Mar. 19, 2007

Crooked Wisdom

by Robert Fanning

MONDAY, 19 MARCH, 2007
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Poem: "Crooked Wisdom" by Robert Fanning, from The Seed Thieves. © Marick Press. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Crooked Wisdom

Having learned last night of his wife's affair,
my dentist holds a giant silver spear
and leans over the canyon of my open jaw.
Diving in again, vulture-sure, he picks

at my gum's weak pink flesh. Between
cliffs, down in the bone and coral landscape
of my teeth, nerve tips burst and bloom
like crimson flowers on a hill. Soon

blood's smeared red signature runs
from a deep root and floods my tongue.
Half-under with gas and lovely numb,
I watch his left eye become a clouded moon,

then one black branch of an eyelash
catch a teardrop's sheer balloon. With quick
shame, like a lion tamer stricken with naked
fear, he leaves the work of the open mouth

and the raw wound to another. He lays
the mirror down beside the spear and exits
the room. Anesthesia doesn't dim his grief
a room away. I hear the hygienist say:

She's leaving you for him. You've seen this
coming for a year ...

A bit later he returns, composed in his white
smock, and clips the X-rays of my teeth
to the board. Then he lifts his pointer
to the slideshow of my bite: backlit, exposed,

the skull's little ornaments hang; bicuspids
and molars glow with hunger and decay. See here
he points — here's the abscess. Here's the cavity,
and here's that crooked wisdom pushing through.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of one of the least successful presidential candidates in American history, William Jennings Bryan, (books by this author) born in Salem, Illinois (1860). He ran for president as the Democratic candidate three times, and he lost each time. He's probably best remembered today for his role in the famous "Scopes Monkey Trial" (1925). Bryan argued against teaching evolution in public schools in part because he objected to Social Darwinism, and he believed that the theory of evolution was fueling the Eugenics movement.

But he was also an extremely influential politician. He became a Democrat because he believed that Republicans weren't addressing the concerns of poor rural farmers across the country. Bryan believed farmers were the victims of gold speculators and corrupt loan agents. He was also one of the early supporters of women's suffrage, corporate income taxes, labor rights, the eight-hour workday, antitrust laws, and the direct election of U.S. senators. He was one of the first people to advocate expanding the powers of the Federal government to help ordinary people, and it was that idea that became the new foundation of the Democratic Party.

It's the birthday of novelist Philip Roth, (books by this author) born in Newark, New Jersey (1933). He grew up in a crowded Jewish neighborhood, and he always loved listening to the conversations of his neighbors. He said, "In warm weather, people sat on the stoops and on beach chairs in the driveways. [At night] you'd be sweating, trying to sleep, and you'd hear them, you'd hear their conversation all the time, and it would be very comforting."

At an early age, he began to rebel against the expectations of his community, where all the parents demanded that their kids would become successful doctors and lawyers without losing touch with their cultural roots. He said, "Newark [was] the battleground ... between the European family of immigrants ... who clung to the rigorous orthodoxy and the [American] children who wanted to be rid of all that because they sensed immediately that it was useless in this society."

He went on to the University of Chicago to study English literature, and it was there that he began to write his first short stories. He published his first book, the collection of short stories Goodbye Columbus, in 1959, and it got good reviews and won several awards. He came out with his big best seller, Portnoy's Complaint, 10 years later in 1969. He has gone on to write many more novels, including American Pastoral (1997), I Married a Communist (1998), and The Human Stain (2000). His most recent novel is Everyman (2006).

Philip Roth said, "I cannot and do not live in the world of discretion, not as a writer, anyway. I would prefer to, I assure you — it would make life easier. But discretion is, unfortunately, not for novelists."

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




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