In Their Own Words: Remembering Leon Satterfield and William Kloefkorn, two iconic writers and NWU professors
Professor Emeritus of English Leon Satterfield died April 12. Thirty-seven days later, Professor Emeritus of English William Kloefkorn died.
Bill and Leon were closest friends: two funny, gentle and prominent figures from Old Main’s first floor.
Their minds and voices remain in the alumni they’ve taught and in their writing. These are things their diseases and deaths cannot touch.
In the essay and two poems that follow, they speak their own resonant minds.
Of course we don’t set out to buy a defective dog.
Our previous pooch, Sherman, was the Patron Saint of Self-Effacing Mixed Breeds, but he developed lots of defects during his seventeenth and final year. So we are ready now for a dog with all his faculties gleaming, his teeth clean and sharp, his heart chugging away pocketa pocketa pocketa without a queep. In short, something in mint condition.
Instead, we get Ned, the One-Eyed Beagle.
He is the last one the breeder has left from the litter and it’s easy to see why. The bad eye looks spooky—milky and set back deeper in his skull than his good one. But, the breeder tells us (and his vet confirms it over the telephone), it’s probably not serious: a scratch on the retina that will heal in several days.
So we write a check and take our brand new pup home to admire his structural integrity.
Five days later, the eye doesn’t look any better, maybe worse, so we take him to our old vet, the one who’d treated Sherman long after less wimpish owners would have put him to sleep, as we say in the dog game.
“Uh oh,” he says when he sees the eye.
He tells us it is shot, irreparably damaged, forever no good. Ruptured, he says, and all the fluid drained out.
Ned is struggling to get away, crying and growling and trying to bite the vet’s fingers. Aside from the eye, we ask, how does the vet like the pup?
Not much at all, it turns out. Ned has a terrible overbite and worst of all, even more serious than the bad eye, Ned is headstrong, he wants to dominate anyone he’s around, and he’s going to be hell to train. The vet can tell, he says, from the way Ned refuses to tolerate a hand atop his snout.
“You’re not going to like him,” he tells us. “You’re going to be comparing him to Sherman and you’re not going to like him.”
The vet liked Sherman a lot because he never made a fuss when things were poked in his bodily orifices. He had both eyes, his jaws matched nicely, and he wasn’t headstrong. He tolerated a hand atop his snout and he put up with being dominated.
He put up with nearly everything. That’s why we had him canonized.
“I recommend you take the pup back to the breeder,” the vet says. “Get a refund.”
We wonder what we’ll look like in the mirror if we send our defective dog back to the shop. He can’t be fixed, and there’s no market for headstrong, one-eyed Beagles with mismatched jaws, so we have a pretty good idea of what will happen to him: he’ll be put to sleep, as we say in the dog game.
I tell my friend Mary Smith about the problem. She doesn’t see it as a problem at all: a headstrong, one-eyed Beagle with mismatched jaws is a pearl of great price to be made over and crooned to and filled up with good things to eat. Because of, not despite, the defects. She buys me a stuffed dog to help me decide.
“Here’s a dog without flaws,” she says. “Boring, isn’t it?
So we decide the hell with it, we’ll keep the pup. You can’t name a dog Ned and then take him back for a refund.
“We’ll get a little eye-patch for him,” my wife says.
“And a little pirate hat,” my daughter says.
“And a little parrot to put on his shoulder,” my son says.
“Yeah,” I say. “We’ll have fun.”
I look at that milky eye and I wonder how it would have been had we got to the breeder earlier in the day before the other puppies were sold. Then I worry that I’m such a tightwad I resent having bought damaged goods, and I wonder if Mary’s joke is more than a joke.
I remember Hawthorne’s scientist in “The Birthmark” who cannot tolerate the one flaw in his wife’s beauty, who devises a treatment that erases the birthmark but kills the patient so that he ends up with an absolutely flawless corpse.
I lock my office door on Mary’s stuffed dog and walk home through the snow, down the alley behind our house, through the back gate, past the frozen bed of day lilies where we buried Sherman.
“Whaddya think, Sherm?” I ask the snow.
Inside the warm house, Ned squints Popeye-like over the edge of his box, tumbles out, slithers and slides and bounces across the kitchen floor, making puppy yips all the way. He bumps into me because he’s got no depth perception. He starts chewing on my pant leg, his upper and lower teeth not meeting right, and with his front end down and his rear end up, with tail all awag, he growls when I try to take my pant leg back. He seems glad to see me.
From “The Truth, Mainly” by Leon Satterfield, Lincoln Journal Star, May 7, 1990. Reprinted with permission.
Hear Leon Satterfield read his columns at thetruthmainly.com
August 12, 1992
For having lived long enough
to know what’s indeed enough, this
reward: a young bur oak,
rising now just west of Old Main,
those responsible standing in a circle
around it, I standing in the circle with them.
When the storm with its ice and snow blows in
this tree will bend but
not quite break, in time will right itself
to keep on growing.
And I think of the son in Sophocles’ Antigone
as he tries to convince his father to relent,
to withdraw the edict that, if kept in force,
will destroy not only the son’s beloved Antigone,
but likewise the son himself. Sometimes to bend,
he says, is to show mercy. Not to bend, sometimes,
he says, is to show an absence
of mercy, with misery an everlasting consequence.
We stand in a circle with the bur oak,
freshly planted, at its center. Today
I am old enough to know what’s indeed
enough. This tree. This circle. This moment.
After the Ice Storm
After the ice storm
I walk the campus to witness
the remarkably beautiful devastation,
ice into snow into heaviness
not even the limbs on the largest oak
After the ice storm
I select a fallen limb from that
I would have it as something more
than a remnant, a token
After the ice storm
I walk the campus with a walking-stick
smooth and as stout
as a farm boy’s forearm. And I am not
surprised: it takes me back
to where it came from.
After the ice storm
I sense that time, having passed, goes right on
passing. So many survivors so
green now, so eager
to fill those many gaps
left by those who are gone.
Both poems from Walking the Campus by William Kloefkorn, Lone Willow Press, 2004. Reprinted with permission.
Hear Bill Kloefkorn read poems from Walking the Campus.