Burning the Axe Handle

The Beam

"Humanity is an ever-widening spiral and life is the beam that plays briefly on each succeeding ring. All humanity from its beginning to its end is always present but the beam has not played beyond you." -- Flann O'Brien, The Third Policeman

Jan. 9 would have been the 69th birthday of my good friend Bill Kiely of Port Townsend, Wash., with whom I share a love of Irish literature and whiskey.

I never got to talk with Bill about "Burning The Axe Handle," but it is the kind of thing he would have relished -- and let me know with gentle frankness that occasionally my posts were fairly loopy, sir. Bill was always giving something of himself, burning a bit of his own axe handle.

No endeavor I pursue with words involved would be possible without Bill's spirit. From the day I met him, in 1990, he continually asked me what I was reading, told me about what he was reading, and gave or loaned me books -- most memorably he introduced me to Flann O'Brien. He had exquisite taste in books and music, and I will always treasure his friendship, and that of his wife, Sally, and daughter, Christine. Bill and I did not spend hours talking about books, as Bill believed everyone must find their own meaning in words that matter. I miss his humor and wisdom, his love of all things beautiful. When you hear a drum beat with any kind of Latin angle to it, think of Bill.

This passage, written 10 or 15 years ago, is my tribute to Bill.

"I pause at a glistening corner watching a matchbook from a defunct tavern float down the gutter past my feet. The rain drips a thimble full of sky into my half-empty coffee cup. When I take a gulp I think to myself that it is true that life changes with a small thing."


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