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Catfish Bait


My nephews seem to stir the ground with each step
as hundreds of frogs throw off green-bladed cloaks
and leap to taller grass, a silent retreat sounded
among their amphibious ranks. Evasion
their only maneuver, they best the boys
with wriggled slips from closed fists, from a cell
of interlocked fingers—spring of the hind legs,
slime against sweat, grip becomes ghost in the brush.
But the boys learn timing, work in tandem,
one chase, one capture, funnel to a bottleneck, surround,
master, the genius of the hunt roused,
the wire-barred crate soon thumping
with nervous hops. In them I see a hearkening
back to the first pursuit of animal by human,
a convergence of frustration and thrill,
the budding of strategy and innovation.
The oldest, just eight, asks, Will we use them to fish?
and their father nods, and they ask how, and learn:
a slice down the belly, chin to legs, pry open, hook
through mouth and eye, guts hang beneath.
No surprise, no shock in the boyish faces,
these new hunters return to inspect the prize;
the oldest turns as a hawk glides in to roost,
his brother peels apart crate’s leather-flap rear—
his mercy a faint rustle in the thicket.

Bryn Homuth
While remembering the Waller family camping trip; October 27, 2014

Image: "A Boy Fishing on Rocks"
Oil on Canvas - Date Unknown
Henry Scott Tuke (1858-1929) 


The Boulder-Toss: An Imitation

I have recently be dabbling in the art of imitation, and the following is an attempted imitation of Rudyard Kipling's prose. This, alas, is not to the standards of the notable R. Eric Tippin's, whose imitation can be found here.

I will remember that cold evening on the shores of Tuttle Creek Lake, on the edge of Manhattan and the Tuttle Creek Dam near by. A cool breeze in the late winter-air chilled me. Out from the shores, the water was ice but not solid through, and it took me time to reach the shoreline, it being full of jagged rocks. Then I saw Jason caring heavy stones—smoothed by erosion—then throwing one out onto the ice. The stone made a deep knock but created only a small dent.

Jason was half Anglo-Saxon descent, from his mother’s side, and Hispanic. He was a Kansan, from Oskaloosa near Perry Lake, living once in Emporia and now Manhattan. Jason knew every Highway-24 town between Manhattan and Oskaloosa, and he also knew the Tuttle shoreline. Skipping rocks came easy for him, having lived near a lake most his life, and no stone-shape or throwing-distance deterred him. I had seen him skip rocks from cliffs ten feet over the waters or send stones out that seemed to sit on the waters before they sank. But the ice made it harder.

I picked up a larger stone, and threw it across the ice. Then, upon impact, it broke through, sinking down to the bottom. And the throwing was for us good labor—lifting limestones, wet on the edge; throwing one-by-one across the semi-solid lake. And the effects of our labor—the thinning ice, breaking with each throw; the bouncing rocks, skipping across the thicker ice; the layers of smooth stones, lying across the shore; a deluge of stones, when many smaller stones were shot, creating a succession of sounds—all these things united us to the labor of rock-throwing.

“It’s easy to skip, when the water is frozen,” said Jason, as he threw a rock that stuck out on the ice.

“I’d say. I’ve never seen you make them float before.”

I lifted a large boulder with two hands and drew it up next to my chest—in throwing position. And I said, “Let’s make this float.” And I sent the boulder out toward the ice, pushing with my legs. And it sailed and crashed through, making a splash; then we left, walking on the rocky shore.

Then we traveled north. There was a Great Blue Heron floating above the ice. We were watching the Heron, hopping from rock to rock, keeping eyes on the fowl, until it was out of sight.

“Herons are great, mighty creatures,” said Jason. He stopped hopping, paused and squinted—making his eyes slits—trying to trace the flight of the bird. He was most determined, and he placed hand over eyebrows to shield from the sun showing through the clouds. Then his arm grew tired, and he placed it akimbo, grunting with a “humph!” Up above, the clouds covered the sun, shading the frozen lake, and Jason’s smile turned to frown—not having the Heron in sight. So we traveled north until the rocky shores met sand and there was nothing left to throw onto the ice.

The sun broke from the clouds, but the temperature dropped. We gazed eastward across the lake—rocky cliffs lining the shore; rows of elms, pines, and oaks following; hills, green from melt of the winter-snow—rolling into the distance behind the trees; houses roof-deep in the trees; the sun striking the house-panes and, then, disappearing under clouds, leaving the ridge darker than before. A stone came into view (Jason’s) and struck the ice, and I turned to him.

“How nice would it be to live in one of those houses?”

“That’d be great—though costly. Wouldn’t mind the view on a daily basis.”

“Right.” I inserted hands into pockets (for the cold) and turned south. “Head back?” I asked. No reply. But we both headed that direction, again jumping from stone to stone.

We listened to a desolate world—the soft contact of shoe to stone; the knock of stone with ice—and we headed back to Mahattan. Then we neared Jason’s P.T. Cruiser: Door slamming; keys jangling; engine starting; tires over loose gravel. The desolate world was loud. But Manhattan was louder. On this day—the local Fake Patty’s Day—men were dressed in malachite-green, traveling in hoards to Aggieville Bar District, drinking their fill, stumbling like tired children and yelling. Our homes were near this district, and Jason said to me, “Do you want to go back?”

“No. Let’s go to Observation Point.”

We drove away from the shore and headed toward a hill, overlooking the lake and dam. Then we parked, and gazing out we saw the contrast of two landscapes, the lake and the spillway opposite—cerulean waters shown through patches of ice, crystallizing the lake; opposite the dam, a grey frost covered the spillway whose light-green blended with the tree-leaves. The light-grey sky slowly changed to dark-grey, clouds building and the sun sinking. It began to rain slightly, and we sheltered by a brick wall with a bench and canopy. Sitting, we saw the wet dots on the cement parking lot, and looking up, we gazed south. Through the dripping rain we saw burning lights and buildings, a smokestack above all, firmly placed in a valley. And between the hills, lining the north and south ridge line, lay Manhattan.

Sam Snow,
Written in Manhattan, KS,
September, 2014

Painting: "Stream with Boulders"
By Samuel John Lamorna Birch,
Oil on board, n.d.


Ambler, No. 30 [On The Literary Spirit]

The severe Schools shall never laugh me out of the Philosophy of Hermes that this visible world is but a picture of the invisible.-- Sir T. Browne

At times in this series of essays, I have alluded to the trade at which I toil throughout the week, but I have not fully explained that my trade--that of an educator and literary critic--is one based on the modern philosophy of contradiction. I say contradiction because the modern theory is that a contradiction is not only true but the basis and foundation for all thought. It is a contradiction to say that absolute truth does not exist and then to stake one’s whole life and being on the truthfulness of that statement. In the same way, the modern will prance around and state absurdities like “gender is a fiction” or “race does not actually exist” and then base his entire theory of gender and race on the reality of gender and race. Now, truth may have its foundation in paradox. Man may be most alive when he gives up his life for another. But to waltz around this planet and proclaim that nothing of consequence actually exists is the same as saying the theorist does not exist. And if the theorist does not exist, it becomes increasingly hard to take the theorist seriously--as hard as any other fiction. It would certainly not be such a horrible thing if the theorist was a fiction, for then no one would actually listen to him. But the modern contradiction is that the theorist proclaims that he’s a fiction but very much asks you to treat him as a reality.

Now, theorists of literature who hold this position ought naturally to take little stock in those real theorists and be only concerned with fiction. Philosophies should not be made from Hegel or Heidegger; they should be made from Huck Finn and Boo Radley. The reality, of course, is that the last thing that should be taken seriously in a literature classroom is literature. A modern classroom reading Shakespeare’s Sonnets will talk for forty-five minutes about the (fictional) gender of the recipient and five minutes about the words on the page or love. The unfortunate reality is that the theorist has now trumped the artist. We used to, albeit incorrectly, assert “art for art’s sake.” We now proclaim “theory for theory's sake.” Classes and seminars are devoted to theory instead of art. And the real reason the theorist is so afraid of the artist is because the artist shows the theorist that the most beautiful things in this world are the general truths all men share. The man who is truly literary is that man who acknowledges those common things that bind us and yet can see them as if they were uncommon.


Because much of my time is spent listening to lunatic theories, I try to spend a good deal of time with people who I deem common men--those Joe Gargery’s who walk among us. The academic should do a couple of things each week to escape that geyser of nonsense that springs forth from his colleagues on a daily basis. He ought to spend a good amount of time outside, and he ought to have as many discussions as possible with common men--men that care nothing for theory because common sense is their guide. I say, the modern academic would do well to try out his theory on the janitor. But as I was saying, this past week I thought it wise to go on an epic hike with two friends who know nothing about literary theory but know enough of Tolkien to know beauty when they see it. The hike consisted of treacherous marshes, and we weaved our way through bramble that towered over our heads. It happened that we were in a rather large cove, and peering out to the west, we spotted, about a mile by way of the flight, that area of land that was the corner of the cove and the larger part of the lake. As common men, we decided that it would be foolish not to make way to that area where we would set up a fire for dinner. So we headed out through the marshes and bramble, located in various coves within the larger cover. Thundering sounds proceeded from the nearby army base, and we pretended to believe that old ships were attacking each other across the way.

Over two and a half hours later, we arrived at our destination just as the sun was setting over the northwest banks of the lake. A small boat was within the cove, but presumably after hearing us jabber on about hitching a ride back, it left us. As that sun slowly sank and gave off its final flares, our own fire--a tiny sun in itself--commenced its flames, and two pipes were pulled out of back packs, in which coal black tobacco was also lit making yet two more tiny red suns in our smoking bowls. Our three tiny suns worked in unison with the larger sun as we waited for the fire to die down and produce red coals. I mentioned we should take our shirts off and find a conch so we would know who was allowed to make decisions. Only one of my common friends got the reference, but I must note he only agreed and didn’t say a word about gender.

The sun did descend finally and it became increasingly difficult for us to see. I must note how much we did see, however, even after the sun was firmly set beyond the hills. Dinner was eaten in the shadows of dusk on a flat piece of wood and a spoon made from a stick. We made up some modern, nonsensical poems about the cove but made sure they were very serious, as most modern poetry is. Eventually, the sun completely descended and thousands of new suns shone forth against the black sky--suns that complimented the embers in our bowls and the fire. After pushing the fire off the cliff and packing our bags, we headed back in the cold and dark. The temperature had dropped ten to fifteen degrees, and without a flashlight, it was nigh impossible to see.


We had to once again make our way through the tall bramble, but this time, we did so with only a flashlight as our guide. About three-quarters of the way through, we noticed a rumbling of some sort in the bramble. We froze. We waited. Cautiously walking toward the noise--our destination lie in that direction--we remembered that earlier we heard the sound of coyotes in the distance. But with one mighty thrust the great blue heron appeared from behind the bramble scurrying along the ground with a hurt wing. We were about ten feet from the beast, and its wings and bill looked quite enormous from up so close. A man is fortunate to see these great beasts in their majestic flight. He is even more fortunate to see them perched on a stone like a great king from a short distance. But never had I observed the great heron take on the attitude of fear. It had always looked in control; it had always looked as the authority of the cove. And now here were three bumbling explorers with a flashlight, staring with wide eyes at the majestic creature who could peck our eyes out with its beak--at least four feet long. And yet we are the ones sending fear into the heron. We were the ones who could be ambling about in the wilderness and find great wonder in the world. I say, it is the common man who alone is left to wonder in this world. The theorists have so filled their heads theory, they’ve forgotten that theory is only a sign pointing to a reality. “Theory for theory’s sake” is as helpful as “air for air’s sake.” You necessarily need theory, but if you do not use theory to enjoy literature but literature to enjoy theory, you will only learn to read literature poorly and enjoy bronze over gold. You will, in effect, be a great heron who cannot fly because he believes his wings are made for walking. And if the theory itself is a theory of fiction, then I suppose he will never fly, for he is a heron without wings.

Sam Snow,
Written with a head cold,
October 26, 2014

Transcribed by Adam the Scribe II
In The Catacombs of Kansas State,
October 28, 2014

Painting: "Heron"
By Cedric Lockwood Morris
Oil on canvas, 1941 




Had you been born in the Middle Ages,
you probably would have been a blacksmith,
my eye doctor tells me,
while I try to make sense of the fuzz in everything.
Lenses click delicate
in and out of the phoropter; 

Better with one here, or two?

And the click is a clang, and the delicate harsh,
and I’m hammering white-hot, misshapen metal,
spark showers like geysers, embers cooling
in the dirt. Here I find a me
before the science of the corrective lens,
brow sweat never dry, face streaked with soot,
flexing burn-scarred hands, hunched before the forge.
Each turn on the anvil fashions an edge
still out of focus, trusted only by its heft,
its shape, its glow. A plunge into slack tub,
submerge, smoke of the rapid cool, and out again,
a sheen like the gloss of fresh ink. 

Were I to write him a letter
to mail through time and circumstance—
this might be its salutation,
though I would compose it in the old way:
a wisp of quill tucked between forefinger and thumb,
faint scratch against parchment, measured dips to inkwell. 

Letter finished, I would look out the window,
maybe to watch robins splash and flutter in a birdbath,
maybe to see something else entirely,
but look, my writing arm—sprawled
across the still-drying script, lifted away, rotated,
a helix of black traced over the veins.

Bryn Homuth
In the waiting room of a clinic, Minneapolis, MN
October 22, 2014

"The Blacksmith"
Oil on Panel - 1910
Paul Henry


On Manhattan: An Unpublished Work

It so seems that the unfortunate Father Time has slithered his way into my usual weekend routine, hindering me from composing my weekly Ambler. Thus, I present to you, dear reader, a work I sent to the local papers for publishing that was met with either completely disdain or, what is more likely, neglect. It is a simple bit about the town in which I temporarily reside.

If one happens to be out among the western hills of Manhattan, west of the Seth Child Commons shopping center, and is so inclined to travel up Arbor Drive, turning north onto Warner Park Road, he will meet an open field. And in the field lies a lonely stone in between a black, full-size replica of a trooper and an informational placard about a man and his two wives. This man was Kern Warner.

As I ambled my way to this peculiar spot in the heat of an afternoon, I took in the scenery. To the west was the Miller Ranch subdivision, and, like many spots in Manhattan, one looking out in this direction believes he can see forever along different shades of the green, rolling hills of the central plains.

The east afforded me an equally enjoyable view as I was surrounded by tall grass that in the days gone by ruled the land. The walking path led down to a cluster of trees a wilder imagination might believe to be an enchanted forest.

But my course was not meant for the path, and I made my way through the tall grass to that lone stone, trooper and informational placard. I read about Warner Park – over 80 acres of land situated in between a shopping center and a subdivision. The land is largely undeveloped, and I imagined troopers like the one by my side roaming the landscape and making discoveries.

I thought about how it is becoming harder to make discoveries.

I thought about how if one explored that wooded area in Warner Park he was more likely to find a cheap beer can than two boys making a fort.

But I thought, primarily, about Manhattan.

There is a common notion in our country that Kansas is rather dull, and by consequence, its towns suffer from this same characterization. But the man who believes that Manhattan is dull has probably only ever been to Aggieville and never once stood atop Warner Park Hill by Kern Warner’s memory and the daunting Trooper. He has never looked westward with that Trooper, imagining the valley of the Miller Ranch homes before the development, seeing those luscious green hills as uncharted territory—an immense green sea with stagnant waves. He has never seen the sun sink like a submerged lifeboat sending out flares minutes before it goes down to the depths of that green sea.

He has never stood on the banks of the Blue and been bewildered at its lack of blueness, or ascended the front side of Manhattan hill, singing a war song as if he is conquering the hill and the region, ever ready to stake the “flag of Manhattan” wherever he goes. He has never stood atop the Top of the World and actually believed it to be the top of the world.

He has never seen Manhattan as the world.

But, as an outsider, the memory of Kern Warner’s contribution to Warner Park is the memory of Manhattan, a town that is full of life because it is full of nature. It is a town that preserves areas of land, keeping them relatively undeveloped. In doing this Manhattan invites its citizens to wander outside, to discover the small nooks and crannies that, though small, offer views big enough to catch a grand glimpse of or our world.

Sam Snow,
Written at Kansas State University,
Manhattan, KS,
Early September, 2014

Painting: "Trooper in Full Marching Order"
By Alfred James Munnings
Oil on canvas, n.d.