself, he welcomed the opportunity to receive the souls of those whose hearts changed in the last days, and the last hour: but it saddened him deeply, he said, to consider all the wasted time behind such last-minute conversions — backwash, he called it, the rubble of compassion whose seeds never germinated, and the toxic residue of a lifetime of ill deeds.

5 Jan 2005
10:36 AM

Rumi say:

Some people work and become wealthy.
Others do the same and remain poor.
Marriage fills one with energy,
Another it drains.
Don't trust ways, they change.
A means flails about like a donkey's tail.
Always add the gratitude clause
To any sentence, If God wills,
Then go....

3 Jan 2005
10:36 AM

B: It's a path...

K: To where?

1 Jan 2005
10:36 AM

This is the year
I get out of here.


Home | About | Recent | Archives

©2005 Bill Bly. All rights reserved. Contact