Sep. 25, 2007

Autobiography of the Cab Driver Who Picked Me Up At a Phoenix Hotel to Catch a Four A.M. Flight and

by Rebecca McClanahan

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Poem: "Autobiography of the Cab Driver Who Picked Me Up at a Phoenix Hotel to Catch a Four A.M. Flight and Began to Speak in (Almost) Rhyming Couplets" by Rebecca McClanahan, from Deep Light: New and Selected Poems, 1987–2007. © Iris Press, 2007. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Autobiography of the Cab Driver Who Picked Me Up At a Phoenix Hotel to Catch a Four A.M. Flight and Began to Speak in (Almost) Rhyming Couplets

I got two problems. One,
I never see the sun
and two, if I did,
I couldn't take it, never could.
Now, my sister? Out one day
and brown the next. That's the way
my father was. We never
took vacations but he used to steer
on Sundays with one arm
out the window. Get dark as a black man.
Something in his blood, I guess.
Once I bought me a mess
of tanning cream, but something
kept me from using it.
He's been dead a whole
year. They say there's not a soul
on the streets this hour,
but the souls are just now rousing.
Yes Ma'am, when I see daylight I slide
into my coffin and close the lid.
Cooler that way. They say if you can survive
a summer in this heat, you're a native.
My brother's child? She claims to be one,
but I tell her she's got Made in Japan
stamped all over her keister.
Hey lady, you still on Eastern
time? You can have it. Yesterday
the TV reporter in Cincinnati
was three feet in snow. I phoned
my old drinking buddy back home
to rub it in. Lied and said I was out
today without a shirt. Barefoot.
He said you can keep those hundred
degrees. I said you don't have to shovel
a heat wave. Young lady, you okay?
Looks like you're fading. The longest day
I ever lived was the night
I left for Vietnam. What a sight,
would you look at that? Damn
jackhammers at three a.m.
They sure like to play in the dirt here.
Yes Ma'am. It's the same everywhere.
The shortest distance between
two points is always under construction.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of William Faulkner, (books by this author) born in New Albany, Mississippi (1897), who took a long time to figure out what to do with himself after high school. He was rejected for military service by the U.S., went to the University of Mississippi for a year, where he got a D in his English class, went to New York City, where he was fired from a job at a bookstore because he told the customers they were reading trash, and then he worked for a while at a post office, until he lost that job because he failed to deliver the mail and often closed down early to go golfing. He finally started writing poetry and fiction, but he didn't find his subject until he met the writer Sherwood Anderson, who advised him to write about his hometown. So Faulkner began looking into the history of Oxford, Mississippi, its inhabitants, their feuds, and their connections to each other, going back for generations, and he began to invent an imaginary version of Oxford he called Jefferson, located in an imaginary county he called Yoknapatawpha.

Faulkner said, "I discovered that my own little postage stamp of native soil was worth writing about and that I would never live long enough to exhaust it, and by sublimating the actual into apocryphal I would have complete liberty to use whatever talent I might have to its absolute top."

In the next four years, Faulkner wrote some of his best novels: Sartoris (1929), The Sound and the Fury (1929), As I Lay Dying (1930), Sanctuary (1931), and Light in August (1932). He went on writing through the 1930s, but he never really broke through to popular success. By 1944, all but one of his books was out of print. But in 1945, the critic Malcolm Cowley helped publish a Portable Faulkner edition, which brought attention back to his work. Then in 1949, he won the Nobel Prize for literature. He is now one of the most studied authors in the English language. More than 1,300 books have been written about him and his work.

It's the birthday of the cartoonist, poet, songwriter, and playwright Shel Silverstein, (books by this author) born in Chicago (1932), whose first big success was The Giving Tree, which came out in 1964, the story of a tree that sacrifices its fruit, branches, and finally its trunk to a little boy in order to make him happy. Silverstein's publishers told him that it wouldn't sell very well because it wasn't really a children's book or an adult book, and at first those publishers were right. But The Giving Tree became the subject of church sermons and Sunday school reading lists, and its sales doubled every year for about 10 years. It's become a standard gift for Mother's Day and for weddings. It still sells more than 250,000 copies a year, more than 40 years after it was first published. Silverstein's other books include Where the Sidewalk Ends (1974) and A Light in the Attic (1981). Shel Silverstein, who was a recluse, rarely gave interviews, did not go on any book tours, and lived in a houseboat full of musical instruments in Key West, Florida. He never owned a car, and he walked everywhere he went. He died in 1999.

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