Mar. 28, 2001

In Celebration of Surviving

by Chuck Miller

WEDNESDAY, 28 March 2001
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Poem: "In Celebration of Surviving," by Chuck Miller, from Northern Fields: New & Selected Poems (Coffee House Press).

in celebration of surviving

when senselessness has pounded you around on the ropes
and you're getting too old to hold out for the future
no work and running out of money,
and then you make a try after something that you know you
    won't get
and this long shot comes through on the stretch
in a photo finish of your heart's trepidation
then for a while
even when the chill factor of these prairie winters puts it at
    fifty below
you're warm and have that old feeling
of being a comer, though belated
in the crazy game of life

standing in the winter night
emptying the garbage and looking at the stars
you realize that although the odds are fantastically against you
when that single January shooting star
flung its wad in the maw of night
it was yours
and though the years are edged with crime and squalor
that second wind, or twenty-third
is coming strong
and for a time
perhaps a very short time
one lives as though in a golden envelope of light

It's the birthday of novelist Russel Banks, born in Newton, Massachusetts (1940), author of Continental Drift (1985), Affliction (1990 — filmed in 1997), The Sweet Hereafter (1992 — filmed in 1996), and Cloudsplitter (1998).

It's the birthday of novelist Mario Vargas Llosa, born in Arequipa, southern Peru (1936), author of The Time of the Hero (1962), Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter (1978) and other books.

On this day in 1947, with the horrors of World War Two looming — and fearful of a German invasion of England — Virginia Woolf, 59, ended her life: she loaded her pockets with stones and walked into the River Ouse, near her home in Rodnell, Sussex, in southeastern England. She left a note for her husband Leonard: "I have a feeling I shall go mad. I hear voices and cannot concentrate on my work. I have fought against it but cannot fight any longer."

It's the birthday of novelist Nelson Algren, born in Detroit (1909). The son of a machinist, he grew up in a working class neighborhood, worked his way through the University of Illinois, and graduated into the depression. There was no work, so he drifted around the country, rode the rails as a hobo, then worked for a carnival. His first novel, Somebody in Boots, came out in 1935 and was hardly noticed. He reissued it 21 years later as A Walk on the Wild Side (1956). His most successful novel was The Man with the Golden Arm (1949 — National Book Award). In his prose poem Chicago, "City on the Make" (1951), Algren wrote about his hometown:

"City that walks with her shoulder bag banging her hip, you gave me your gutters and I gave you back gold. City I never pretended to love for something you were not, I never told you you smelled of anything but cheap cologne. I never told you you were anything but a loud old bag. Yet you're still the doll of the world and I'm proud to have slept in your tireless arms."

It's the birthday of playwright and novelist Maxim Gorky, born in Nizhny, Russia (1868). His best-known work in America is his play The Lower Depths (1902); he also wrote the autobiographies My Childhood (1914), and In the World (1915).

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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