Sep. 28, 2001

The Automobile

by Russell Edson

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Poem: “The Automobile,” by Russell Edson from The Childhood of an Equestrian (Harper & Row).

The Automobile

A man had just married an automobile.

    But I mean to say, said his father, that the automobile is
not a person because it is something different.
    For instance, compare it to your mother. Do you see how
it is different from your mother? Somehow it seems wider,
doesn't it? And besides, your mother wears her hair differently.
    You ought to try to find something in the world that looks
like mother.

    I have mother, isn't that enough of a thing that looks like
mother? Do I have to gather more mothers?
    They are all old ladies who do not in the least excite any
wish to procreate, said the son.

    But you cannot procreate with an automobile, said father.

    The son shows father an ignition key. See, here is a special
penis which does with the automobile as the man with the
woman; and the automobile gives birth to a place far from
this place, dropping its puppy miles as it goes.

    Does that make me a grandfather? said father.

    That makes you where you are when I am far away, said
the son.

    Father and mother watch an automobile with a just married
sign on it growing smaller in a road.

On this day in 1973, poet W(ystan) H(ugh) Auden died in his hotel room of a heart attack after giving a poetry reading in Vienna, Austria. He was 66 years old. He was a prolific poet and writer and a patron of poetry. From 1946 to 1958, Auden served as judge and editor of the Yale Series of Younger Poets, which each year publishes the first book of a promising young poet. His selections included Adrienne Rich, W. S. Merwin, Daniel Hoffman, John Ashbery, James Wright, and John Hollander. He once said, “My face looks like a wedding cake left out in the rain.”

It’s the birthday of singer and songwriter Ben E. King, born in Henderson, North Carolina (1938). He joined a young musical group, and they became The Drifters. King’s voice was the lead on the 1960 hit Save the Last Dance for Me, which became number one on the Billboard chart in October of that year. Other early hits that featured his lead singing include Spanish Harlem (1960), Stand By Me (1961), and I (Who Have Nothing) (1962).

It’s the birthday of freelance author and poet Besmilr Brigham born in Pace, Mississippi (1923). Until recently, she lived in Horatio, Arkansas, with her husband and about 50 cats. She has written Agony Dance: Death of Dancing Dolls (1969), Heaved from the Earth (1971), Death of the Wild (1984) and To Live as a Bird (1984).

It’s the birthday of novelist and mystery writer Ellis Peters, born in Horsehay, Shropshire, England (1913). She worked as a chemist’s assistant for many years, learning about drugs and poisons, information which she would use in the plots of the mysteries she would write years later. Her mystery writing career began when she was 38, when she published Fallen Into the Pit (1951), introducing Inspector Felse, who was the hero in 12 of her novels. She published historical novels for 41 years before finding her greatest success in the first of 21 novels with a medieval detective and herbalist, Brother Cadfael in A Morbid Taste for Bones (1977). In these books she recreated the world on the English-Wales border during the reign of Stephen of England in the 12th century.

It is the birthday of playwright and novelist Elmer Rice, born in New York City (1892). He wrote and produced plays for the next 50 years, among which are The Adding Machine (1923), about the tragedy of a wasted life, and Street Scene (1929), a play for which Rice won the Pulitzer Prize.

It is the birthday of author and educator Kate Douglas Wiggin, born in Philadelphia (1856), the older of two daughters from a distinguished New England family. She spent her childhood in rural Maine, moved to California, and began a career in early childhood education, first working in a kindergarten, then teaching people who wanted to become kindergarten teachers. She is best known as the author of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1903), the positive story of a fatherless little girl living with maiden aunts in New England.

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