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Playing ball with

    Ken Kesey

Life in the river


Keeping the home

    fires burning

Forget about coal

Farewell column

A tuba Christmas

Knee high by the

    Fourth of July

Hanging up the glove

Collected written works  |  Gary Marx

“The devil's aversion to holy water is a light matter compared with a despot's dread of a newspaper that laughs.”



The pieces collected in “After the Toad Rush” first appeared in The Southern Illinoisan. The weekly column had no formal title, but “After the Toad Rush” was a suggestion that popped out of the twisted mind of Tom Mangan. It saw print once, and now here it is again.

The Audacity of the Moon

September 26, 2001

I caught myself the other night looking at the moon. It was well after midnight. I had just left work, and after a nonstop week of sifting through the chunks and shards of world events, I was worn out. I was beaten down.

The moon was about half full in the clear sky, and it struck me as odd. I couldn’t quite define my feelings. I felt a mixture of puzzled amazement and contempt. What right does the moon have to shine when thousands lie buried in rubble and the world is teetering on the edge of war?

I have always found comfort in the magnificent vastness of the night sky, but I was in no mood for romantic moon gazing. That clockwork orb seemed out of place, out of time, a strange and sad joke for those of us consumed by the chaos on Earth.

The night sky has been full of foreboding for me since Sept. 11. That first night, after working all day immersed in the news, I found myself standing in a daze in the back yard. I had a beer in one hand and a cigar in the other, and as I lifted my head to blow away the smoke I caught sight of the sky. I had forgotten it was there.

The first stars I saw were the three that make up the belt of Orion, the hunter. I was struck by the irony, knowing that a sword of stars hung from that belt and that he was poised to shoot an arrow. These are times when weapons are being raised on Earth. I didn’t need to see it in the heavens as well.

The sight of Orion reminded me of a passage in the first Harry Potter book, which I had read just two days before the collapse of the World Trade Center. It takes place in the dark woods outside Hogswart where Harry and few of his friends are tracking a trail of unicorn blood. Something was killing the unicorns. Evil was not far away.

In the night woods, Harry and his friends meet a couple of centaurs. These mythological creatures are part man and part horse and, according to the book, they are fairly benign beasts that as a rule do not interfere in the affairs of other creatures.

After being told of the unicorn’s death, the centaur is asked if he’s seen anything unusual lately. The centaur looks to the sky and says, “Mars seems unusually large and bright these days.”

“Yes, but have you noticed anything unusual a little closer to home?”

The centaur pauses a moment, looks back to the sky and says, “Mars seems unusually large and bright these days.”

The implication, of course, is that the sky is closer than we think. And Mars, the red planet named for the God of War, was calling the shots.

It seems that way on Earth right now. Only this is not fiction, no child’s story of fantasy. The war of words is hot across the globe. Threats are shouted, flags are burned, and nations are shifting their weapons into position. And it is all too real.

So how does one cope with this? How do we as individuals find a way to make sense of it?

My wife sent an email to several of her co-workers shortly after the World Trade Center collapse, polling their thoughts and feelings. One of her friends, Ben Accardi, responded:

In “Slaughterhouse-Five,” Vonnegut describes the POWs emerging from the
underground slaughterhouse on a crystal-clear spring morning and seeing
Dresden completely leveled by the allied firebombing.  None of the POWs or their guards said anything when they saw the destruction.  The only sound was from the birds who were saying the only intelligent thing to say about a massacre, which is: “Poo-tee-weet?”

There is no sense in what happened in New York and Washington. There is only hope in tomorrow, and trust that in that day the birds will still be able to sing. And that the stars and the moon will still shine.  That they can remind us once again that there is something more permanent than our structures and our strife.

In the midst of all the chaos on Earth right now – in the smoking rubble, near the stench of death and through the shouts of recrimination and war – in the middle of all of that, I hope we can pause, to take the time to listen. I hope we can listen to the sound that comes right after each rattle of the saber, that split second between the clinks of metal.


Do you hear it? It is silence.

That is where we can hear the birds sing. Poo-tee-weet? And that is when we should look to the night sky and maybe, just maybe, we can find solace there once again.