Jun. 2, 2005
Poem: "Anniversary" by Davi Walders from A More Perfect Union. © St. Martin's Press. Reprinted with permission of the author.
That you and I, I and you,
this twenty-fifth year after
you stamped your foot, shattered
the glass, and friends, so many dead
or forgotten, applauded in a ballroom
long abandoned, twenty-five years
of Monday good-byes, monthly wars
with stacks of bills, bags of garbage,
frozen gutters, nights filled
with pink medicines, fevered cheeks
on shoulders, the other hand reaching
for the pediatrician's call, termites
chewing, and hours waiting
for the door to open, holding
our own daughter's head vomiting
beer into our own leaking toilet,
that now, as mirrors mark the descent
of breasts, the tub catches silvered
pubic hair and our eyes wear pouches
and hoods, as though expecting rain,
that you and I could smell the salt
of each other, coming together after
long absence, silent, still, staring up
at the darkening ceiling, naked in a house
with empty, orderly bedrooms, the last
of dead roses and discarded boyfriends
tossed out, your hand touching mine,
our breathing slowing,
the wonder of it all.
Literary and Historical Notes:
It's the birthday of the novelist Carol Shields, born in Oak Park, Illinois (1935). She got married after college, moved to Winnipeg, and had five kids. She said, "All I expected was a baby, a TV, a fridge, freezer, and a car. But having children inspired her to write." She said, "Having children woke me up. I knew I had to pay attention. All my senses seemed sharpened. I seemed capable of more."
Shields started writing poetry, then her first novel, Small Ceremonies. It came out when she was 41 years old. Her big success was Stone Diaries (1993). She said, "I don't very often see decent people in novels, and why not? Some people don't believe in them, but I do."
And it was on this day in 1977 that the writer Raymond Carver quit drinking. He'd gotten married young. His girlfriend was pregnant. He had to support his family with jobs as a janitor and delivery boy and gas station attendant. He tried to write whenever he could. He got a college degree and got a job editing textbooks.
In 1967, he published his short story "Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?" which was selected for the Best American Short Stories Anthology that yearthe same year he started drinking heavily. He said, "My wife and I had one bankruptcy behind us, years of hard work, nothing to show for it except an old car, a rented house, new creditors on our back. I felt spiritually obliterated, threw in the towel, and took to full-time drinking as a serious pursuit."
Even as his drinking got worse, his career took off. He published a series of stories about characters in dead-end jobs, dead-end marriages. He won awards, got invited to teach, but he still had money problems. His checks bounced, his cars were repossessed, and he got into fights at parties. He was hospitalized four times due to alcohol, and then his doctor told him he had to quit drinking or he'd live no more than six months.
He tried several times to get sober, but kept falling off the wagon. He finally got an advance for a novel, and used the money to rent a house in California. He never did write the novel, but he quit drinking. He later said, "Raymond Carver, if you want the truth, I'm prouder of that, that I quit drinking, than I am of anything in my life."
He died of lung cancer 11 years later, but he once described those last 11 years of his life as "gravy, pure gravy."
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®