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  • The Tall Book
  • Maurice Manning (bio) and Special Illustrations by Robert Gipe

for Tony Earley and after his fashion

I've determined the quiet beauty of thingsis what I hearken to, the graceof a papery butterfly tippingover the purple frill at the topsof ironweed, the field splayedup the hill and misty, the end of summer.Nothing like an understatementto inspire, or rain a flood in the mindto leave it glimmering and deep.

          —It's been a pretty good day. I've worked,in the pastoral sense, under the sun,and felt the heat, the idle shrugof knowing the work is never done,to make the world alive and living,to make the mind's revealing vision [End Page 7]

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[End Page 8]

tremble and shake itself alive,as a butterfly wriggling out ofits sticky, round domain.

                              I can tellI'm dreaming my way into something,drifting along with the pleasant dreamand the voice of the dream telling it,in a sonorous sound and rhythm I like.Some of the words I used to hearand say to myself over and overhave risen up. Playing by ear—that's how I've always gone about it,imagining the sound of a voiceand hearing in it, despite the clearauthority, some pleasure, affection.Early on, I heard a lotof wrong words, the garbled language,and words put to inventive use.I was often told to quiten down [End Page 9] in school. Or an old man would sayat night, it's quite alright, and stareinto a distance he seemed to seethe other side of, where Silence lived,the sole ghost of another country.And there were mystical tones and formsI liked to hear—Quitchyomeddlin—that sounded like the name of a manwho lived in a tall tale and dranka pond of water every morningand picked his teeth with a cedar tree,or tamed a pair of rattlesnakesto keep his britches histed up.He was 27 feet talland played a fiddle made from a coffin.—

Histed up. Quitchyomeddlin—what kind of bride would marry him?I liked to make him real to me,and follow him to the quitened place. [End Page 10]

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[End Page 11]

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[End Page 12]

Sometimes thinking about a wordand the voice that said it moves me to tears.A scalded dog. The Reachin' Pole.The Wavingest Man that Ever Was.

It could have been that Quitchyomeddlinand his woman had a pair of sons—Ontellinmeddlin and Woesomemeddlin,but called them Tell and Some for short.They were a practical tribe, like Mosesor Noah, old testament folks,who wandered wherever no one elsewas at—so far up a holler they hadto pipe in sunlight, and the groundwas so puny they fertilizedthe fenceposts to keep them stuck.

But Tell and Some were kindly shy,and one day they said to Quitchyomeddlin,—Pappy, we ain't hardly fit [End Page 13] to be in no tall tale! We're shy!And we're pert near civilized,and we ain't eat nobody yet,nor swallered up the clouds, nor clomba vine to the yonder-side of heaven!The father calmly raised a brow,prompting his shavers, now, to think.

—Reckon I could gnaw on a legto see if I like eatin people,said Tell.

          —And they's a passel of vinesall over this territory, said Some,I figure they's one worth climbin' up.

Quitchyomeddlin twisted his whiskersaround like a rag and pondered his chaps. [End Page 14] Aye gonnies, boys, you've got to wait!They's a heap of time in a tall talethat don't get counted for and passesas quite as a river in the shade.A feller has to sleep, and sethisself on a stump and see what's what—but then with a clap of thunder he's offon something dramatical, and the cloudsgo to making...


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