Remembering my father: Hal Bly

Today my father’s birthday, (Nov. 30) would find him at 87 years old if he were still alive.  Unfortunately for me and for you too if you never met him, he died in 1968 at the age of 43.  It was a couple of weeks after Martin Luther King’s assassination and I remember we talked about his admiration for King and how he had courageously faced his imminent death.  Faith and scripture guided King as it did my father.  Who I remember would sit on our front porch and sing his favorite hymns as death closed in on him.

My father was a journalist and enjoyed telling us he shared a birthday with his favorite writer Mark Twain and two other writers Jonathan Swift and Winston Churchill, although it was much easier to associate my father with the rye wit of Twain.

I got much of my appreciation for literature from my father as well as his sense of justice and service to community.  He is without doubt the person I admire most in life.  He unselfishly gave of himself and his skills until the very end of his life.  What amazes me is even though I know he suffered most of his life from pain severe illness he met every day until the very end with a smile and with an eagerness to accomplish something worth doing.  As a scoutmaster in Northfield in the early sixties my father strived to make leaders of young boys and there are still a few men my age in Northfield who remember him and tell me how much he meant to their outlook on life.

Each year, for too many to remember, I have tried to write a poem to capture his values or his love of nature or my memory of him.  Here is today’s effort:



Waning light streams through the distant trees

Throwing ghostly shadows across the brown grass

Their dark forms seem to dance branches intertwined


Above them clouds blush the sky turning purple

The air goes cool and moist as if some living thing

Wakes from day long sleep – begins to stir with hunger


Swaying prairie grass seems to go on forever over the hills

In this still moment it’s easy to miss the multitude of ways

Life expresses itself in a thousand different grasses


Tiny flowers open only the bees know which are sweet or bitter

We cannot see them because we cannot name them our words

Allow us to know what is there even in the darkness


The chain of being is spread out all around us and we hold

Ourselves separate as if it cannot touch us – in the same way

We regard each other as strangers separate even invisible


Even though my existence depends on this other as her

Existence depends on me – to be, as Berkeley said, is to be

Perceived – So how are we to live in the world if we do not


See each other – even though the distance between us seems

Unfathomable – Even now I cannot reach you like a rich man

Who has no sense that his wealth is stitched together in a


A broad cloth made from lost pennies of the poor – threads of

Withered dreams and lost chances blamed on being in the wrong

Place at the wrong time or finding that all was lost when you


Looked the other way in that instant of sunlight and rain

The river of wealth flows toward those who have riches

And empties out the lakes of the exploited like blood


Drained from the veins of the carcass we will butcher and eat

Like the light fading from the distant trees that stand lonely

Against the spinning darkness as if holding up the stars

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