Oct. 23, 2000

Kaylyn, Hermiston Elementary

by Edward Harkness

Broadcast date: MONDAY, 23 October 2000

Poem: "Kaylyn, Hermiston Elementary," by Edward Harkness, from Saying the Necessary (Pleasure Boat Studio).

Kaylyn, Hermiston Elementary

Thanks for the plastic ring, Kaylyn.
Your dress is a rag, absurd,
your scuffed oxfords four sizes too big--
idiotic relics from the sweet
dead America of 1955.
Your eyes are flecks of flint
from Tennessee,
have squinted more than once
into a dark unnameable.

I picture your mother gaunt,
your father harsh with vise grips
in his greasy fist, haunted,
hunting you,
beating a rusty fender in the ravine.
During geography,
you doodle, drifty,
you sketch me handsome,
a gentle mouth,
a smile I wish I could wear.
The teacher--a depressed soul--
speaks aridly about yearly rainfall in Paraguay.
Precipitation, she says, and smiles.

You pound the red ball
against the bricks in the vacant
school yard till dark.
During lunch the secretary whispers:
"Don't be charmed; Kaylyn'll steal you blind."
Tells me they sent you out west to Hermiston
to live with Aunt Rachel, who feeds you
but seldom washes your hair.

I still hear the older girls cackle.
You caught me in the hall at lunch,
your face red as the ball you slam,
and stammered:
"You wrat such perty wards."
You poked the ring into my hand
and I went blank, as I'm known to do.
In shame, you scrambled into the crowd.

I leave my car to stroll the river road.
It's less a road,
more a badly healed scar.
The Umatilla spills color back to clouds.
Day decides to die with dignity,
igniting the riffles.

your gum machine ring fits my little finger.
One meadowlark trills so loud
he opens a wound in the evening.
The blandness of his feathers
gives his song its pain.
Kaylyn, if I were handsome,
you'd be lovely as your name.

On this date in 1978, The Stories of John Cheever was first published by Alfred Knopf; the book won the Pulitzer Prize.

It's the birthday of soccer legend Pelé, born Edson Arantes do Nascimento in a small village in southern Brazil (1940). At sixteen, he joined the Santos professional soccer team, and quickly entered the starting line-up as an inside left forward. He scored 1,220 goals during his 18-year career with the team.

It's the birthday of novelist and screenwriter (John) Michael Crichton, born in Chicago, Illinois (1942). He started writing paperback thrillers in order to pay his bills while he was a student at Harvard Medical School in the late 1960's. One of these books, A Case of Need, became an unexpected hit. This success was followed in 1969 by The Andromeda Strain, about a deadly virus brought to Earth by a NASA space probe. Crichton also created the hit television series, ER.

It's the birthday of Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Ned Rorem, born in Richmond, Indiana (1923). He's the author of The Paris Diary (1966), and other collections of his journals.

It's the anniversary of the publication of Sinclair Lewis's novel, Main Street, first published by Harcourt, Brace and Howe on this date in 1920; the novel is set in the fictional Gopher City, Minnesota.

It's the birthday of the writer Emily Kimbrough, born in Muncie, Indiana (1899). In the early 1920's, Kimbrough and her friend Cornelia Otis Skinner booked passage for Europe on an ocean liner and began a series of humorous misadventures--such as getting shipwrecked on the St. Lawrence River before they even reached the ocean. They wrote a memoir about the trip in 1942, Our Hearts Where Young and Gay. Kimbrough followed with two more books of her own: We Followed Our Hearts to Hollywood (1943) and How Dear to My Heart (1944), a memoir of her childhood in turn-of-the-century Muncie.

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