Thursday, September 02, 2004


Yesterday, at the end of a long stretch of being Tom and waiting to hear about which of the three finalists the Governor would appoint as Wisconsin's next Poet Laureate, I penned a tidy little blog entry that I was going to call "The Ship of Poetry in Wisconsin Has Been Without Its Captain For a Full Day Now." At that point we'd heard nothing about the Governor's choice. Yes, my paragraph was a bit cheeky and tongue in cheek - but this has been hanging for a couple of months so what the hey. Here's the text of that proposed entry:

"Yes, indeed, the Ship of Poetry in Wisconsin has been without its Captain for a full day. The term of the retiring Poet Laureate of Wisconsin expired on August 31st. The Governor has not yet (to my knowledge) named the incoming Poet Laureate, so the state has been without its Ombudsman for Poetry a full day. The Untoward Effects of this Lapse have so far been minimal - only a few Rough Iambic Pentameters heard in the Milwaukee area; a Haiku or two in which the Frog Failed to Jump up near Marshfield; some Moon/June Rhyming in the east central part of the state; and some Awfully Tilted Slant Rhymes in the Superior region. We are fortunate that No One has been Seriously Injured thus far. We would urge the Governor to make Expeditious Haste to the nearest microphone and appoint Our Captain, O Captain."


At 2:00 yesterday afternoon I had to get our eldest cat, Boops, to the vet. Mary met me there. We had taken Boops in last week, afraid it was time then to have her put to sleep. We took her back in today, uncertain whether her time was up now. She has been failing markedly.

Boops came to us during the Gulf War of Bush the First. Back then I called her Warthog, after the A-10 jet plane so popular with our ground forces; my wife and daughters called her Taboo. She's a "tortoise shell," the way some cats are calico and some are tiger-striped; she's a tortoise shell with a lovely black and bronze pattern. I've known a lot of cats over the years, and would testify that Boops is the sweetest of them. One vet has told us that tortoise shells tend to be sweetly disposed. Boops' other nickname is Purr Bucket.

Last week when the vet weighed this old lady of a cat, we saw that she had lost more than 35% of her body mass. She hadn't been eating. She was severely dehydrated because she hadn't been drinking either. She had a swelling in her throat that made it difficult to swallow apparently, an inflammation or a tumor. The vet was almost certain it is cancerous. We've had Boops on antibiotics for a week and the swelling has been reduced somewhat, but not half enough to say clear-sailing, not enough by a mile. Yet her fever is gone and she has gained back 6/10th of a pound, which means she is eating and drinking again. She hasn't become dehydrated again.

What to do? what to do? I couldn't make a decision. For several years Boops has been my cat, sleeping every night at the side of my head. I got her trained to situate herself just so, then she was comfortable and I was comfortable. Every night she'd come up and turn herself into position, put her head down on my chest and purr. She'd purr all night.

"Yes, let's give her another shot of antibiotic and the anti-inflammatory, and see how she responds," my wife said to the vet. "That's what I'd do if she were my cat," the vet said.

"I just want her to get better," I said to Mary out at the car. "But I suppose that's not one of the choices." No, clearly it's not. Mary took Boops home one more time. We know the prognosis isn't good - the swelling in Boops' throat is very likely cancer and very likely will soon become too painful to endure. She has three or four weeks at the short end, three or four months at the long end. And I'm thinking it'll be sooner rather than later; we're not going to let her suffer the pain of cancer in the bones.


Mary took Boops home. I had to go to Ripon Community Printers and help in the bindery. When I retired from the company a couple years ago, I told them that they could call me to come in and help out when they were busy. Well, they have been busy, last week and this week, and I've been working there a couple nights each week.

I was only at work fifteen minutes last night when I had a phone call. Mary was on the other end. There had been a message on our answering machine when she got home, from Cathryn Cofell-Mustchler, chair of the Poet Laureate Commission. I needed to call her back; when we went on break at 5:00 p.m., I did.

"This is the call you've been waiting for," Cathy said. "But I'm sorry to inform you that the governor will be naming someone else as the next Poet Laureate." She said some other things - praising my poetry, hoping I'll consider re-applying for the position in another four years, and so on. You don't really listen, you know what I mean? You've just been kicked in the solar plexus.

I'm not sure that everyone who needs to be informed has been informed, so I'll not offer any details yet, except to say that Wisconsin's next Poet Laureate won't be me.

Am I disappointed? Yeah, somewhat. But more than that, I'm relieved simply to know one way or the other. Now I can make plans. Now I have a clear sign that my efforts over the next four years are to be devoted to my Vagabond project, and that's an immensely pleasing prospect. Further, I am blessed that I won't have to search for another four or eight hours a day to give to Poet Laureate duties; I'm a Virgo, and you know I'd obsess about the perfection of it, you know I would.

Yeah, I guess I do have a little regret. I think I'd have made a terrific Poet Laureate and now we won't know. But mostly, as I say, I'm relieved just to know one way or the other. I have plenty of other work to do and won't have to be juggling priorities.

The sadness you may hear in my voice these days or see in my posts here or in comments I leave on other blogs, that sadness won't be unhappiness at missing the Poet Laureate appointment; no, it will be sorrow at the imminent loss of my long-time feline companion, Boops, The Boopster, the Purr Bucket herself. I'm trying to come to terms with that.

Yeah, yeah, I know - she's just a cat. I know, the Great Wheel turns and keeps turning. Yet I think we're entitled to grieve our small losses as well as the large ones. And it always takes me awhile to say good-bye.


June 16, 2004 - continued

I have been visiting the site of the log cabin several miles northwest of Smith Center where "Home on the Range" was written by Dr. Brewster Higley. This concludes the visit.

The place of historical importance has a gravel floor. The contents of the cabin are kept locked behind a wall of wire. We can see them, but cannot touch them. Not that our touching them could do them any damage - time and the elements have already done that. There are old chairs, a gun, hand tools, a tomahawk, arrowheads, a book shelf, a small highchair, a small fireplace, a rocking chair, a table with basin on it, a saddle, a seed planter, a Victrola, some chests, some crocks, some lanterns, a tea pot. Up in the rafters, bed springs. In the corner, a pane of glass broken out of the window. Everywhere, the smell of loss.

Moss on the wood shingles of the roof. Over there, a noisy blue jay. And, there, the sound of wind in the trees. The sound of trucks on the highway a mile distant. The black dog is sprawled on the driveway now.

The cabin doesn't sit out on the open range where the buffalo roam but down in the rough ground near Beaver Creek. Among scrappy trees. Wheat fields come right up to the edge of things at this farmstead. There's a small steel bin here, with "Eaton" on it. Tall grasses wave in the breeze. Life goes on. Matter and energy are neither created nor destroyed. The universe transforms itself constantly. It goes on expanding out here where the sky is not clouded all day. The soul is our molecules looking for each other.

I come up out of the low ground onto the highway and I'm imagining I see antelope at play - I can't help it, it's the wind moving the tawny wheat.

Not much more than a mile from the Higley cabin there's a big plot where old farm equipment comes to die. There are six or seven threshing machines standing along the edge of the place, all manner of other pieces behind them. Just the field of equipment and the sun and air and moisture and all that metal coming undone.

Oh, give me a home.... Give me a place to put down this sadness.

We are what we are, and most days that's enough.



A squall of rain rushed through last night, leaving water running in the streets briefly. This morning the chill in the air is definitely autumnal. Summer is over. I'm not saying it frosted - was not even close. Still, the air has changed. It has an edge to it. It says "Watch me, I'm going to paint the world" and soon we shall see the fall colors, I'm sure.

The darkness of 5:00 a.m. weighs on me - making it difficult, these days, to rise and face my writing chores. The cells all the way to my inner core seem to be screaming "Hibernate," yet when the alarm goes off I roll out. Rolling out of bed then I think is a testament to my love of this piece of ground, my Ouisconsin. I rise to work the Tangle with a sober morning soul.

A hazy sky above, this morning, but otherwise it is dry. A cloud of cancer hangs over a house downtown, though; one of the good ol' boys is being brought low by it. He is but a dry husk of his former self. You do not wish such an end for anyone.

The school bus stops at the Sina pig farm, far ahead of me, and picks up children, then turns east on Carter Road. The eternal dance continues.

Where are the old men this morning, where are they telling their stories? Shall I ever know enough?

A car parked in front of the new house north of Five Corners tells me someone is living there now. Near Union Street, it looks like a field of sweet corn is being taken. On Watson Street, a child with a back pack is running north; he doesn't look happy.

The sun glints off the window of a house suddenly and blinds me for a moment. Some might say I have been blind already.

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