Apr. 9, 2007

One Organ Too Many

by Hal Sirowitz

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Poem: "One Organ Too Many" by Hal Sirowitz, from Father Said. © Soft Skull Press. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

One Organ Too Many

I know very little about how the body works,
Father said, but as long as it gets me to where
I want to go, I don't mind if it has to be repaired
from time to time. I can definitely think
of lots of ways it could have been designed better.
It makes me wonder what God was thinking about
when He created Adam. He must have been
exhausted from creating everything else. I wish
He could have thought of another way for me to have
kids without my needing a prostate gland. If I
had known I was going to get cancer there
I'd have gotten rid of it ages ago. But I couldn't
just walk into a hospital & ask for my prostate
to be removed. I first had to have a reason.
But when I finally had one it was too late.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the novelist and short-story writer Ken Kalfus, (books by this author) born in the Bronx (1954). Kalfus spent much of his early career as a freelance journalist. He wrote book reviews for The New York Times, and spent two years as a reporter for a science magazine. But what he really wanted to do was write fiction. Kalfus had been writing fiction since he was a kid, and in 1981 he began to publish a few stories here and there. He told himself that he had to make it as a fiction writer by the time he was 35 years old, or he would give it up. But 35 came and went and he still hadn't published a book. Instead, he married another journalist, and the two of them moved to Europe, where they worked as correspondents from Ireland, Paris, Yugoslavia, and finally Moscow.

Kalfus felt that living abroad changed his perception of even the most ordinary things. He said, "Just the idea of going out to get your milk and coffee is an adventure. You see everything fresh. It gives you a chance as an adult to see things in a more childlike way."

All the while that Kalfus was traveling around Europe with his wife, he was occasionally publishing short stories in American journals. He was 45 years old when his first collection of stories, Thirst, finally came out in 1998. It contained stories that Kalfus had written over the previous 10 years. The book got great reviews, and several critics named it as one of the best books of the year.

He went on to write two books of fiction that take place entirely in Russia, with no American characters, including his novel The Commissariat of Enlightenment (2003). His most recent book is A Disorder Peculiar to the Country (2006), about a married couple in New York City going through a divorce in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. On the day of the attacks, each of them hopes that the other has been killed.

It's the birthday of satirical songwriter Tom Lehrer, born in New York City (1928). He wrote, "Make a cross on your abdomen, / When in Rome do like a Roman, / Ave Maria, / Gee it's good to see ya, / Gettin' ecstatic an' / Sorta dramatic an' / Doin' the Vatican Rag!"

It's the birthday of cartoonist Frank King, born in Cashton, Wisconsin (1883). He was working as a cartoonist for the Chicago Tribune in 1918 when he began drawing a cartoon strip called "Gasoline Alley" about a group of characters named Walt, Doc, Avery, and Bill who got together every week to talk about their cars. The strip ran for a few years, and then in 1921, the editor of the paper decided that it needed to appeal more to women, so King drew a strip for Valentine's Day in which a baby was left on the doorstep of the bachelor Walt Wallet. From then on, the strip focused on the growing baby, named Skeezix, and Gasoline Alley became the first comic strip in which the characters aged. Skeezix grew up, served in World War II, got married to a girl named Nina Clock, and had children of his own.

It was on this day in 1865 that General Robert E. Lee (books by this author) surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Ulysses S. Grant, effectively ending the American Civil War. At that point, Lee's army consisted of about 25,000 soldiers, compared to Grant's army of more than 100,000. In the year leading up to the surrender, the Northern blockade of the South had made it almost impossible for the Confederate army to get proper supplies. Confederate soldiers were fighting without decent food, without proper clothing, in some cases without even shoes. Confederate numbers were also dwindling as many soldiers began to desert.

So Lee and Grant met in the village of Appomattox Court House, Virginia on this day in 1865, Palm Sunday, just after noon. After it was over, Grant said, "[I felt] sad and depressed at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, the worst for which people ever fought." When the Union soldiers began to cheer and celebrate, Grant ordered them to be silent out of respect.

Lee rode back to his camp, and crowds of Confederate soldiers along the road began to weep as he passed. When he reached his tent, Lee said to the crowd, "Go home now, and if you make as good citizens as you have soldiers, you will do well, and I shall always be proud of you. Goodbye, and God bless you all."

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




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