Dec. 27, 2003
Poem: "1989," by Ron Koertge from Geography of the Forehead (University of Arkansas Press)
Because AIDS was slaughtering people left and right,
I went to a lot of memorial services that year.
There were so many, I'd pencil them in between
a movie or a sale at Macy's. The other thing that
made them tolerable was the funny stories people
got up and told about the deceased: the time he
hurled a mushroom fritata across a crowded room,
those green huraches he refused to throw away,
the joke about the flight attendant and the banana
that cracked him up every time.
But this funeral was for a blind friend of my wife's
who'd merely died. And the interesting thing
about it was the guide dogs; with all the harness
and the sniffing around, the vestibule of the church
looked like the starting line of the Iditarod. But
nobody got up to talk. We just sat there,
and the pastor read the King James version. Then he
said someday we would see Robert and he us.
Throughout the service, the dogs slumped beside their
masters. But when the soloist stood and launched
into a screechy rendition of "Abide With Me," they sank
into the carpet. A few put their paws over their ears.
Someone whispered to one of the blind guys; he told
another, and the laughter started to spread. People
in the back looked around, startled and embarrassed,
until they spotted all those chunky Labradors
flattened out like animals in a cartoon about
steamrollers. Then they started, too.
That was more like it. That was what I was used to-
a roomful of people laughing and crying, taking off
their sunglasses to blot their inconsolable eyes.
Literary and Historical Notes:
It's the birthday of novelist Wilfrid Sheed, born in London, England (1930). His books include The Hack (1963), Office Politics (1966), and The Boys of Winter (1987).
It's the birthday of author Louis Bromfield, born in Mansfield, Ohio (1896). He wrote Early Autumn (1926), Out of the Earth (1950) and From My Experience: The Pleasures and Miseries of Life on a Farm (1955).
It's the birthday of novelist and playwright Zona Gale, born in Portage, Wisconsin (1874). She wrote over thirty novels, plays, and collections, but she is probably best known for the novel-turned-play Miss Lulu Bett, which won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1921. She was raised in a small town in Wisconsin, and many of her stories depict small town life. Gale said, "Life is something more than that which we believe it to be."
It's the birthday of poet and essayist Charles Olson, born in Worcester, Massachusetts (1910). He developed a unique, open-form poetic style that he called "projective verse," and he published an influential manifesto of the same name in 1950. He began to write poetry himself in the late 1940s, and produced his first collection, In Cold Hell, in Thicket in 1953, which includes his most famous poem, "The Kingfishers."
Olson said, "But that which matters, that which insists, that which will last, that! o my people, where shall you find it, how, where, where shall you listen when all is become billboards, when, all, even silence, is spray-gunned?"
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®