In his poem The Cabbages of Chekhov, Robert Bly had me again when he wrote that,
“William Blake knew that fierce old man,
irritable, chained, and majestic, who bends over
to measure with his calipers the ruins of the world.”
Despite such a fierce image in his poem, Bly has that way about him where he can rescue you in the end from all the bad news that comes tracked in on the dog’s paws.
With Bly on my mind, I wasn’t all that surprised that something magical was about to happen this past weekend. On the wings of Bly, a sweet little guy with a funny hat stopped in practically unannounced to stay overnight on his pilgrimage home to his adopted southland. This guy is a cartoonist, writer without an editor and guitarist who can’t read music, but can draw good conclusions and jam along to his heart’s content. Amongst his other charming qualities, he doesn’t eat critters or cucumbers, perhaps an unusual dietary combination but we honored his wishes by having an onion tart and green salad ready for his dinner.
He’s a soft speaker and good listener who needs a tad of coaxing to tell his own tales. He was gone the next morning without much fanfare and with few wakes in his track. In the short time he was here, though, he left us with a trace of his life, the good woman and teacher he had married, and the daughter who’s about to jump into the medical fray. And then there was his old dog Nug, short for the nugget he wasn’t looking for over a decade ago but one this same daughter and her friends brought into the family without any questions asked. All that was expected of him was his ceremonial vote in favor of the pup’s name which the ladies had already chosen. And thus Nug joined the pack and got his name by committee. Like most fathers, our friend knew he had been had when told he had nothing further to fret over since the girls would forever look after all of Nug’s needs.
His hat was nearly brimless and came to a high perch above his head. The band was somewhat stained and had once belonged to his father, but had hidden in the closet nearly eight years in mourning. He looked a bit anxious when he reluctantly took it off before dinner and let his pony tail drop free.
He told me earlier not to trouble much in preparation for his visit, unless, of course, I liked trouble. My wife Jody and I were not sure what we were in for when we said we would be delighted if he should stop by. He is a fellow scribbler who told me he thought we had something in common that he sensed in my own jottings. How could you turn down someone who doesn’t eat critters, likes what you write, and has all the good-natured habits of a well-grounded lad who is partial to canines?
He didn’t disappoint us and left us all smiling. He was a calming presence without any sense of presentiment. He smiled spontaneously as he told us some secrets about how to draw by using what people say to shape their outlines. He also had a book of music it had taken him eighteen months to write with just the chords shown as a guide. He showed a particular sweetness in his smile as he gladly accepted a second helping of the Hungarian dessert Jody offered.
When he left after a heavy breakfast of waffles and hash browns, we felt a certain lightness of being. Even the rambunctious dogs warmed to him immediately and seemed to be amiss after he disappeared as quickly as he had shown up. And unlike the fierce old man that William Blake knew, this man measured a world not in ruin but only in constant and amazing surprise.
He’s still moving me to a softer place.