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Up on its side in a winter ditch,
the car huffed and hissed,
undercarriage steaming, a beast
on display, like a beached whale
groaning, sipping breath
from a dried spout. An odd sight, 

the parts you trust but never see,
as though those pistons and valves
were a cross section of the human heart
spread open as it beat,
the exposed inner workings
of chemistry and fluid,
the craft of mechanics and surgeons.
We pushed it back on its wheels,
my friends and I, heard the hot belly cool
as it hit the snow, my own chest  

sparked back to motion
from a breath unknowingly held,
no turn of a key to restart the flow of oxygen,
no sutured stemming of blood.
There was a comfort in watching those mechanisms
disappear beneath the frame, the unknown
returned to its concealed sanctuary,
far from the possibility of its decay. 


Bryn Homuth
In a warm nook of the Snowy North
November 18, 2014

"The Wreck of HMS Anson"
Acrylic on Paper - 1966
Clive Arthur Carter 


Ambler, No. 32 [On Musicals]

Let well weighed Considerations, not stiff and peremptory Assumptions, guide thy discourses, Pen, and Actions. -- Sir Thomas Browne

(c) National Trust, Calke Abbey; Supplied by The Public Catalogue FoundationIt is very true that the commonly held opinions of man are often changing. Man is a very fickle creature, and today's fads will surely fade into obscurity tomorrow. It is, or should be, more surprising that some fads do not fade. That is, we ought to wonder at the strange fact that although the modern theory denies human nature, it is human nature and all the glory that comes with it -- love, virtue, justice -- that has always remained. I do not want to merely state the obvious here, but I find myself this morning in a state of grave guilt regarding an opinion I had held on to very tightly. I used to hold with an iron fist that the musical was the lowest of dramatic genres because the music was constantly interrupting the story. But more than that, I was generally annoyed that it took the singer three or four times as long to say the same thing that could have been said in three or four sentences. What I failed to recognize, and have since come to embrace, is that perhaps our silly modern ways stifle the music that should pour out of our spirit at random intervals. If the musical has anything to say to us today, it is not so much that we do not sing as it is that we do not sincerely believe there is anything worthy of song.


This past week I experienced my first live musical in quite some time. I must say, it was so well done from a musical perspective that one almost got annoyed that the dialogue interrupted the song. Indeed, Sweeney Todd, is a powerful story, but it would not have been half as powerful if everything was not put into song. It's one thing to confer with Mrs. Lovett that you will make your victims into meat pies; it's another thing to sing about it for five minutes using puns. Perhaps it is a juvenile lesson to be learned from such a play, but it remains a lesson. Perhaps I speak from complete ignorance on the matter when I say that (despite our modern worship of communication) the number one problem with the modern marriage is communication. Perhaps it is a silly thought that our communication troubles might be helped if we spoke in parables and puns, if we regarded every speech as a musical interlude. Better, perhaps, if spouses did away with the pedantic insistence on clear prose in the kitchen and spoke in poetry set to music. Perhaps Lewis was on to something when he had Aslan sing creation into being. It is true that our Lord chose to speak to us in parables.

Now one might say that my marriage advice is founded on wishful thinking , and I tend to agree. I can no more think up a song on a whim than I can set it to music. But it still holds that our mindset toward those seemingly modern tasks of asking the husband to take out the trash could be approached musically:

I've asked you three times now!
If you forget again, I'll have a cow!
If you forget again, throw yourself in the can,
And make good friends with our garbage man!

This would naturally lead into a back and forth sing-off between husband and wife with a chorus that mused on the philosophical aspects of taking out the trash in a marriage:

Husband: Trash! Trash! Why are wives so rash!
Wife: Men! Men! Their heads I want to smash!
Husband: The bags are O' so heavy! They smell like moldy jelly!
Wife: The smell's no worse than you and your beer belly!
Together: And your beer belly!

As the song progresses, neighbors would obviously join in and the final chorus would be sung by multiple men and women. As should be noted, nothing is really resolved here, and in fact the lines probably encourage frustration with taking out the trash. But more importantly neither will ever consider taking out the trash the same again.

Perhaps a better example could be taken from the world of work. Too often does work place communication occur that is straightforward and to the point. I've said it before, and I will say it again: if we are to perpetually live in this new age of communication where we are constantly and forever communicating with people we ought to, in the very least, do so poetically. Thirty years ago, before the morbid age of emails, secretaries would have to type up memos and print them off for important information like a call to clean the microwave. Now we have email, and the secretary can supposedly get more done by sending off a quick letter through the ether. This has at least three terrible drawbacks: (1) It does nothing for efficiency; (2) The secretary can come across as annoyed; and (3) No one would reads the email. But I say that if we are going to insist on that horrid email as the means of communicating such an important piece of information, we should at least train secretaries to use the time they normally would spent printing off the document and conduct the email in poetry:

You all have noticed the microwave,
It looks like a man who's never shaved,
The food he eats sticks to his beard,
The excess on his lips is smeared,
And when he's done, he belches out loud,
The stink allows him to weave through crowds.
So when you're done using the microwave,
Don't be like this man who never shaves,
Cover your food so it doesn't splatter,
Or we'll beat you till your bones shatter.
But if it splatters, wipe with a rag,
Or else on your head we'll place a bag,
And on your desk hang a banner-
"This Man Wasn't Taught Common Manners"

That might just do the trick, and it's probable that the emails would not only be read but looked forward to. Nevertheless, would it be even superior if the workplace consisted of bosses bursting out in song to relay common information?

Boss: The quarterly numbers are in, my man!
         It seems that you will surely be canned!
Employee: But I'm a harder worker than lazy Rick!
                Not only that, he's a huge prick!
Boss: I know that's true but I caught you today!
         You heated your food, but wiped not the tray!
Chorus: I have been fired, O' what a fate!
             Had I been careful to clean my plate!
Everyone: Had he been careful to clean his plate!

The qualities that music possesses will never go out of style or lose their rhetorical significance. A song gets the same message across and takes four or five times as long. More importantly, there are a good amount of very pointless details that add to the message that mere prose cannot convey. I once had a dear friend who told me that what was missing in his life was a soundtrack for every moment. Well, I agree, but now that I think about it, that man does have a soundtrack to his life: his musical soul. If we all trained ourselves to speak in metered rhyme, using as many puns and unnecessary illustrations as possible, the world would be a better place. It is true that less would get done, but then that which did get done would get done correctly. It is too common for mothers to say they are "only mothers" or for plumbers to say they are "only plumbers." I say, it is far better to be a mother who sings to her children or a plumber who uses his windpipes to sing about sink pipes than another hurried modern who is far too busy to speak in rhyme.

Sam Snow,
Composed at Thee Ole Midshipman,
Manhattan, KS
November 16, 2014

Transcribed by Adam the Scribe II
At Kansas State University,
Manhattan, KS
November 18, 2014

Painting: "A Musical Jester"
By British (English) School,
Oil on canvas, n.d.


Ambler, No. 31 [On the Merits of Travel]

Some dreams I confess may admit of easie and feminine Exposition. – Sir Thomas Browne

I have in my lifetime encountered numerous individuals, usually world travelers, who proclaim with certainty that “all U.S. cities are virtually the same.” Now, it is true in the sense that globalization--that horrible devil created by increased technology, notably the Internet--has made it so that it is easier for a man to not have to leave his comfort zone, whether he is in San Diego or Maine. But though globalization is a terror in society, it does not follow that all U.S. cities are virtually the same. One could certainly say the same of any other country. And while it is still of some wonder that those same dreadful chain restaurants are found wherever you go; it is of even more wonder that the man behind the counter does not live in your hometown. I find it no less fascinating that men actually live in Fargo or Fort Worth simply because both places have a McDonalds. That people call the coast home is a mystery deep and full of complexity, almost as confounding as native Topekans.


So it happens that whenever I get a chance to travel, I am amused that people not only live in the town but that they find it a rather normal place to live. But truly there is very little that is normal about Brodhead, Wisconsin and even more abnormality exists in Waterloo, Iowa; people from Chattanooga are rather odd, and I'm not sure people in New Jersey smile. But the merits of travel exist in realizing, often in different ways, that perhaps it is not the residents of Bartlesville, Oklahoma who are so odd as it is you who are an oddity. It is common for travelers to walk around and denounce the practices of those from another town; it is not until the traveler returns home that he realizes how truly unique and uncouth his own home is; it is the settled man who never leaves who cannot perceive that the barber from down the street is actually a fairy with sheers and the postman a daily (though less jolly) St. Nick.


Thus it was as I got off the tiny plane and returned home from a short journey. Whether the plane or the trip was shorter is tough to tell, but I felt as if the passengers were being squeezed out of the plane like toothpaste from its tube, and the local airport was equally as tiny. Indeed, our local airport is about one tenth the size of any of the fifty airports in the greater Los Angeles area. If anyone was to tell you that Los Angeles was not a strange and wild place, they would be very wrong. Los Angeles is not even America; it is a different country. If the residents of that land complain about the traffic, well, I say they get what they deserve. For in Southern California all men live in one big house. That is, there is so little space between any buildings that if a young man were to throw stones at his beloved’s window, he is likely to see that stone ricochet off her window and hit the neighbors’; he should plan to court the woman who happens to live next to the judge, to make the elopement process that much easier. But all this is a mute point; for the star-crossed lover in Southern California could never actually throw stones at his beloved’s window unless he had a peculiar skill at squeezing into tiny cracks and incredible accuracy with stone throwing that did not end with the stone coming back down on him.

So I say people in LA all live in one house; they practically invite multitudes to live in crammed-in boxes; they design the city thus and then complain that people live in the houses they built. But perhaps it is even more wild that the people of Southern California do not all flock to the beach. The one truly bright spot in the land is the sea. The sea is endless possibilities; it is a blue backdrop on that which any number of adventures can be painted. I never cease to stand on some shore and imagine all the men those waters have consumed; I never cease to look out and contemplate what the deepest parts may be; I never cease to think of the myriads of creatures crawling along those deep and unexplored caverns; I never cease to pretend that I can see, far across those waters, the next shore; and in all this pondering out there in Southern California behind me was a mass of humanity running around and ignoring the wild waves of the sea. It seems as if these days everyone is in a hurry to be in a hurry; it seems that even our recreation is hurried. But the hurried man is the man who will never contemplate, and the man who does not contemplate is the man who does not wonder.


A man who returns home after a journey can see his home from two perspectives. He notices at least one thing about his home that is lacking, one thing that he never noticed before; he notices at least one thing that is superior to all the other places, usually something he did not before notice. And for most travelers the thing that is lacking is often perceived as a negative, and unless he is careful, this may breed discontentment. If he is contemplative, however, he will see that even what his home lacks is a superior quality. It may very well be that when I arrived back at that tiny airport from Southern California, a certain dullness hovered about the atmosphere. That is, I recognized not for the first time that the natural colors of the plains are rather muted. At times, the sun leaves us here for days; in late autumn the dying leaves fall from the trees and create a dull brown color on the gray backdrop of the sky. The cornfields no longer have their bright green stalks and even the pasturelands look more brown and muted these days. But then my contemplative soul took comfort in the fact that so few cars were out on the highway and that my neighbors did not live with me. And then I thought about that horrible city of Hollywood--how the strip is lit up like a big lamp used to catch unsuspecting flies, how though it is lit up, the people are all dead. And I thought that though the plains may be muted they may still be flashy. The limbs of a naked tree may be brown but they are a vibrant brown; they are a vibrant brown because they are not neon blue. They are alive because spring always follows winter. We might think of the leafless trees surrounding us this winter as dead men prophesying new life. It is only by seeing a tree slowly die that we can truly appreciate its slow rebirth. It is only through the muted colors of autumn that we can get winter. It is only in winter that those muted colors can be covered with a layer of very bright and noisy snow.

Sam Snow,
Written at Thee Ole’ Midshipman,
Manhattan, KS
November 9, 2014

Transcribed by Adam the Scribe II
Manhattan, KS
November 11, 2014

Painting: "An Autumn Afterglow"
By Alfred East,
Oil on canvas, 1886


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.