Friday, February 29, 2008


"But for now it was ashes and graves. This had been a good village."
—page 60, The Translator: A Tribesman's Memoir of Darfur by Daoud Hari

The Translator traverses familiar terrain. True, we may not have visited Darfur before. True, Daoud Hari was certainly not our guide. But, we have visited similar places. We have visited the killing fields of Rwanda in Philip Gourevitch's We Wish To Inform You that Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families: Stories from Rwanda, we have heard tales of terror, rescue, and redemption from Valentino Achak Deng in Southern Sudan in Dave Egger's What is the What: The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng, and we have experienced firsthand the roles of victim and perpetrator of violence in Liberia in Ishmael Beah's A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier.

Yet, this is new territory as well. The Translator is a slender and sparse volume. It lacks much of the research, historical detail, and knowledge of local and international politics that fill the other three books. Its primary strength, however, lies in the oral history of its storyteller, Daoud Hari. His words, as related to Dennis Burke and Megan McKenna, relate his story in a humble manner, which focuses on family, village, and community. His heart truly grieves for his people.


"We walked through a strange world of occasionally falling human limbs and heads. A leg fell near me. A head thumped to the ground farther away. Horrible smells filled the grove like poison gas that even hurts the eyes. And yet this was but the welcome to what we would eventually see: eighty-one men and boys fallen across one another, hacked and stabbed to death in that same attack."
—page 112, The Translator: A Tribesman's Memoir of Darfur by Daoud Hari

Another strength of Hari's memoir is that he presents us with the violence, horror, and carnage of Darfur without resorting to cinematic violence. The above passage is as graphic as it gets. It would have filled pages in the books by Gourevitch, Eggers, and Beah. Instead, Hari brings us to the violence and laments and mourns. He is asking us to do the same.

He is part of a group of Zaghawa survivors who interview their fellow survivors under the auspices of the United Nations and non-governmental organizations in the refugee camps of N'Djamena, Chad. He only presents a few of the 1,134 stories that his group collected during their interviews. He only needs to present a few because the rape, torture, slaughter, and decimation of those few are representative of the whole.

After this, he places his own life in jeopardy, once again highlighting the community over the individual, by acting as a translator and guide for foreign journalists who are trying to make the international community aware of the genocide. After reading the final chapters of his story, it is amazing that he cares about anyone at all. His spirit shines through in the final paragraphs, in the final sentences. It is still vibrant and strong, even amidst its experienced brokenness and loss. He asks, "What can one person do?" The answer—if we can use his own life, his own story, as example—is that there is plenty that one person can do: live life fully, love those around you, and act in justice and mercy.

[Part 1] [Part 2]

Wednesday, February 27, 2008


"There is never enough help sent to solve the problems of poor people, but this effort did help many women at some camps. And it made me feel that I could do something."

—page 87, The Translator: A Tribesman's Memoir of Darfur by Daoud Hari

Hari's memoir is not my first encounter with the horrors of warfare and civil unrest in postcolonial Africa, although this is the first book I have read on the violence specific to the Darfur region of Sudan. Therein lies my problem. Two recent books have influenced my reading of any books about African conflicts that followed them. One is nonfiction, one is a fictionalized retelling of an oral history: We Wish To Inform You that Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families: Stories from Rwanda by Philip Gourevitch and What is the What: The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng by Dave Eggers. The problem is that both are so detailed, so rich and dense, so well-informed, so well-researched, that I have to find the voice that lies in the current book. I have to give it room to breathe and live on its own. This was my main struggle with The Translator.

This was also my main struggle with A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah. I read the book shortly after the experience of What is the What. Beah's book was a very well-crafted firsthand account of the horrors of civil war, both as victim and perpetrator of violence. The problem was that images and information from What is the What kept influencing my reading of A Long Way Gone.

Therefore, I had to sit and think about The Translator to allow it to simmer and steep. I needed to allow Hari's voice to emerge from the chorus and echoes of the voices of Gourevitch, Deng/Eggers, Beah, and the myriad others.


The Translator is an oral account given to the two people who wrote the words down—Dennis Burke and Megan McKenna. In that sense, Hari is the author and Burke and McKenna are scribes. This is the story of Daoud Hari, even if the specific words on the page are not his. (And, I don't know for certain whether or not liberties were taken with his tale or if the words are verbatim. If the tale is true, does it matter?)

The book is different from What is the What because the words of Hari appear to be his own. The cadence and rhythm and language feel like a story being told to the reader, rather than the reader simply reading the story. I wrestled with this for the first third of the book, until I settled into Hari's style of storytelling. By then, his voice was clear. I heard it. I understood it, as much as I could. His tale is foreign to me in many ways.

The most refreshing piece of reading this particular tale of survival in the midst of civil war in postcolonial Africa is that it is relatively "uncinematic." This was also my experience with The Farther Shore. The brutality in the book is difficult enough. It doesn't need to be splashed across the page in Technicolor crimson. Images of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay came to mind when reading the torture scenes. Fortunately, Hari doesn't spend too much time in the midst of them. And, really, how can one express what is happening to one's self, in the midst of torture? How do you capture the "scene" in words? It seems to me, that words ultimately fail.

[Part 1] [Part 3]

Tuesday, February 26, 2008


"'Shooting people doesn't make you a man, Daoud,' he said. 'Doing the right thing for who you are makes you a man.' So he walked me back to town and I returned to school. I became interested in English because of a wonderful teacher, and I became lost in the classic books of England and America."
—page 17, The Translator: A Tribesman's Memoir of Darfur by Daoud Hari

In the interest of an honest review, full disclosure of my biases and prejudices is necessary.

First, the book was sent to me by Random House as part of LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program. Therefore, I received it for free.

Second, I believe that I was chosen for this particular book due to some of the books in my Library Thing catalog. Some of these books include:

*What is the What: The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng by Dave Eggers
The book is a fictionalized account of the stories told by Deng to Eggers of his life in wartorn Sudan. It is one of the most powerful memoirs that I have ever read. The fact that it is told through the words of another person does not diminish its impact.
[011207, 011507, 011907]

*A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah
This is written by Beah's own hand. The book details his time as a boy soldier for rebel groups in Liberia. It is in many ways more disturbing due to Beah's recruitment to fight the war as a young teenager. It is amazing that he is able to overcome his drug use and the violence of warfare as a perpetrator of that very violence.

*Landscapes of War: From Sarajevo to Chechnya by Juan Goytisolo
Landscapes of War is a collection of essays written for the Spanish daily newspaper El País. Especially relevant to the conversation surrounding The Translator are the seven essays on Algeria.

*Poor People by William T. Vollmann
Poverty breeds the seeds of conflict and war. Most of the wars in postcolonial Africa concern resources. The group that controls resources wields power with the "West," the "First World." Those without starve. Vollmann examines many different causes and effects of poverty. Warfare is but one of many.
[042707, 043007]

*The Farther Shore by Matthew Eck
This war novel is experienced from the vantage of US soldiers caught "behind" enemy lines in a large city of an unnamed African country, but hinted at Mogadishu, Somalia. The novel is crisp and brutal, without being cinematic. The poverty, even though fictional, is palpable.

Third, there are additional books that inform my conversation with The Translator. Some of these books include:

*We Wish To Inform You that Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families: Stories from Rwanda by Philip Gourevitch
Gourevitch presents the historical background of the Rwanda genocide, as well as the stories of slaughter from the killing fields. He visits the haunts of the dead and interviews survivors. His narrative is well-informed, relevant, and vital.

*An Afghanistan Picture Show: Or, How I Saved the World by William T. Vollmann
One of Vollmann's most important pieces of nonfiction explores the world of mujahadeen fighters in Afghanistan and Pakistan in their war against the Soviet Army. Vollmann addresses his own political ignorance, while exploring the reasons that drive these fighters to defend their homeland.

Now that these pieces are in place, the conversation can begin...

[Part 2] [Part 3]

Monday, February 25, 2008


Christmas Pale Ale was not very successful. A recent bottle tasted better after additional bottle conditioning, but still was nowhere near stellar. CPA was, however, given the title of Official Beverage of "The Island"—the kitchen island! The friend B. even made a sign declaring such. He removed the label from his empty bottle of TWT CPA, scanned it, added the aforementioned appellation, and planted the sign in the middle of the kitchen island.

Not only did he make the sign for TWT CPA, but he finished off the last four bottles of it. And, he drank them while seated at the kitchen island, on his own bar stool brought from The Lair. As his wife stated, the stool was "already conformed to his ass." He called it "comfort."

He was a good award show host. He was funny, sarcastic, and respectful. He read the audience well and kept things moving along. He ensured that one of the award recipients was allowed to give her acceptance speech, after she had been previously "cut off" by the music in a previous segment.

Everyone present answered movie trivia questions or identified movies from sound clips played on an iPod and home theater system. Categories included "Jerry Bruckheimer Films" of which I scored 0 of 6 points, "Chick Flicks" of which I scored 3 of 6 points, "Soundtracks," "Comedy," "Grey's Anatomy Stars," and "Steve Carrell." I scored 38 overall points out of a possible 72, which was a fair showing. I believe the highest score was 58.

He was a good award show party host. We watched the Academy Awards on DVR, with a lag time of ten to fifteen minutes behind the actual show. This allowed us to skip all commercials, the three Enchanted musical numbers, and some of the extraneous filler material. It also allowed us to concentrate on the awarding of Oscars, acceptance speeches, Oscar Jeopardy, and the various potluck items—spaghetti stoup, won ton appetizers, the wife's bite-size cakes, beer, wine.

All in all, it was a fun evening, especially considering I had only seen one nominated film—Documentary Feature nominee Sicko by Michael Moore—and that I didn't win a door prize this year. I drew Cate Blanchett for Best Actress in a Leading Role for Elizabeth, who did not win her category. Hence, I did not win any money. There is always next year!

Saturday, February 23, 2008


Bud Light, a Pale Lager by Anheuser-Busch Companies

12 ounce can. A friend was celebrating his fortieth birthday. A surprise party was thrown for him. Bud Light was the beer of choice. I had never previously drank a Bud Light. A Budweiser, yes; a Bud Light, no. I figured that it couldn't be that bad. It was. I should have had the punch.

The aroma was that of skunky bad breath, with a very faint hint of aluminum. (Thank you, can.) The flavor was almost non-existent. It tasted like fizzy, dirty water. The palate was horrible—thin and watery.

In the future, I will definitely pass. I would rather drink water—clean water!

Thursday, February 21, 2008


My grandfather was fearful at times. He would forget the promises of resurrection that he held onto with his simple Methodist Christian faith. Toward the end, his eyes would fill with terror at the prospect of being alone. A week before he died, I told him that I was going home. He gripped my arm as tight as he could and informed me that he was home. I assured him that, yes, he was home, but that I needed to go home, to my house, and that [name] and [name] and [name] were staying with him. The three of them also had to assure him that only I was leaving. They were not going anywhere, and neither was he. As death approached, he forgot the power of God that sustained Elijah, Elisha, John, and Jesus, and that I believe also sustains each of us gathered here today, and that sustained my grandfather through the process of dying.

And, then, my grandfather remembered it, or, perhaps, saw it anew. I visited him a couple of days before he died, and, when I entered the room, [name] told me that I had just missed the biggest smile he had ever seen on my grandfather. My grandfather had opened his eyes, looked up at the ceiling, and smiled at something only he saw. I will entertain that he had a glimpse of the glory of God, even as he lay there dying.


It is difficult for me to escape the sadness that surrounds the death of my grandfather. It is difficult for me to feel God's presence in the midst of mourning, even as I know it is there, it is here, somewhere. I need these texts, these stories, these images of God's power and presence and love as much as anyone, because something has changed and will never be the same. With the mantle given to one generation, another mantle is passed to the generation that follows, and another to the generation that follows it. With the mantle comes responsibility, and, hopefully, a new maturity. Increase and decrease. Decrease and increase. Life and death. Death and, hopefully, new life.


I want to end with two short pieces about my grandfather and grandmother.

They purchased their burial plot many years ago. Their coffins were to be stacked one on top of the other in the hole. The joke was that if my grandmother died first, then my grandfather had to promise that her coffin would be removed, his would be placed in the hole, and then her coffin placed on top of his. She wanted to “be on top.” I understand that her wish will be honored.

My grandparents used to go to barn dances when they were young adults. In fact, their first date was a barn dance at Butler Cove. It was also a barn dance at Butler Cove where my grandfather proposed to my grandmother. She took an entire minute to accept! Throughout the years, they continued to dance together. After my grandmother's strokes left her only able to shuffle about with help, my grandfather would take her hand a couple of times each day and they would dance around their living room to “You Are My Sunshine.” I imagine the great joy and love that they felt for one another in those moments of simple abandon and intimacy, after decades of being in each other's company.

So, I hope that after a short sleep in their grave together, upon the second coming of Christ, that they are raised up to dance together once again—renewed, restored, resurrected in the life of Christ, basking in the glory of God, with “You Are My Sunshine” playing for their dance. But, that is for an anticipated, hoped for, place and time to come.

Today, rest in peace, grandpa. This room is testament to the life that you lived and the lives that you touched. You were, and are, deeply loved. You will be remembered.


Eulogy is by Troy's Work Table and was delivered to a full funeral home at the paternal grandfather's funeral service. The picture was taken by Troy's Work Table at the same.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he spent some time there with them and baptized. John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim because water was abundant there; and people kept coming and were being baptized—John, of course, had not yet been thrown into prison. Now a discussion about purification arose between John’s disciples and a Jew. They came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, the one who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you testified, here he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” John answered, “No one can receive anything except what has been given from heaven. You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah, but I have been sent ahead of him.’ He who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. For this reason my joy has been fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease.” The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks about earthly things. The one who comes from heaven is above all. He testifies to what he has seen and heard, yet no one accepts his testimony. Whoever has accepted his testimony has certified this, that God is true. He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. The Father loves the Son and has placed all things in his hands. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but must endure God’s wrath.
—John 3:22-36

I asked my grandfather if there were any Biblical texts that he wanted me to use today. He told me that I could choose whatever texts I wanted. I chose the texts from First and Second Kings and the Gospel of John because I feel that they speak many things to us about my grandfather's life, his death, and the presence of God throughout both. I am not sure that I will expound upon them as well as they deserve, but, here we go anyway.


Growing up, I always thought of my grandfather as very “traditional.” And, in many ways, he was. He was the head of the household, even if my grandmother held much of the power in the family. He worked, while she watched the children, cleaned the house, and kept up appearances in the community. He was the man and she was the woman. He was the husband and she was the wife. She cooked dinner. He ate it. She washed clothes. He wore them.

Then, the change came. My grandmother had a stroke, which greatly diminished her capacity to do the things she once could. Strokes that followed left her increasingly disabled. I watched as my grandfather learned how to cook and clean and wash clothes. I watched as he learned to run the various pieces of medical equipment that my grandmother required in her last couple years. He knew how to run and maintain those machines better than some of the nurses. He attended to the needs of my grandmother in ways that I never thought him capable. His love for her was made manifest in the tenderness that he expressed to this woman that he loved dearly. If my grandmother was Christ crucified, then my grandfather was Christ the caregiver, the healer. God was made present in weakness and in love.

Then, another change. I remember thinking that my grandfather would not live long after the death of my grandmother. He was extremely depressed and I imagined him dying soon after the loss of my grandmother, which happens to many older men who lose a wife of many decades. And, I believe that he would have, except that he met a woman, his girlfriend [name]. He became like a teenage boy again. It was a resurrection of sorts. I remember when he came to tell me about his “friend.” He was worried that I would think that he was not honoring the life that he had lived with grandma. He was worried about what his relationship with [name] looked like to me. I assured him that I would be happy if he was happy. He was. I “gave him my blessing.”

Then, another change. He was diagnosed with his terminal cancer. He was told that he would feel fine for a while and that he would then fade away. He knew what this entailed, having taken care of my grandmother during her illness and decline. He lived his life fully, day by day—visiting [name], going to dances, watching Mariner's games, playing cards, and serving as an officer of his veteran's group. His own decline soon began.

Then, another change. He became weak enough that it was time to hire hospice care and live-in caregivers, in order that he could die in the comfort of his own home. The mantle was passed from generation to generation. As my grandfather decreased, the role of his sons increased. As my grandfather decreased, his reliance on others increased. As my grandfather decreased, the presence of God increased. His home was filled with the activity of love.

His son [name] checked in on him every day, helping attend to his needs, even though they were oftentimes quotidian and mundane. His son [name] took time off from work to come and sit with him. His daughter [name] stopped in before or after work to see how he was doing. Housekeepers came by to clean his home. Nurses stopped by to check his medications and health. He was groomed and given baths. His four live-in caregivers—[name], [name], [name], and [name]—doted on him, fed him, changed his bedding and clothing, gave him medication. I will especially remember and cherish moments of the relationship and interaction of my grandfather with his primary caregiver [name], who was also present in his final moment on this earth. [Name] was gentle, yet firm. [Name] would cajole and coax my grandfather to eat, would caress his forehead and hair when he was in discomfort or short of breath, and would tenderly call him “buddy.” Grandchildren and great-grandchildren and nieces and nephews visited him. [Name] would cook him meals and sit with him at night.

Once again, I saw Christ crucified in my grandfather, lying in his bed, weak and tired, and Christ the caregiver, the healer, in many guises—children tending to the need of their father, caregivers sacrificing their own sleep to attend to their patient, a woman worried about her boyfriend, family members sitting in a room just being present to one in need. The most precious moments that will stay with me, though, are those of my father and my uncle tending to the needs of their father—holding his hand, stroking his cheek, ruffling his hair, joking with him, embracing him, kissing him.


Eulogy is by Troy's Work Table and was delivered to a full funeral home at the paternal grandfather's funeral service. The picture was taken by Troy's Work Table at the same.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


So Elijah set out from the cave on the mountain of God, and found Elisha son of Shaphat, who was plowing. There were twelve yoke of oxen ahead of him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and threw his mantle over him. He left the oxen, ran after Elijah, and said, “Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.” Then Elijah said to him, “Go back again; for what have I done to you?” He returned from following him, took the yoke of oxen, and slaughtered them; using the equipment from the oxen, he boiled their flesh, and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out and followed Elijah, and became his servant.
—1 Kings 1:19-21

Now when the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here; for the Lord has sent me as far as Bethel.” But Elisha said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel. The company of prophets who were in Bethel came out to Elisha, and said to him, “Do you know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?” And he said, “Yes, I know; keep silent.” Elijah said to him, “Elisha, stay here; for the Lord has sent me to Jericho.” But he said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they came to Jericho. The company of prophets who were at Jericho drew near to Elisha, and said to him, “Do you know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?” And he answered, “Yes, I know; be silent.” Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here; for the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.” But he said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them went on. Fifty men of the company of prophets also went, and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan. Then Elijah took his mantle and rolled it up, and struck the water; the water was parted to the one side and to the other, until the two of them crossed on dry ground.

When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you.” Elisha said, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.” He responded, “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not.” As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven. Elisha kept watching and crying out, “Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” But when he could no longer see him, he grasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces.

He picked up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. He took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, saying, “Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” When he had struck the water, the water was parted to the one side and to the other, and Elisha went over. When the company of prophets who were at Jericho saw him at a distance, they declared, “The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha.” They came to meet him and bowed to the ground before him. They said to him, “See now, we have fifty strong men among your servants; please let them go and seek your master; it may be that the spirit of the Lord has caught him up and thrown him down on some mountain or into some valley.” He responded, “No, do not send them.” But when they urged him until he was ashamed, he said, “Send them.” So they sent fifty men who searched for three days but did not find him. When they came back to him (he had remained at Jericho), he said to them, “Did I not say to you, Do not go?”
—2 Kings 2:1-17


[Name] was born in [City], Oklahoma on November 16, 1921 to [name of his father] and [name of his mother]. He died in his home, in [City], Washington, just after midnight on Tuesday, February 12, 2008. He was 86 years old. He lived a long life that was filled with amazing stories and experiences, many of which seem almost unreal. As he himself writes, “Just by luck I am still here. I must have nine lives like a cat.” He wrote that twelve years ago.

He was left alone on the family farm at the age of eleven, when his father and stepmother died within two weeks of one another from pneumonia, and his six siblings went to live with other relatives. He tended a small garden, hunted squirrels, and relied on the charity of neighbors and his uncle [name]. At the age of fifteen, he came to Washington state with his sister [name], her husband [name], and their children. The following year, he lied about his age in order to join the Civilian Conservation Corps. He helped with the construction of Millersylvania Park in Olympia, Washington. In May 1942, his draft notice arrived. He joined the Army as a paratrooper of the 82nd Airborne Division, [battalion number] Battalion, Company [company number]. He made jumps with his company in North Africa, Sicily, Italy, and France before being captured by the Germans on D-Day. He was a prisoner of war until liberated by the Russians on the last day of January 1945, and released to American forces two months later. Shortly after his return to the United States, he married the love of his life, [name], and had three children. He worked as a rigger in the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, and could tie amazing knots rather quickly.

He was an Okie who traveled to Washington in the wakes of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. And, even though Okie is a derisive term, he owned it. He was, in my estimation, a man of the frontier in many ways.

He was part Native American, something that the family kept quiet for many years, but that informed his rugged handsomeness.

He loved to read westerns, especially Louis L'Amour.

He loved yodeling—both to listen to and to attempt on his own. He liked country and western and bluegrass music. He liked to dance. He could hoot like no one else I know, while he raised and wiggled his brow. Woo woo!

He could make a blade of grass whistle when he held it in his hands and blew upon it. He had a scar on one hand from a pop bottle that exploded near him. He had a scar on his other hand from where he almost accidentally chopped his thumb off with a hatchet. He survived the explosion of a building in Italy.

He was a jack-of-all-trades. He fixed Volkswagens. He repaired bicycles. He gardened. He pruned and sold Christmas trees. Many of you in this room have had one of his trees in your home during the holidays. He fished for trout and salmon. He liked to camp. He traveled around the United States with my grandmother, visiting friends and family and war buddies.

He was awarded the Purple Heart and POW Medal, among many others, for his military service. He was an unashamed Democrat. He disliked Ronald Reagan and both George Bushes as presidents. He thought that they were too conservative, too unfair to the poor and marginalized, and too quick to go to war to solve problems. Having fought in a war, he hoped that his children and grandchildren would never have to see combat. And, he felt that his service to his country gave him every right to criticize the policies of the country that he had fought for. He was a proud American.

Recently, I've heard whispering of his sinful side as well. He was mischievous as a youth, quite often getting into trouble with his best friend [name]. He set fire to a pile of leaves in the garage of his childhood home with his brother [name]. He was an accomplice to violence, even if he didn't participate in it, and that is uncertain. He did, for instance, hide the brass knuckles used in an unfair fight. I have witnessed his dark side, too. Although he rarely got angry, when he did, then “watch out!” My brother and some of my cousins can definitely attest to this. But for the most part, he was quiet and gentle.

He said that the favorite period of his life was “married life. [I] enjoyed [name] your grandma, sons [name] and [name], and [name]. And, most all my grandkids. [I] had more time to see them grow.” He loved his family, and he especially loved his wife [name]. They were married for fifty-seven years until her death in June 2003.

He was father, grandfather, great-grandfather; brother and son; neighbor, coworker, baseball coach; soldier, rigger, Christmas tree farmer, congregant at [name] Methodist Church. I look out at the faces in this room and I see stories and memories and good times shared with my grandfather. His life was lived well.


Eulogy is by Troy's Work Table and was delivered to a full funeral home at the paternal grandfather's funeral service. The picture was taken by Troy's Work Table at the same.

Monday, February 18, 2008


I have struggled with this eulogy for my paternal grandfather [the paternal grandfather's name]. It isn't that the idea of writing and delivering his eulogy was daunting, even though it was, and is. I have written and delivered one for each of my grandmothers—one four-and-one-half years ago and one four months ago. The struggle came in the fact that each of those eulogies was written rather quickly, and at the request of my parents and uncles and aunts on behalf of their departed mothers. This eulogy was requested by my grandfather himself a few weeks ago, as he began to really notice the physical effects brought about by the tumor that grew in his chest, and as he faced the prospect of his imminent death.

He initially made the request through my father, which allowed both my grandfather and I some distance from the reality of what loomed ahead. Then, a couple of weeks later, he asked me directly, in person. He was weaker, and very cognizant of what was happening to him—of sound mind, if not body. I assured him that I would be honored to deliver his eulogy, even as I was deeply saddened by the prospect. I also promised him that I would not write it until he was dead. I have kept my promise.

Needless to say, even though I kept the promise to not write about his life and death until he was indeed dead, there has been a lot of time to prepare and mourn for this moment. I read and reread an insightful and brilliant essay by William T. Vollmann entitled “Three Meditations on Death.” I read and reread my grandfather's autobiographical account in Voices of WWII Veterans: A Kaleidoscope of Memories collected and edited by Rae Dalton Hight. I read and reread his notes in a book of memories I had him record twelve years ago. I read Scripture and prayed. I shared stories of my grandfather's life with him and other family members. I listened deeply.

I meditated and mulled over his life and coming death, even as my grandfather and my family and I grieved the “small deaths” that accompanied his declining health. His disease stole him away in increments. First, he began to move slower. Then, he was reliant upon a walker. He began to eat less and less. He slept more and more. Then, he became bedridden. His energy flagged. It became difficult for him to move his hands or to speak, and, at the end, even to open his eyes. The whole time, however, he was aware of these losses, as were we, until the day before his death, when he slipped into a coma.

So, the difficulty comes in trying to remember a life of eighty-six years in a matter of mere minutes. And, all the while, trying not to let the past few months of decline and wasting away, the past two and one-half years since his diagnosis of mesothelioma, cancer of the lining of the lungs, define who he was, as important as these last moments and snapshots of his life are. But, we will wrestle through this together and we will try our best to make sense of them.


I was driving in my car, listening to the songs of Ryan Adams—a singer-songwriter that my grandfather would have appreciated, although I am certain that he never heard any of his music—when the tears came, and, with them, the words for the eulogy that you hear today.

I drove. Ryan Adams sang a song called “The Sun Also Sets,” a song of loss and the brevity of life. He sang “When you get the time / sit down and write me a letter. / When you're feeling better / drop me a line. / I want to know how it all works out. / I had a feeling we were fading out. / I didn't know that people faded out so fast, / that people faded out.” These lyrics, with their accompanying mournful piano and country-and-western slide guitar, confronted me with the reality of what had just happened. The entire world had just changed for me and my family. A generation had—has—just passed. I wept like I have never wept before.


Eulogy is by Troy's Work Table and was delivered to a full funeral home at the paternal grandfather's funeral service. The picture was taken by Troy's Work Table at the same.

Saturday, February 09, 2008


The paternal grandfather's health continues to decline. He is changing. He is becoming quieter, smaller, more withdrawn. These changes are physical as much as they are mental, emotional, spiritual.

The parts of his body that are least changed are both of his hands. They are thinner. But, they retain the most character of him, other than his face. His hands are now the most active parts of his body. They reach for things and people. They motion. They express emotion. They wave away and invite. They signal "yes" and "no." They "sigh" in exasperation.


Categorical chronology number one: work.

Hoe. Pick and shovel. Parachute cord. Rifle and grenade. Hammer. Saw. Ropes and pulleys. Pruning shears.


My hands are soft once again. They knew boxes and books for a number of years. The pulp of both robbed my hands of oils and moisture. They became dry. They thirsted. They were working hands. Now that I sit at a desk, they are hands of relative "leisure."

They do not carry stories like the hands of the paternal grandfather. His hands are cartographic. They are maps and histories. Scars speak of shrapnel from an exploding soda bottle, a misguided hatchet strike, fishhooks, the blades of pocket knives, burns.


Categorical chronology number two: food.

Sweet corn and squirrel. C-rations. A bowl of thin soup. Home cooked meal. Meat and potatoes. Bottle of beer. Fork. Steak knife. An empty Snickers candy bar wrapper.


As the paternal grandfather's body wastes away, the parts of his body least affected are his hands and face. Perhaps that is why they retain the most character. His hands are least affected due to their intricacy. They are miracles of bone, tendon, ligament, muscle, and skin. They are a multitude of pieces, in which the whole is definitely greater than the sum. The movement protects them.


Categorical chronology number three: family.

His wife's hand. Her naked body. His infant children held close—one, two, three. Spankings. Embraces. A soft nudge from the nest. Waving goodbye. His infant grandchildren held close. Medication and machines and a feeding tube. Soil thrown on a coffin. His infant great-grandchildren held close. A walker. Rails of a "hospital" bed. Folded against one's chest.


Speaking of cartographies: his hands and my hands share a dendritic pattern of visible arteries and veins. There is a soft blue system of streams just beneath the surface of our skins.


Our hands are one of the most effective means of communication that we now have. They grasp one another in greeting. They comfort one another. A small squeeze is a signifier. A grip is another. Yet the gap between the worlds that we currently inhabit is growing and we cannot hold on to one another for much longer. Our hands will fail us.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008


Self portrait, taken with broken camera

Ash Wednesday arrives and brings with it reminders of mortality—my own and that of others.

The paternal grandfather is dying and being with him this morning was especially difficult, emotionally. He continues to decline. He is neither eating nor drinking. He is thin and frail, but mostly of good mind. He is terrified of being alone.

The ashen cross upon my forehead and its accompanying line—"From dust you have come and to dust you shall return"—have my mind elsewhere. I cannot read. I cannot write. Sleep is fitful.

Monday, February 04, 2008


"I am awake now; it has all been a dream."
—page 84, Notes from a Bottle Found on the Beach at Carmel by Evan S. Connell

My mind bedevils me, awakens me from slumber, at the cusp of night, in the middle of the morning.

I finish the final chapters of A Life of Picasso: The Triumphant Years, 1917–1932—a last chapter and an epilogue. I intended to complete them, and it, before retiring, but my eyes were lidded, heavy.

I reread Heather McHugh's "The Fabric: A Poet's Vesalius" from December 2007's Poetry—partly to refresh myself with her rendering of the anatomical wonderings and wanderings of Vesalius's and Titian's bone-men and muscle-men, partly to connect them to Picasso's Vesalius-influenced "Bone period" in my mind, partly to gather epigraph's and quotes for future use, partly to invite slumber once again.

Now, however, I am engaged, reticent to sleep, for I am manic and inspired. I must dream anew. I must reconstruct that which I cannot explicate.