Archive for November, 2009

It feels like a melancholy Thanksgiving Day, though I’m doing my best to savor everything, to feast on the details and feelings of life today.  I woke up earlier than usual and spent two hours with Henry, talking to him, and watching him play in his little yellow chair.  I cooked a nice breakfast for myself.  Brewed superlative coffee.  Went into the yard to rake leaves and smoke a cigar.  Sat in the cold and listened to AM radio.  I’m thinking of my Dad back in Eau Claire and wishing I was near him.

Truth is, as poor as we are right now, I’ve never felt more rich.  I look around at my life, at my family, and things, my friends and the places I’ve visited and it seems unfathomable.  I have a friend, an acquaintance maybe, in the hospital right now, and I’m thinking about him and his wife – two great people, two great writers.  Salt of the earth.  He’s young like me but probably a good deal healthier.  You think about something like that and it makes you sober up.

I’m going to feast today.  I’m going to think about the things that I eat and I will appreciate them as I chew what they are and swallow them into me.  I’m going to drink a little too much and feel warmer than I would usually.  I’m going to be with my wife, my son, my mom, my godmother, and several orphans and exiles.  I’m going to think about times in the Upper Peninsula, times in Scotland, times in Costa Rica, in British Columbia, in South Africa.  I’ll be thinking about Novak, Swan, Gulig, T Hruska.  I’ll be thinking about my brother and sister-in-law.  I’ll be thinking about my grandma and where she is right now.

There is an accordion in me that is playing and perhaps an old Victrola as well.  Today I dwell in Saint Raymond’s Cathedral and I’ll remember a trip to Mexico when I was a kid and my Dad and I in a Mexican cathedral and dropping an offering into a wooden box and the dance and glow of candles.  Today there is a small bonfire in me and last night my dreams were warm and all my kin appeared in them and in those dreams I was studying biology again, in the wild, and it felt good to be in the outdoors studying the earth.  Birds.

I’m learning that it might not matter, but the truth is, you just try to be a good person and in the end you hope that you become a ghost or a memory inside someone else to be carried around inside their ribs like an ember or spark of fire.  You just try to be good to people and hope that they remember you.  You try to be thankful for what you have and the things you’ve been given.

There aren’t many people in Saint Raymond’s Cathedral this morning, but there is golden light from one million minor candles, and there is the smell of wax and rain.  There is the sound of prayers and the sound of quiet weeping.  The pews are creaking and I am sitting beside my father and his hand is resting on my neck and my shoulder and his hand is warm and strong, and I am ten years old.


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Song I am currently obsessed with “figuring out” (per Eggers + Hornby).

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I’ve been working on a collection of poems for Henry. This one was written before he was actually born. It’s called “Lungs”.


by Nickolas Butler

are my
first own child.
Rare wee pale gem
come into this world
with your lungs howling
screaming, roaring, shrieking.
Your tribe wants to hear how loud
those pink lungs can throw your raw new sound!
But there will also be time for sleep,
time to close your heavy eyes,
to be something brand new,
a perfect person.
You are loved,
our best is

copyright 2009 Nickolas Butler

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Life as a bachelor is not good. Not good.

With Regina and Henry in Eau Claire for the weekend I am alone at Casa Butler, knocking around our little bungalow like a friendly ghost. Last night after work I shared some drinks at the Crystal Corner with co-workers. Lost three consecutive games of billiards to Josh who seemed impressed at my acumen for scratching. When my co-workers expressed interest in my doings with Regina and Henry gone I replied that, “Mostly I eat fish-sticks and watch ‘The X-Files’ or ‘Northern Exposure'”.

This response drew largely blank stares and looks of disappointment, with the exception of one serious drunk down the rail whose face lit up in happiness and who yelled at me, his glass raised in the air in a toast, “Another guy who loves fish-sticks!”. We touched glasses and the rest of the evening he nodded to me as if we were simpatico.

I thought to myself, “Without Regina and Henry, am I THAT guy?”

Around midnight, my belly full of a pitcher of Budweiser, I bicycled home. The world wobbled beneath my tires, but I navigated well and arrived home after midnight and in an environmentally benign fashion. In the mail was a belated birthday card from my Aunt Donna, generally expressing that I am getting older now that I have rounded thirty years of age, out of breath and losing steam. So that was encouraging.

Generally, my bachelor mornings are like this: Cap’n Crunch, orange juice, huevos rancheros, coffee, zydeco music, shower, aimless wandering around the house, Jim Harrison poetry. Luckily, these last two days I have the roofers to keep me company as they rip apart the hat on my house, shingles falling past my windows like leaves. Sometimes I just climb their ladder to bullshit and kick stuff off the roof.

In other news, I am pondering my own ability to bury unhappiness beneath copious amounts of cheese. I do not believe this is actually a functional prescription to my temporary malaise, but I nonetheless, I am trying. Trying to bury the world in cheese. Last night every meal I ate included cheese. Last night I ate cheese popcorn for dinner.

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Further Afield

With Regina graduating law school in May and the applications I am sending out to various colleges around the Midwest and further afield, there is a likelihood that next autumn we will be living somewhere else. The Twin Cities seems likely. Maybe Ames, IA. Maybe we’ll stay right here, on Madison’s East Side. The change is exciting – we’ve been in this place for almost a decade now but “home” has always seemed to be Eau Claire, or even the forest-land north of Eau Claire where the population of humans begins to decrease in proportion to the height of trees, or the amount of wolves. The truth is, we just want to live someplace quiet and safe. Someplace where I have room to garden and plant more apple trees. Someplace where we can light a woodstove. Someplace where Henry can roam unimpeded and safe.

This little bungalow has served us well. It is small but sturdy. It is affordable. Our neighbors are the best neighbors we know that we’ll ever have: teachers, Vietnam vets, artists, truck-drivers. They take care of us. It will be hard to leave them, if and when we have to. Our annual cherry festival. The celebrations of the nearby Greek Orthodox Church.

Henry was weighed last week and tipped the scale at 13 pounds and 2 ounces – great weight gain! The doctor was ecstatic and so are we.

Applications are now complete and in the hands of: Iowa, Iowa State, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Notre Dame. I look forward this weekend to finishing Brown, Illinois, Vanderbilt, and Utah. Continue to wish me luck, please.

In other news, just read one of Nicholas Gulig’s new poems, “Logical Geography”. He is a great poet. Gentle and elegant like the best of Mary Oliver or Basho. An American samurai poet. Godspeed Nicholas Gulig.

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For Larry Brown

One of my favorite books is “Big Bad Love” by Larry Brown. It is the story of Brown’s life as a writer and sometimes-miscreant and if you’re a writer or love words then you need to read the book. “Big Bad Love” is sort of the antecedent to “Wonder Boys” (another favorite) in that things don’t come easy for Brown. He’s constantly sending his stories out into the ether and most of the time no one is interested, or even reading his stuff. And yet, he just keeps trying.

I am always sending stories and poems out into the world and most of the time, nothing happens. Sometimes it does, and sometimes you even get paid a little bit, but most of the time not, and it’s lonely doing this because most people aren’t that foolish. They just enjoy their evenings or better yet, read books that take them away from their lives. They aren’t masochists. But I guess I am and I don’t know how to quit being who I am so I just keep writing.

Today, the “Virginia Quarterly Review” said no. Not a big surprise considering how prestigious that press is. So I immediately sent the same story out again, to “The Kenyon Review”. Slapped that story on the butt and told it to wipe the dust off its pants. Then I sent a pile of poems to a cool new magazine down in Louisville. Meantime, I’m trying to write a big article about a major artist, and that is intimidating the hell out of me. Somebody produces world-class art for sixty years and I’m supposed to distill that life and work into three thousand words and sound smart. Best of luck. The upshot was the artist liked me enough to give me a piece of his art just for my time and effort.

It was a good day today otherwise. Henry is sleeping like a champ and he and Regina took a neighborhood walk in the new fleece clothes his grandparents sent him. Tomorrow he gets checked out by a doctor and we’re hoping that he’s still gaining weight. He has more hair each day on his little head – fine blond stuff – and his eyes are still deep blue. Sometimes it’s hard to fathom that you can create another human being. Another person you don’t even know yet. It is all bigger than you as an individual and it makes you think about all those that have you preceded you through the years, your own life a kind of miracle and yet as everyday as a child being born in Mumbai or Mexico City.

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Parenting Perils

This morning finds me hiding from Henry who, at the moment, is between sleep and lucidity. I hear him cooing and gurgling in the other room, no doubt chewing on his fist and marking the movements of his rainforest-themed mobile.

We live in an old house and everywhere I (or Regina) step is an audio-tripwire of sorts. Creaking Douglas Fir everywhere. I have become an unlikely cat burglar, walking on the margins of my own floor-plan, avoiding high-traffic pieces of hallway and kitchen. There are louder ninjas in the world than me.

I don’t think that the dishwasher is an effective lullaby for young Hank this morning. He is clearly trying to draw my attention with his sweet, high-pitched monologue to the mobile. But, I need a fresh pot of coffee too.

In MFA application news: Iowa State and Wisconsin are done. Only 13 more schools to go. If you believe in divine intervention, or positive vibes or whatever, please send them along my way. I need some luck this year.

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