Bad news for Tim

About a month ago, Tim Murphy, de facto poet laureate of North Dakota if not of the entire west, sent me this poem teasing me for not going hunting with him this year.

Before I reply or even make a wisecrack, I got the following:

“Dear Hunting Buddies, I have Stage IV cancer in my hip, spine, and esophagus
We have a plan. The femur is a crisis, a twig ready to snap. Next week an orthopedic oncologist will insert a metal rod through the marrow, knee to hip, perhaps even do a hip replacement.
Radiation, which requires five day bursts, will start soon in Fargo. My medical institutions here and there are used to collaborating smoothly.

“Chemo: Mayo wants me to participate in an experimental trial combining chemotherapy and the new immunotherapy. Certainly makes sense, kill the bad guys and encourage the good. This will require a trip every two weeks for two months. Then they will pet scan me and see if it’s working. I’m going to do it. We’ll know in three months whether they can extend my life beyond this year.

“Cancer in three places, very malignant; my friend, the situation couldn’t be more dire. But as my oncologist said, “We can’t cure this, but we can control it.” A brilliant young man, he’s made it from Mumbai to the Mayo, and that is the first ray of hope.

“I have two attachments for you fellows, the huge hunting section of Hiking All Night, and the new cancer log. I can’t believe I’ve written 33 pages in twenty days. You’ll see my morale leaves nothing to be desired.


Tim is an almost unbelievably tough man. Raised in Hibbing, MN (with Bob Dylan as a babysitter!); a Yale scholar and a protege of Robert Penn Warren, a farmer, businessman and classic poet. He’s been rich and he’s been poor. He chose to live as a gay man in a tough rural northern setting, not an easy decision. He was widowed from his partner Alan Sullivan, a great translator of Beowulf among other things, by cancer. He’s a practicing Catholic, a drinker and smoker; above all, the most serious pheasant hunter I have ever known. He has owned five great dogs and written the best poems on hunting dogs I’ve ever seen. Keep him in your hearts and prayers and read Hunter’s Log and the poems he has coming out. Here is a YouTube interview with him a few years ago when that book came out.

“Our dogs teach us how to die.”

Why I like the “Plain Gun”.

The seriously flawed first edition of Good Guns, rife with errors and badly illustrated by me, i(s a …perhaps justifiably… rare book. But it does contain a line drawing of the Platonic ideal of a boxlock gun, and despite the pernicious French influence, as seen in the exaggeratedly curved”shadbelly” stock, it looks a lot like “Plain Gun” (a Weston from Brighton).

Getting the images of gun and illo in the same focus even after Libby outlined the latter ( I CAN’T) but you get the idea…


My wonderful sister Anita’s eulogy for Mary. I would not change a word.

“If thou of fortune be bereft, and in thy store there be but left two loaves, sell one, and with the dole, buy hyacinths to feed thy soul.”- John Greenleaf Whittier

This quote by John Greenleaf Whittier was my mother’s favorite and she truly lived by it. She was heard saying it not because she was a materialistic person, (although the woman knew her way around a stores’ sale racks like she had radar) but because she believed in feeding the soul. She would pinch pennies to be sure we’d get lessons in whatever we REALLY needed to learn at the time. She’d drive us anywhere to feed our spirits. I recall many occasions when there would be something we wanted that wasn’t necessarily practical…”hyacinth for the soul!” She’d shout and if it meant a great deal to us, she’d do her best to make sure we had it. She believed in the beauty of feeling good and of happiness in even the smallest of gestures. Her own and that of those around her. She tried to provide us with the necessities but also with a sense of individuality, on a budget. Having so many kids always seemed like a shock to her. She grew up the non-practical, artistic child of quiet, !
hardworking parents and their other conservative children. That was, until 14 years later, when Myles came along. Having another albeit younger outgoing, fun-loving (crazy) sibling allowed her to really shine. Then she met Dad, a much more conservative but still very artistic guy. The rest is history.

Having nine children, she learned to be frugal with a flare. We can all attest her artistic arrangement of hand me downs. It was legendary. What was once a dress, now a cool pant suit for a leggier child. She was always trying to get us to wear more color and ditch the slimming black clothing. She was the only mother I know who encouraged us the wear more make up, not wash off what we were wearing. Despite having so many daughters and being so “sparkly” and devoted to us, her boys held a special place on her heart. One might say they were her favorites but she’d never say that aloud. She would talk about them endlessly and travel to the ends of the earth to be around them. At any given time, she could be seen walking coursing hounds or hanging out on a ranch with Steve in New Mexico, having drinks with while they poked fun at her accent at Mike’s favorite watering hole in Georgia or riding as the belle of the parade at Mardi Gras in St. Croix with Mark. She loved be!
ing near them and sharing in their adventurous spirits. She shined even brighter when the boys were around although she shined her light on all that surrounded her. Her perspective, which she shared readily, was that of an artist. The colors, the shadows and light she saw in glorious detail. She wanted us all to be good people who saw good in situations instead of darkness. She would point out everyday objects but describe them as extraordinary. Even as her mind and body began to fail her, we’d be driving down the road and she’s sit up taller and say “Look at at that tree! The leaves practically glow! Or we’d be driving by the ocean and she’d stare at it and describe the color as only she could see it. Believe me when I tell you, she could talk about ANYTHING in great detail. Her brother lovingly call his “little sister” 78 RPM because she talked so fast and with such energy, she sounded like a record on the wrong speed. For you young people, go check out what a record is i!
n a museum. They were ancient music producers that are now making a nostalgic comeback. She saw art in everything and attempted to pass on her love of art to all of us in various ways. She would keep us entertained with art projects and crafts. She always encouraged us to express ourselves with art. With one exception, however, painting sunsets. Many years ago, one of us was attempting to paint a sunset and was frustrated it didn’t look real. She told to them it was almost impossible to paint a sunset that looked authentic. The actual sunsets are so glorious and beautiful, they always wind up looking too colorful and fake on paper or canvas. Even photographs of sunsets rarely do them justice. Because of this, in my mind, I see Mom meeting the artist that creates the actual sunsets. In awe, she’ll says “bravo!” staring at his latest creation and maybe, just maybe… God will allow her to paint a few. So look around you, look up to the skies. Notice the beauty in the minutiae. See the contrast of colors or the beauty in the sunset and know her spirit is with us always.

To paraphrase a Beatles song that I heard constantly as a child and believed it was about her; “I wake up to the sound of music mother Mary comes to me, speaking words of wisdom, let it be. And though it may be cloudy there is still light that shines on me, shine until tomorrow, let it be! We love you, Mom! Your spirit will live on in all of us. Rest In Peace seems to confining for her so I say…dance with the angels, Mom!

A few Tributes to Mary

From Margory Cohen:
“dear Steve –
Thoughts with you.
When my Ma died, I felt it in my skin. I still do –
They stay with us, they’re in us.
And we remember – and that’s the best tribute.
Being remembered.
Please take care of you.

Annie Davidson:
I was sorry to read your mother has died.
I remember first meeting her on her way to a modeling gig, looking lovely in a bright red big-sweater over tights — absolutely the ultra modern in casual-wear.
And there was one particular painting I remember I loved even before she explained it to me what it was; her view looking down through moving water to the rounded rocks on the bottom of a stream. I thought that water looked cold. How did she do that?
She was very special, and I would have liked to know her better. I am grateful I got as much of her as I did.

John Hill:
I was sad never to know you Mother Steve, but Peculiar has posted such a sensitive eulogy for a Great Life – Our thought are with you all.
Johnny UK and June,

Jackson Frishman (Peculiar)
Memory eternal! I wish I had been able to see her more – she was always thoughtful and gracious to her far-away step-grandson. And I remain ever fond of her Salmon River painting that she gave us for a wedding present.

John L Moore
Condolences on your mother passing. You have had ample tests for some time, Steve. I pray for a radiant breakthrough.

Gil Stacy (“separated at birth”)
Steve, over the years we have commiserated about our moms, often in amazement at their gifts but all the while recognizing their humanity. Mom often repeats “you can choose your friends, but not your relatives.” Even if you had the choice, it would always be your wonderful, beautiful mom. My mom, soon to be 90, has kept her supply of tact intact over the years as well, never keeping a thought inside. A friend in losing his mom told me it was as if a library of family history burned to the ground. I hope we can talk soon. You and your sibs are in my heart and on my mind. Gil

Building art by Mary

Mary often accepted architectural art projects for money, and word got around, so it wasn’t all houses for vain rich people. Easton, Mass, where we grew up, has more architecture by the Gilded age architect Richardson than Boston, because he was a friend of the Ames family, the town squires. Many years later, Mary bcame a sort of court painter to them. I think virtually every building here was by him, including the wonderful public library that nourished my early reading, the Ames Free Library.


Good Bones

Several people have sent me links to Nora Krug’s Washington Post essay on Maggie Smith’s poem “Good Bones”- you know, the one that begins “Life is short/ Though we keep it from our children” (sorry, no link- still hypertext challenged).

Although I agree with everything she says, and recommend the essay, which also features Smith reading from the poem, I am more cynical.

I think we don’t tell them how short life is because they wouldn’t– couldn’t– believe it

UPDATE: Aaah, here: