Sunday

Feb. 16, 2003

Obituaries

by Billy Collins

SUNDAY, 16 FEBRUARY 2003
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Poem: "Obituaries," by Billy Collins from Nine Horses (Random House).

Obituaries

These are no pages for the young,
who are better off in one another's arms,

nor for those who just need to know
about the price of gold,
or a hurricane that is ripping up the Keys.

But eventually you may join
the crowd who turn here first to see
who has fallen in the night,
who has left a shape of air walking in their place.

Here is where the final cards are shown,
the age, the cause, the plaque of deeds,
and sometimes an odd scrap of news-
that she collected sugar bowls,
that he played solitaire without any clothes.

And all the survivors huddle at the end
under the roof of a paragraph
as if they had sidestepped the flame of death.

What better way to place a thin black frame
around the things of the morning-
the hand-painted cup,
the hemispheres of a cut orange,
the slant of sunlight on the table?

And sometimes a most peculiar pair turns up,
strange roommates lying there
side by side upon the page-
Arthur Godfrey next to Man Ray,
Ken Kesey by the side of Dale Evans.

It is enough to bring to mind an ark of death,
not the couples of the animal kingdom,
but rather pairs of men and women
ascending the gangplank two by two,

surgeon and model,
balloonist and metalworker,
an archaeologist and an authority on pain.

Arm in arm, they get on board
then join the others leaning on the rails,
all saved at last from the awful flood of life-

so many of them every day
there would have to be many arks,
an armada to ferry the dead
over the heavy waters that roll beyond the world,

and many Noahs too,
bearded and fiercely browed, vigilant up there at every prow.


On this day in the year 600, Pope Gregory the Great declared "God bless you" to be the correct response to a sneeze. It was once thought that sneezing was an omen of death, since many dying people fell into sneezing fits. The Pope introduced the response of "God bless you" when the plague was at its height in Europe, hoping that the quick prayer would protect the sneezer from sickness and death.

On this day in 1741, the first true magazine in the United States, General Magazine, was published by Benjamin Franklin, complete with the first printed advertisement in American history. The ad was for a ferry service over the Potomac River.

It's the birthday of novelist Richard Ford, born in Jackson, Mississippi in 1944. Ford has written five novels, including Sportswriter (1986) and Independence Day (1996). He said, "I write stories so people will read them. I know the reader will have his own history, preoccupations, priorities, obsessions, thoughts -- I know that. But at the point of contact with my story, I want everybody to be mine."

It's the birthday of writer Iain Banks, born in Scotland in 1954. He is best known for his popular science fiction books like The Wasp Factory (1984).

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

 









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