Thursday, February 26, 2009

Sjáumst Bill: Final chapter of The Saga of the Sage from Minneota

Such sage advice you gave:

"Someone dancing inside us
has learned only a few steps:
the "Do-Your-Work" in 4/4 time,
the "What-Do-You-Expect" Waltz.
He hasn't noticed yet the woman
standing away from the lamp.
the one with black eyes
who knows the rumba.
and strange steps in jumpy rhythms
from the mountains of Bulgaria.
If they dance together,
something unexpected will happen;
if they don't, the next world
will be a lot like this one."

MPR: Minnesota author Bill Holm dies at 65
Photo Brian Peterson, Star Tribune. Thanks Brian.


What is the pain like? says the pretty girl with the clipboard.
Like a serrated bread knife sawing at the top of the rib cage, punctuated with
sudden blows from an ax or a meat cleaver.
What the girl wanted was "not too bad" or "pretty bad", or even "bad", an
anonymous quality, sans detail, sans metaphor.
A little stoicism might have cheered her up.
Are you claustrophobic? She says with another nod at the clipboard.
Of course, I answer, Isn't everyone if they are still alive?
Can I give you something for it?
Only the lead gift in the twilight if that's what it comes to.
Never mind.
How do you feel, she asks, after she has slid my supine body into the tight white sarcophagus.
Like a character in a Poe story.
No, I work for Dr. Moe.
Not much lit in the med-tech course, I suppose.
Lots of people like music, she nods cheerfully.
What have you got?
East listening, soft rock, country...
No Mahler Ninth? No C# minor quartet?
Give me the news, I say. Ashcroft and the collapsing stock market seems about right.
It's noisy, she warns.
She has a gift for understatement.
It's like being squeezed in an airless plastic coffin dropped on the floor of a sheet metal factory
stamping out auto parts or shell casings. Irregular metallic thumping and whanging.
Only an hour left, she says after ten years.
Just lay real still. We're getting good pictures.
Not since the Middle Ages has anyone thought of a machine quite like this,
a modern rack or iron maiden to take pictures of the spine, the organs, the bones, the muscles.
Torquemada would have used it to take pictures of your opinions.
He would have offered his heretics prayer but neither easy listening nor Valium.
He thought it God's will. We think it science.
This is, I suppose, progress of a kind.
One way or another, you wind up diagnosed.
Either that or burned at the stake, another kind of diagnosis.

Bill Holm

from MPR News Cut (thanks Bob):

Update 1:13 p.m. - Garrison Keillor has released this statement:

Bill Holm was a great man and unlike most great men he really looked like one. Six-foot-eight, big frame, and a big white beard and a shock of white hair, a booming voice, so he loomed over you like a prophet and a preacher which is what he was. He was an only child, adored by his mother, and she protected him from bullies and he grew up free to follow his own bent, and become the sage of Minneota, a colleague of Whitman though born a hundred years too late, a champion of Mozart and Bach, playing his harpsichord on summer nights, telling stories about the Icelanders, and thundering about how the young have lost their way and abandoned learning and culture in favor of grease and noise.

He thundered with the best of them though he had a gentle heart. He was an English prof who really loved literature and he could buttonhole you and tell you he'd just finished reading Dickens again and how wonderful it was. He got himself into print pretty well and anyone picking up his "Windows of Brimnes" or "The Music of Failure" or "The Heart Can Be Filled Anywhere On Earth" will get the real Holm.

He hated Minnesota winters and maybe that's what killed him, flying back from beautiful Patagonia to the wind-swept tundra and thinking about having to shovel out his house in Minneota.

I'm glad he got to see Barack elected, which restored some of his faith in his countrymen. I wish I'd been there to catch him as he fell. I hope his Icelandic ancestors are waiting to welcome him to their rocky corner of heaven. I hope his piano goes to someone who will love it as much as he did. I hope that people all across Minnesota will pick up one of his books and see what the man had to say.

Posted by Colleen | February 26, 2009 12:20 PM

It's a sad day -- Holm was a big presence, a marvelous writer, a dear soul, and a great ranter who had no patience for B.S. in any form. I had been looking forward to reading what he'd write in his retirement.

Thanks Media Mike

Not since the untimely passing of Paul Wellstone have I felt like this.

Not Sleeping At Bill Holm's House

In the corner of my narrow room,

There's a double-barreled shotgun,

Which will not go off in this poem.

Reclining on the bedclothes:

A small stuffed bear and pink flamingo,

Which I set aside. Turning back the spread,

I am greeted by red flannel sheets

Bearing a Frosty the Snowman motif.

This bed is too loud to sleep on, and I am

Too wired with coffee and wild ideas to dream

But settle in, anyhow, with a volume by Sandburg,

A poet far better than I had remembered,

Who talks of the tombs and the grass

And passengers rocketing into the dark

Toward strange destinations, like Omaha.

What could be stranger than Omaha?

I'm a passenger, myself, in this crooked old house

Full of books and the ghosts of hot arguments.

Where are we going? The clock says two,

And, out in the yard, a barred owl asks, Who?

Who are you? I answer that I am

A passenger on the Minneota Express,

Bound for points west—Canby and Mars.

I can hear, in the next compartment, my comrade,

My host, the polar bear of American literature,

Cough and hack and growl in his sleep,

Which I envy. I can't count sheep

Or the number of books in this house.

In the outer room, a harpsichord waits

As patiently as a horse-drawn cab

In a story of Sherlock Holmes.

Who done it? Who knocked me out?

And how did it get to be daylight

And Bill banging out hymns

On the downstairs piano, just now

That sweet Shaker tune

"Tis a Gift to be Simple"? Tis! Tis!

Tis also a gift to be complex and ornery,

With a house full of music,

Cigar smoke and whiskey,

And Icelandic sagas

Preserved by farmers

For nearly a thousand years.

Barton Sutter

Let go of the dead now.

The rope in the water,

the cleat on the cliff,

do them no good anymore.

Let them fall, sink, go away,

become invisible as they tried

so hard to do in their own dying.

We needed to bother them

with what we called help.

We were the needy ones.

The dying do their own work with

tidiness, just the right speed,

sometimes even a little

satisfaction. So quiet down.

Let them go. Practice

your own song. Now.

–”Letting Go of What Cannot Be Held Back”, from Playing the Black Piano, Bill Holm, 2004

Mary Divine -St.Paul Pioneer Press:

In Holm's last book, "The Windows of Brimnes," he wrote of why he needed to get away to Iceland's wild beauty each summer:

"After a while, the United States is simply too much: too much religion and not enough gods, too much news and not enough wisdom, too many weapons of mass destruction ... too much entertainment and not enough beauty, too much electricity and not enough light. ... And the worst excess of all: too many wars, too much misery and brutality — reflected as much in our own eyes as in those of our enemies."

Holm's central position in his writing "was that if we just paid a little more attention, read a little bit more and thought more clearly, we could all be doing a lot better," said Rezmerski, who lives in Mankato. "The life of the mind was what he was all about."

Here's what Holm had to say about our deaths, compared with those of box elder bugs: "With us it's different, we think, / each raised to be odd, / the center of his own world, / without which nothing else is; / and it all goes down / with a burst of weeping, / a hollow space in the air / where our body stood."

"For it is life we want. We want the world, the whole beautiful world, alive — and we alive in it. That is the actual god we long for and seek, yet we have already found it, if we open our senses, our whole bodies, thus our souls. That is why I have written, and intend to continue, until someone among you takes up the happy work of keeping the chain letter of the soul moving along into whatever future will come."

No comments: