Friday

Jan. 31, 2003

Guest of Honor

by Philip Dacey

FRIDAY, 31 JANUARY 2003
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Poem:
"Guest of Honor," by Philip Dacey.

Guest of Honor

Every day, I drive by the grave
of my financee's father.
She lost him when she was one.
He's our intimate stranger,

our guardian angel,
floating a la Chagall
just above our heads.
I go to him for love-lessons.

He touches my hand

with that tenderness
the dead have for the living.
When I touched her hand so,

she knows where I've been.
At the wedding,
he'll give her away to me.
And the glass he'll raise to toast us

will be a chalice brimful of sun,
his words heard all the more clearly
for their absence, as stone
is cut away to form dates.



It's the birthday of novelist and essayist Norman Mailer, born in Long Branch, New Jersey (1932). He served in the South Pacific and then published his first novel, The Naked and the Dead (1948), when he was just 25. People called it one of the finest American novels about World War II. He and Truman Capote launched a whole new kind of journalism, writing about actual events in a novelistic way. He was jailed for an act of civil disobedience at an antiwar demonstration in 1967, and he wrote about it in The Armies of the Night (1968), winning a Pulitzer. He wrote Miami and the Siege of Chicago (1968), about the 1968 political conventions, and Of a Fire on a Moon (1970), about the space program. He co-founded The Village Voice, the nation's first alternative news weekly, in 1955. This month he published The Spooky Art: Thoughts on Writing (2003), to coincide with his eightieth birthday. In it, he wrote, "Over the years, I've found one rule. . . If you tell yourself you are going to be at your desk tomorrow, you are by that declaration asking your unconscious to prepare the material. You are, in effect, contracting to pick up such valuables at a given time. Count on me, you are saying to a few forces below: I will be there to write."

It's the feast day of Saint John Bosco, patron saint of editors, born in Becchi, Italy (1815). He said, "Enjoy yourself as much as you like -- if only you keep from sin."

It's the birthday of author (Pearl) Zane Grey, born in Zanesville, Ohio (1872), a town named after his great-grandfather Ebenezer Zane. He wrote his first story in a cave behind his house. He left his profession as a dentist after the publication of Betty Zane (1903), a novel based on the frontier adventures of his ancestor, as she described them in her journal. He went on to publish more than 80 books, including many of the earliest westerns: Riders of the Purple Sage (1912), The Lone Star Ranger (1915), and Call of the Canyon (1924). From 1917 to 1925, his name never fell off the best-seller lists. After moving to California in 1918, he spent much of his time fishing, some sources saying that he spent up to 300 days a year on a fishing boat.

It is the birthday of Japanese novelist and Nobel laureate, Kenzaburo Oe, born in a small village on the island of Shikoku, Japan (1935). Inspired by the rise of democracy in post World War II Japan, Oe became the first member of his family to leave the quiet island when he enrolled in college at Tokyo University. Upon arrival, he found that the Japanese spoken in Tokyo was so different from his native dialect that he had to relearn the language. Fearing a loss of the heritage that he and his family valued, he began his career by writing the mythology of his village. He became a writer and won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1994.

It's the birthday of fiction writer John O'Hara, born in Pottsville, Pennsylvania (1905). At age 12 his father offered to put ten thousand dollars in a fund for his medical education, but the boy refused; he didn't want to be a doctor. Still, O'Hara drove his father's car for him during the influenza epidemic, an experience he would draw on in his story, "The Doctor's Son" (1935). He said, "Much as I like owning a Rolls-Royce," he said, "I could do without it. What I could not do without is a typewriter, a supply of yellow second sheets and the time to put them to good use." His epitaph reads: "John O'Hara/Better/Than Anyone Else/He Told the Truth/About his Time/He Was/A Professional/He Wrote/Honestly and Well."



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