Feb. 25, 2007

The Investigation

by Jeffrey Harrison

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Poem: "The Investigation" by Jeffrey Harrison, from Incomplete Knowledge: Poems. © Four Way Books. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

The Investigation

There were some things I would never know —
I realized that, but I wanted to understand
as much as I could before I let it go.

I couldn't stop making phone calls to Chicago —
to his doctor, his insurance agent, his doorman;
the coroner, who told me more than I wanted to know;

to his psychiatrist, who made a show
of sympathy and dismissed out of hand
my speculations — but I wouldn't let them go.

The detective sounded weary, which was no
surprise: it was 2 a.m. He patiently explained
what he could, then sighed, "You'll never really know."

I weighed the possibilities, made lists, wrote memos
to myself: was it spontaneous or planned —
and for how long? I couldn't let it go.

I kept calling my brother and sister to let them know
what I had figured out. Each time they listened
but then told me what I had always known:
we would never understand. I had to let it go.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the first recording star in the history of music, Enrico Caruso, born in Naples (1873). He arrived at the New York Metropolitan Opera in 1903, and he was an enormous hit. Just three months after his debut there, he made some recordings for the Victor Company. At the time, the gramophone was just a curiosity, but Caruso had become a household name, and people all over the country wanted to hear his voice. His records inspired thousands of people to buy their first gramophones, and his were the first records ever to sell more than a million copies. It can therefore be argued that Caruso's voice was responsible for the beginning of the musical recording industry.

Caruso went on to perform 17 consecutive seasons at the Met, giving a total of 626 performances in New York, in 37 different operas. He gave his final performance at the Met on December 11, 1920.

It's the birthday of novelist and critic Anthony Burgess, (books by this author) born John Anthony Burgess Wilson in Manchester, England (1917). As a young man, he got frustrated by the literary scene in Great Britain, so he decided to give up writing, leave England, and take a teaching position in Malaya. But it turned out that living abroad inspired Burgess's writing more than ever. It was there that he published his first three novels, Time for a Tiger (1956), The Enemy in the Blanket (1958), and Beds in the East (1959).

But none of Burgess's early novels was particularly successful. Then, in 1959, he began to suffer from severe headaches. He went to see a doctor and he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. The doctor told him he only had one year to live.

He returned home to England, but instead of feeling miserable, he had a new sense of purpose. He later wrote: "I had been granted something I had never had before: a whole year to live. I would not be run over by a bus tomorrow, nor knifed on the Brighton racetrack. I would not choke on a bone. If I fell in the wintry sea, I would not drown. I had a whole year, a long time. In that year I had to earn for my prospective widow. ... I would have to turn myself into a professional writer."

Burgess wrote five novels in that following year, the year he believed to be his last. And it turned out that the diagnosis was incorrect. He lived for many more years, and in 1962 he published the book for which he's now best known, A Clockwork Orange.

It's the birthday of Pierre-Auguste Renoir, born in Limoges, France (1841). He was born into a family of artisans, and might have spent his life decorating plates with bouquets of flowers, but he decided early on that he wanted to be a real painter. He began taking some evening art classes, and it was there that he met a man named Claude Monet, and they began to travel out into the countryside with their canvases, where they were among the first professional painters in the world to paint directly from nature. Since there was no time to sketch out their pictures, they painted directly on the canvas. The result was that their paintings weren't as realistic as previous works. They looked like somewhat blurry memories of the scene rather than the scene itself.

The first exhibition of these Impressionist paintings came in 1874, and they created a stir in the art world, but many art critics thought they were ugly and amateurish. Renoir was one of the first of the painters to get some respect, in part because he preferred painting people to landscapes. He got orders for portraits, which helped him make a living. Renoir ultimately gave up some of the techniques of the Impressionists. His paintings became more solid and less blurry in their effects, and he started using black paint again, which the Impressionists had given up.

In the last period of his life, he began to suffer from rheumatism, which ultimately confined him to a wheel chair. But he never stopped painting. Even after he lost the ability to move his fingers, he just bound the paintbrush to his hands. His late paintings all consist of the people and things around him: portraits of his wife, his children, his maid, and still life paintings of the flowers and fruit from his own garden.

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




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