4 Million Wonders of the Bronx

"WELL,  WELL, WELL. WILL YOU LOOK AT THAT,” SAYS MR. PORTER. "IT LOOKS LIKE BABBSIO WENT AHEAD AND GOT HERSELF A BLOGGY THINGY... GOD BLESS HER HEART!"

“WELL, WELL, WELL. WILL YOU LOOK AT THAT,” SAYS MR. PORTER. “IT LOOKS LIKE BABBSIO WENT AHEAD AND GOT HERSELF A BLOGGY THINGY… GOD BLESS HER HEART!”

O’Brien on O. Henry:

In 1906, following the successful publication of his first collection of short stories, Sydney William Porter, under the pen name O. Henry, published a collection titled The Four Million. Included in this collection was his famous, well-loved Christmas story, The Gift of the Magi. The author wrote this series of stories in response to Ward McAllister’s statement of “there are only 4 hundred people worth noticing in New York City” – at a time when the city’s population was approximately 4 million. On February 16th, 1892, this self-appointed arbiter of New York society proceeded to publish a list of these “worth noticing” people in The New York Times. But in O. Henry’s mind, every human being in New York was worth noticing – the socialite and the downcast, the banker and the street vendor. He believed that every person had a story to tell and a life worth noticing. He set out to prove this belief and the result was his collection of short, witty stories with characters modeled after the downtrodden and everyday members of society.

Although the population of this metropolis has doubled since the publication of The Four Million, I, like O. Henry, want to find and notice all the unnoticed people of New York City. I am not a blogger but I will attempt in this blog to relate all of my experiences as a long-time “country mouse” living among the “city mice.” I have never written anything publicly so please forgive my early attempts at self-published work. I am neither an eloquent nor a brilliant writer, but I try to write as I wish to speak – simply, clearly, and honestly.

I hope my stories and reflections help you see a little of the world I see everyday.

Hello sophomore, my old slump…

So as I dig into Entry Two of Lives of Famous Catholics, I realize that I’m basically re-doing Entry One. A story about a film director (Guillermo Del Toro) pursuing a passion project (At the Mountains of Madness) that never gets made but nevertheless reveals something about his spiritual state, told from the perspective of a collaborator on the project (an illustrator). For that matter, Gaga Confidential also treats a failed artistic effort (The Secret Show), only it’s told from the perspective of an embittered fan who uncovers a link to a collaborator on the project (H.R. Giger).

I keep thinking back to the line from the opening to Donna Tartt’s The Secret History: “I suppose at one time in my life, I might have had any number of stories, but now there is no other. This is the only story I will ever be able to tell.” Heh.

Gerasene ’17: The Kollektiv at Notre Dame

4a52b04c-9854-4f8d-857b-c68d95a89614-002[Image: the Mississippi gravesite of Senator LeRoy Percy, Walker Percy’s uncle.]

CONFIRMED: Two [hopefully three] members of the Korrektiv as panelists at this summer’s Trying to Say “God”: Re-enchanting Catholic Literature, June 22-24 at the University of Notre Dame. Rally, Korrektiv, rally!

Uncle Walt Wrote a Novel!

005
Who knew the multitudinous poet had it in him?

Apparently a grad student named Turpin did.

And apparently everyone does…now.

As noted in the New York Times, Whitman once wrote in 1882, “My serious wish were to have all those crude and boyish pieces quietly dropp’d in oblivion.” Later, when he heard someone was interested in publishing his past fiction, he said, “I should almost be tempted to shoot him if I had an opportunity.”

Clearly, Whitman hadn’t expected Turpin…

Plus ça change…

Screen Shot 2017-02-04 at 1.21.29 PM

Oh, my. A bondage-themed chandelier made from actual women, some cantilevered over the scene, backs arched and hands manacled over their heads, some supine with their legs spread and raised to heaven… Lady Gaga, perhaps? Or Madonna at the height of her “Express Yourself” antics?

Nope. The “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend” number from 1953’s featherlight rom-com Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. They’ve got women working as candelabras, too!

Screen Shot 2017-02-04 at 1.21.11 PM

Opening Up a Dialogue

House of Words paid Facebook a nominal fee to boost the dissemination of a haiku in support of the Women’s March this past Saturday. And it generated some interesting feedback from outside the usual House of Words demographic.

Screen Shot 2017-01-23 at 10.23.17 AM
Screen Shot 2017-01-23 at 10.24.09 AM

Three Short Poems about the Sásq’ets

Two Faces of the Sásq’ets
For some, folkloric kitsch,
for others, Gigantopithecus
blacki
, a Bering land bridge
migrant who’s still with us.

Near Bluff Creek, California, October 20, 1967
Near Bluff Creek, California, the Sásq’ets was yclept
Bigfoot, as attested by a plaster cast where he stepped.

Hiking in the Blue Mountains
Sitting on a log, I heard
a footfall behind me stop. I rose
slowly, turned and saw
the Sásq’ets, stinking and pilose …

Fiction Submission

The following story was submitted to me in hopes of having more work published by Korrektiv Press. I explained that we really are a boutique publishing house, an elite group of writers catering to an even more elite group of readers (alas, you read that correctly), and that it would take some time—not to mention a long, hard look by our editorial staff—before his stuff ever saw it through to print. The fellow responded that this was just fine—suited him to a t, in fact, since he was looking for as much feedback as possible. To which I thought, well, why don’t we just post it to the blog, opening up his work to whatever commentary our good readers choose to provide. So … Have at it, folks.

Debita Nostra

Sedately, a hand as though Michelangelo’s Adam’s stretched toward the bulletproof window, outside of which sprung April’s sweet shoots, this man’s hand anticipating no divine spark, reaching instead for infinite space. Garrett stared there, almost praying in spite of it all, sing in me muse of many harried years, I am a man unskilled in the ways of contenting, lax index finger then firming to flick an ant—exiled or escaped from the anthill’s very brotherhood—not utterly destroying it, but doing a crippling work on the hind legs. Dominion over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. Should tell someone here. Insecticide. Black dots distracting work that could be done. Contrary to all efficiency and decency. Not that he cared but they would wouldn’t they. Black dots better than black plague, better than the oriental rat flea that gorged on blood and spread it across Europa, eliminating at least one hundred million in seven years, 1353-1346, as though yesterday, danse macabre, dance my little wounded ant, skeletal epitome of eternal mortality, set us dancing again, mon Dieu, Dominus. Dominion. Dominus vobiscum.

Garrett brushed back his black bangs that when hanging ceased just before they reached the eyebrows. Covering it. The broad forehead. That’s how God fits the brains in there, Uncle James had said more than once, often upon introducing him from afar but within earshot—and here he is, broad-forehead-big-brained bullox, pressing blood-blanched fingers against the off white keyboard, trying to formulate a response to client ZX3820 and failing, yet carrying on the slow-motion slog against the debt, stacking his hecatomb against the mortal god who sent summons biweekly: $123,000 total, for which reason we would like to offer you the payment plan option of $1,230 per month, which, o man, measured against your Cosmoception wages of $2,500 per month, leaves you $1,270 per month. Forget not the old cafe job that brought in $1,300 per month at best, if tips bespoke the jubilee generosity, that as dictated by that little known book of Leviticus and insisted upon by the prophet Isaiah, for the faint spirit shall become a mantle of praise enunciated by otherworldly unction.

Still failing to settle the right syntax for client ZX3820. Not for lack of sample form letters provided during orientation, but because not a single one fits. Refusing the forms as inadequate. Aristotle refusing Plato’s theory of the forms–if the father of all philosophical footnotes had one single one anyhow. Failed to figure how this world holds order also not only other-world Forms. Some semblance of home here. My father has many dwellings. Not is only in heaven but as it is, otherwise why the comparison? Client ZX3820—you enter the numbers and the computer program inserts a name which you, the staff, are unable to see, privacy—wants foundation. A shade of peach, non-scented, but can get it cheaper at even the convenience store. He heard now-departed father say have your convenience and hang all to not-yet-widowed mother when she suggested they purchase an eighty dollar keychain by which the doors would unlock and lock by your remote finger’s command. Garrett straightened his spine, felt a click or crack at the base of his back, wrote Have your convenience and hang it all as a draft, then deleted it posthaste, else that $2,500 departs like nymphs leaving you in the wasteland again, leaving no address for anyone, The yellow fog of debt that that rubs its back upon the window-panes, collectors licking their tongues into the corners of the everything.

The nymphs are departed,
And their friends, the loitering heirs of city directors;
Departed, have left no addresses
.

Departed, have taken with them the luggage of panic, for if deadened from dull days at work at least there no worried pacings punctuate the evenings as in the elder days, before this big break job, no heart kicks at every door knock as though Loan Co. Himself was on the other side, knocking. Dithyrambic pound with each envelope delivered, even sweepstakes nonsense sometimes looked like loan bills to bloodshot eyes. Taking more hours at the cafe, more coffee cups filled and customers humored over steaming pink salmon, seizing on others’ sick days almost as a parasite and still failing in spite of this to meet monthly payments, readying for default until an entirely oblique conversation with Loan Co. led to a letter that read “ . . . pleased to inform you that your loan has been rescheduled,” which meant, his Uncle James told him over the phone, reduced monthly payments by means of a second loan to help pay off the first which meant increased interest rates but extended repayment schedule so that at least the monthly interest and a bit of the capital balance would be in the hands of the bank every thirty days.

Three Short Poems about Nature, Red in Tooth and Claw

Whether You Call It a Wolverine, a Glutton, a Carcajou, a Skunk Bear, or even the Demon of the North, this Beast is Fierce in Any Language
G. gulo can make you sick—catch
a whiff of that anal stink
and you may claw your own face
off. Fast enough to chase
a lynx, so tenacious it won’t blink
from a bear. It has thick,
oily fur to keep warm and wick
away water. Stocky. About
a foot tall at the shoulder, snout
to tail, three: the Quickhatch.

Life Curled Under a Heat Lamp
Stirring from sleep, his penultimate
action was to eat living mice. Creepy.
He may decide to then molt. A pet
snake is mostly boring. And sleepy.

Cooperative Hunting
Some Roving Coralgroupers nod
at a school of Giant Moray
Eels, inviting the double-jawed
serpents to a feeding foray
in the reef—to flush out every nich,
to kill their prey with a twitch.

SKA2

Last week I referred to Newsweek as “a magazine that nobody reads any more”, but now here I am, linking to it again because of an article I was referred to on suicide. Of course I can’t think of suicide (not for very long, anyway) without also thinking of Walker Percy, so that obviously makes it of interest to readers of this blog (just how many readers would be interesting to know). Here is a good long sample:

Dr Zachary Kaminsky, assistant professor of Psychiatry and Behavioural Science at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, is at the forefront of efforts to identify what has colloquially been termed a “suicide gene”. “Stress is like driving,” Kaminsky says. “You can drive really fast, and that can be useful, but you have to be able to slow down.” His team compared brains of those who died by suicide and those who didn’t. They had an inkling that for those who died by suicide, a gene called SKA2 might be, in effect, acting as a faulty brake pad, failing to control stress.

By looking at just this single gene, Kaminsky’s team was able to predict with 80-90% accuracy whether an individual in their research group had thoughts of suicide or had made an attempt. More research is needed, but signs are positive that in the future a simple blood test may provide at least some indication of suicide risk.

I had heard of the possibility of isolating a suicide gene, but I didn’t know it had been identified as SKA2 (not sure what that refers to, but it’s at least a name,which is helpful), and didn’t know, for example, that men are four times more likely than women to kill themselves, or that Lithuania has the highest rate in Europe. I know next to nothing about Lithuania, except that Czesław Miłosz is from Wilno, and of course this doesn’t tell us whether it’s something in the water, or in the genes, or if there’s anything particularly depressing about Lithuania.

Does the internet have much of an effect on these numbers? Here’s some anecdotal evidence from the story

In most of his YouTube videos, Brett Robertshaw has headphones on, head bobbing rhythmically, fingers flashing up and down the fretboard of his bass guitar. His talent had gained him a following; some of these videos attracted 40,000 views. One is different. In it he sits in front of the camera – a red-haired, matter-of-fact boy. He’s shy and serious, quietly answering questions from his online following.

On his Ask.fm page, while Brett’s written responses to questions about his life from other users are generally funny, sharp and acerbic, a few give pause.

Question: “What was the last lie you told?”

Brett: “I’m OK.”

Question: “Your (sic) in your own movie are you the good guy or the bad guy? and why?”

Brett: “I’m the extra, because fuck that shit.”

Brett wrote over 7,500 tweets in less than three years. Most are digital snippets quite typical of a young male life, but there were also infrequent, intense bursts of sadness and resignation. Struggles to sleep. Anger and isolation. Alcohol as a coping mechanism. On 14 May 2014, unbeknown to family and friends, Brett began to draft a long and eloquent message for his personal website. It began: “The truth is, if this post is live, then chances are, I’m probably not here any more.”

Very sad.

I was surprised to read in the article that not all suicides are classified as acts of the mentally ill. I’ve always taken it for granted that killing one’s self has to be some form of mental illness. Apparently not. Read all about it here.

Marsh Pennywort*

marsh pennywort

Marsh pennywort repays in dividends
As it multiplies interest, its coin-
Rounded leaves, dangling thin purse-strings for fronds,
Supports inflation of its foreign green –
Hard currency in wetland’s liquid time,
Precious specie preponderating pond-
Economies with toad-spawned tadpole slime,
Necessarily blessed because so fecund.

Now too, the marsh will pay what seasons played,
Yet holds interest in soil across the board
While reed and rush enriched by fluid coins
Of marshy realms devalue winter’s trade.
Resplendence sees pennywort well-prepared
To issue species: nature’s greener groynes.

*Thus begins an overhauling of my Carlos Linnaeus sonnet cycle, this time in the quatrain, alas, changing out the meditations on Genesis, which ended the old versions, for a more rounded, satisfying poem. In the revision here I attempt to stay true to the poem’s own interior logic, rather than attempting to impose an arbitrary logic on the poem based on a meditations which organically has nothing to do with the plant involved. At any rate, it continues to be a work in progress…

A few things to know about the Marsh Pennywort – while mildly invasive, it also does a good job of preserving marshlands by strengthening the soil with its root systems. Also, a groyne, as you may or mayn’t know, is a man-made jetty-like structure used to control shore erosion. Suffice it to say that the pun on the word proved irresistible.

The world of research has gone bezerk.

https://korrektivpress.com/2014/10/27507/

‘The Poems You Write Up at Night’: Compulsive Versifying

A few excerpts from that article ‘Compulsive Versifying after Treatment of Transient Epileptic Amnesia’ in Neurocase that everybody’s talking about:


 

Abstract

Compulsive production of verse is an unusual form of hypergraphia that has been reported mainly in patients with right temporal lobe seizures. We present a patient with transient epileptic amnesia and a left temporal seizure focus, who developed isolated compulsive versifying, producing multiple rhyming poems, following seizure cessation induced by lamotrigine. Functional neuroimaging studies in the healthy brain implicate left frontotemporal areas in generating novel verbal output and rhyme, while dysregulation of neocortical and limbic regions occurs in temporal lobe epilepsy. […]

[Read more…]

Chelsea Revisited…

electra

A chapter devoted to Chelsea, titled “Daddy’s Little Girl,” portrays the former first daughter as scarred by life in the political fishbowl and the public humiliation of her father’s philandering, but also the entitled beneficiary of both her parents’ feelings of guilt over the weirdness of her upbringing. “When you screw a young White House staffer,” a source “very close to the Clinton family” told Halper, referring to the Monica Lewinsky scandal, “you’re paying the price for the rest of your life. When your daughter wants to buy a ten-million-dollar apartment, the question isn’t ‘Are you crazy?’ It’s ‘Where do I wire the money?’”

I’m only actually interested in this part of the story of the new book about the Clintons (yawn), but if you can bear it, the whole thing is here.

Prisoner Work Release

https://korrektivpress.com/2013/09/25267/

Clancy the Stonewaller: The life (and work) of a stone mason in early 20th century rural Wisconsin


This story originally appeared in 
The Catholic Times, March 4, 2004 issue. 

08-10 clancy story pic 4 030404

Si monumentum requiris, circumspice.

(“If you would see his monument, look around.”)

– 17th century English architect Sir Christopher Wren’s epitaph, inscribed on his tomb in his greatest work, St. Paul’s Cathedral, London

ROLLING GROUND – In the young days of the 20th century, automobiles were still a novelty – and often eschewed by the older folk who saw in these horseless carriages the dawning of a new age speeding toward them.

But they probably did not fear Henry Ford’s wonderful invention – the mass-produced production-line-assembled automobile – so much as they feared the way this machine threatened their slower-paced and simpler life – especially as it was found in the rural areas of southwestern Wisconsin.

A visitor motoring in one of these new-fangled machines through the Kickapoo Valley region might have caught a glimpse of one such lover of simplicity. A stocky figure humping it along the unpaved back roads, this individual invariably would appear with a hod over his one shoulder and a bag of tools hanging from the other.

As the visitor chugged past at the dizzying speed of 30 miles an hour, perhaps this lone figure would pause in his travels, tip his hat and flash a grin which could charm a calf from its mother.

“Another of those horseless contraptions,” he might think, still grinning and shaking his head in amused disapproval as he continued on his way.

This figure strolling at an even pace along the unpaved back roads was a common sight for the people of the Kickapoo region – places like Rolling Ground, Blue River, Gays Mills, Soldiers Grove and places like Tavera (which no longer exists except as a single weathered shack sinking into the Kickapoo marshlands).

He eventually became something of a legend in the area. His name was James Clancy. He carried a hod. He was a stone mason. But it was more than his job – it was the source of the legend he built up with each stone laid.

Some say he believed in the “little people” – and wouldn’t be caught dead in a cemetery at night. But others who knew him better say it wasn’t true. He was actually less superstitious than most.

Others say he graced everything he touched with a down-to-business talent that borders on the miraculous. And to see his work is to see the miracle of rock still standing on rock almost a hundred years later, looking like it did the day he finished scraping the last of the excess mortar into a bucket. Still plumb. Still level. Still flush. Still standing.

08-10 clancy story pic 1 030404

According to his 1924 passport, Clancy was a transplanted Irish stone mason. He sported a thatch of grey-hair, blue eyes as piercing as Galway Bay on a sunny day, and a mysterious scar sculpted along his right jaw.

What the passport fails to mention is that he had a playful wit every bit as sharp-edged as his mortar’s trowel. And more often than not, the target of the wit was his cousin, Michael Kinney, with whom he came to live.

There was the time, for example, when a traveling salesman wandered onto the Kinney farm and came across Clancy attending to some task in the front yard.

“I’m looking for Mr. Michael Kinney,” the salesman announced.

“Well, he’s in the pig barn right now,” Clancy said, looking up from his business. “But if you want to know which one is him, he’ll be the one wearin’ the hat.”

Clancy was born and raised in what was then known as King’s County, Ireland, before coming to the U.S. Located in the central region of Ireland, the county has since been renamed County Offaly after Ireland gained its independence from British rule in 1922.

He settled in rural southwest Wisconsin in 1911 (although other sources say 1912). But between the hazy distance of the dead and buried to the middle ground of the not quite dead and buried, the dates don’t matter as much maybe as the people who lived and moved through these calendar squares of days long gone.

And for St. Philip’s parishioners and cousins James Gorman and Jack Kinney, Clancy the Stonewaller is in many ways still very much alive. After all, Clancy wasn’t just a neighbor to these two cousins. He was family.

A third cousin to Jack Kinney and Gorman, Clancy was related to the Kinneys and Gormans on his mother’s side, according to Jack.

Coming for a visit, he appeared on Jack Kinney’s father’s doorstep. And true to form, he moved in with the Kinneys with less to-do than dusting lint from under a bed.

08-10 clancy story pic 3 030404

“He just showed up one day and said, ‘We’re related,’” Jack Kinney recalled. “He moved in and began working around the area as a stone mason. That’s about it.”

“He came for a visit at first, but I guess he liked it so much around here that he decided to stay for good.”

“When he first came to the area,” Gorman, a parishioner at St. Philips, Rolling Ground, added, “no one knew who he was until my uncle (Mike Kinney) took a chance on him. He built his first barn in 1912 – and after that, well after that he got lots of business.”

Among the greatest contributions Clancy made to the community was a structure practically unheard of in this region of southwestern Wisconsin – until the advent of Clancy – the stone-built silo.

“We had silos of course, but very few silos in the area were built from stone,” Gorman noted. “Clancy built one of the first.”

Silo 1

As Clancy’s godson as well as his cousin, Jack Kinney remembers with warmth the friendship that sprang up between the two men.

Like many of the men in the area, Clancy liked to play euchre and used to go down to Soldiers Grove on Sunday afternoons – which had about 10 or 12 saloons back then.

“I was 11 years old at the time, and he’d take me down to the Grove with him. Well, he’d play euchre and I’d drink strawberry pop until it came out of my ears. He’d drink some, too, mostly beer. But he’d be snoozing well before we got to town – unless he was driving, which wasn’t very often.”

According to Kinney, even after he purchased his own vehicle, he preferred to leave the driving to others.

“He was a wild driver,” Kinney remarked. “So he’d make me drive – and I was still only 11 years old at the time. When Clancy was asked if it was wise to let an 11 year old drive him, he’d reply, ‘Oh no, with Jack here I’m as safe as in my mother’s arms, I am.’”

Jim Gorman remembered exactly how poor a driver Clancy could be.

“He was constantly slipping that clutch – wouldn’t get far before the car was rocking and jerking around,” Gorman added.

“But once he got down to Madison,” Jack recalled, “and turned left on the square where the Capitol building is. Well, everyone knows you can only turn right onto the square.

“So it wasn’t long before a motorcycle cop comes along and pulls Clancy over.

“’Don’t you know this is a one way street, mister?’ the cop says to him. ‘Well then, begorrah, why don’t you have the rest of the traffic goin’ one way?’ Clancy says to him.

“And that cop – well, he just smiled – then he parked his motorcycle and came back to the car, told Clancy to shove over and asked him where he wanted to be driven. I guess he took a liking to him.”

And that was generally the way of it with Clancy, Gorman noted. “He had lots of friends, but really no enemies to speak of.”

As for the first time Clancy laid eyes on the Capitol building itself, Gorman said that Clancy’s sole comment was typical of his tendency for understatement.

“First thing he saw it and said, ‘So that’s the capitol – well, begorry, it is quite a shed…’”

wiscap

Photosource

Jack pointed out that Clancy was happy just to walk before he ever bought a car – sometimes up to 15 miles – from job to job, raising silos and barns around the region.

While Jack Kinney and Gorman feel fortunate to have known this thick-set Irishman up through his time of death, they both admit that they didn’t fully appreciate the fact that a living legend had taken up residence under their own roof.

Clancy returned to his homeland in 1916 – and stayed until 1924. Some speculate that his stay was extended because of World War I – which began the year he left and would officially end with a peace treaty signed in 1919. Others say his homesickness drew him back to the Island of Saints – and only when his siblings and relatives died did he decide to strike out for America again, this time for good, as there was little else to tie him to his birthplace.

According to his cousins, Clancy had a pair of shoulders as wide as his thick arms were short. He was a man of few words, for sure –  and an engine with two speeds – full throttle or impatient idle.

“His hands were always clenched into fists,” Gorman explained. “He was always clenching and unclenching them at the dinner table.”

His tastes – at table and in the pew – ran to the simple. Potatoes. A pint of beer. Faith in God. Potatoes. The sacraments. Devotion to Our Lady. Potatoes. Satisfaction in a job well done. And more potatoes.

As a matter of fact, he enjoyed potatoes so much – he thought that when a neighbor was serving them for dinner the delectable spuds were meant for him alone.

“Hold on fellow!” said his host as he saw Clancy take the steaming bowl of potatoes and place them on his own plate. “You know we all eat potatoes around here!”

It was while at dinner table that Clancy’s hatred and fear of cats came out, as well. According to Jack Kinney, one evening while eating at the Kinney table, one unfortunate member of this species decided to sharpen its claws on Clancy’s shin. Without much of a stir, Jack reported, “Clancy took his butter knife and thumped that cat on the head. Laid it out dead. He looked down at the cat dead there on the floor and then went back to eating as if nothing had happened.”

Like a rural Christopher Wren, Clancy was prolific in and around the Rolling Ground area. His work rises at strong intervals in the pitching landscape – whether it be stone silos, barn foundations, walls – or even a grotto to Our Lady of Lourdes located at St. Philip cemetery.

Silo 2

Indeed, at this cemetery, a visitor can see this monument to his faith – and devotion to the Blessed Virgin – but the visitor will also find a monument to his faith in square, chisel, trowel and hod.

Perhaps it was an early spring day; the sun bright as it began its climb up Clancy’s back to the high light of summer. Clancy was beginning work on a wall that would curb the advance of the cemetery’s shifting soil – part of the rolling ground of Rolling Ground.

Back then, Old Highway 171 separated the living and the dead at St. Philip’s, putting the cemetery on one side of the busy east/west road and the church on the other.

For his part, Clancy merrily began to fit stone and mortar. At high noon, perhaps he stepped back from his work for a moment. His morning labor already brought the wall up to his shins.

Clearly, he thought to himself, progress is being made.

Just then he heard the sharp clap of hooves on gravel. A neighboring farmer was coming up the road. He stopped, tipped his hat against the blazing sun and watched Clancy walling in the cemetery.

“It’ll never last,” the farmer said after a while with a horsey shake of his head. “It’ll be spilling out into the road within five years.”

As if just acknowledging the farmer’s presence, Clancy straightened up abruptly and with a grin as wide as a tombstone, he eyed the farmer for a few moments – and suddenly winked at him.

“I’ll tell you what, mister,” he began to assert with the immediate muster of his well-intoned brogue. He jerked his thumb over his shoulder at the cemetery. “You’ll be on that side of this wall before this wall is on that side of the road!”

And as any visitor to St. Philip’s can attest, Clancy’s words proved prophetic. No one knows for sure who the farmer was that offered his two cents only to have Clancy handing him back change. But it’s a safe bet he’s buried on the other side of Clancy’s still neatly cropped wall.

“Clancy’s probably got a lot of monuments around this area,” Gorman noted, “but that wall and grotto are probably his best.”

He built the grotto in honor of Our Lady of Lourdes and St. Bernadette, both of whose statues appear in the grotto. Clancy built the devotional site by commission. Rose Bannen, a fellow parishioner who shared in Clancy’s devotion to the Blessed Virgin, commissioned him to build the modestly majestic structure at the top of the cemetery hill.

Regarding his final visit to the cemetery, Clancy’s death was much like his life. According to Jack Kinney, he recalls him being fit and active pretty much until the end.

“He was planning to make a return to Ireland and was going to take me with him,” Jack Kinney said.

But then one day he fell ill. The doctors said it was liver cancer. But as in most things, Clancy wasn’t going to stick around long to make a fuss. Within a year of diagnosis, on August 4, 1948, Clancy was heading off for the great quarry of souls in the sky.

His funeral was well attended, Gorman related. A simple affair with his American friends and family as pallbearers, the event welcomed people from around the countryside. They all crowded into St. Philip’s to pay their last respects to a man whose tireless love for stonecraft was a permanent fixture of the landscape.

As for his worldly possessions, fittingly he left his car to his unofficial chauffeur and beloved Godson, Jack, while he spread his money among relatives – including a surviving niece back in Ireland.

Among the many mysteries that have puzzled people who knew Clancy, though, perhaps the most pressing is the question of his tools. What ever became of them? Perhaps they were secretly buried with him. Or maybe they faded into the background – hung on some forgotten hook like a cryptic epitaph in one of the barns Clancy built.

Or perhaps the tools passed into the possession of others – those who were borrowing them from Clancy at the time of his death, or those who bought them at this or that auction over the years.

But that Clancy himself lived and breathed and built and built in the Rolling Ground area is no mystery. His monuments can be seen today. But if you ask Jack Kinney and Jim Gorman, they’ll tell you there’s no rush to see the things Clancy did with stone and mortar.

Those silos and barn foundations, that wall and that grotto – they’ll all be around looking pretty much like they did when the mortar was still drying on them – and probably for long time after the last automobile breaks down.…

08-10 clancy story pic 2 030404

Don’t you think?

By il conte della luna [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

‘Irony has only emergency use. Carried over time, it is the voice of the trapped who have come to enjoy the cage.’

Hyde, Lewis. ‘Alcohol and Poetry: John Berryman and the Booze Talking’, American Poetry Review, reprinted in the Pushcart Prize anthology for 1987; quoted in David Foster Wallace, ‘E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction’, Review of Contemporary Fiction, 13:2 (1993 Summer); dedicated to ‘M.M. Karr’; reprinted in David Foster Wallace, A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again: Little, Brown and Co., 1997.

DCCCVIII

I went to a readers’ theater presentation of The Real Inspector Hound yesterday (which was absurd), and found myself a half-stroll from here. (Thanks, notrelatedtoted!)

Mr Potter, was that poem you wrote about throwing baseballs at a target autobiographical? If so, we need:

  1. A Spokane-to-SoCal plane ticket for Potter;
  2. A copy of Surfing with Mel in Word or PDF format, saved on a flash drive; and
  3. A baseball with a cavity carved in it to accommodate said flash drive.

Now then, Mr Potter: See those big corner windows?