Oct. 8, 2007

Getting By

by Gary L. Lark

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Poem: "Getting By" by Gary L. Lark, from Men at the Gates. © Finishing Line Press, 2007. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Getting By

I grew up at the end of a dirt road
on a creek you've never heard of
off a spur, that if you drove up it
you wouldn't know why
when you got there.

Daddy drove cat for old man Stimpson
until he rolled it down the mountain
and broke his back. They said he was lucky,
being thrown clear. But Daddy said
pain talked to him every day
and he didn't like the conversation.

I started picking ferns, barking chittam
and selling mushrooms; made spinners
and tied trout flies; got used to getting by.
We ate venison and rabbit, nettles,
quail and grouse, trout and crawdads.
I learned to drink thunder water
on the spine of Mitchell hill.

When I was grown, Mama gave me a hundred dollars
she'd saved; told me to go to town.
Get a job, she said, make a life.
But I didn't want to change tires,
stock shelves, or join the army.
She withered up after that
tending her little patch of flowers
along the path to the spring.

Forty years later, I'm still getting by.
I've planted trees and cleaned toilets
for the parks, but I never left the woods,
even when I had to sleep in my truck.
There's still a place or two left
to pick mushrooms, and I get along
alright with the dope growers.

I'll deliver illegal smoked salmon
if you get word from one of my regulars.
And when you hurry your kids along
in the grocery store, I understand;
I won't be there long.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the science fiction author Frank Herbert, (books by this author) born in Tacoma, Washington (1920), who was a journalist and an early member of the environmentalist movement, when he decided that he might reach more people with his ideas if he put them into science fiction novels. So he wrote his novel Dune (1965) about a desert planet where people only survive because they have learned to conserve and recycle every possible trace of moisture. Dune was one of the first science fiction novels to completely imagine an entirely different world, with different plants and animals, different social classes, and a whole set of elaborate religious beliefs. It became a cult novel on college campuses and went on to sell about 12 million copies.

It's the birthday of young-adult novelist R.L. (Robert Lawrence) Stine, (books by this author) born in Bexley, Ohio (1943), who created the Fear Street series of scary books for kids, the first modern children's book series for that sold equally well to both boys and girls. Some critics have said that his books aren't good for children, but R.L. Stein said, "I believe that kids as well as adults are entitled to books of no socially redeeming value."

It's the birthday of the comic-book writer and essayist Harvey Pekar, (books by this author) born in Cleveland, Ohio (1939), who created the first-ever autobiographical comic-book series, American Splendor, about Pekar's daily difficulties at the supermarket, at his job, at home and in his dating life. The first issue of American Splendor came out in 1976, and Pekar continued publishing a new issue every summer, printing 10,000 copies of each new issue himself and distributing copies to independent bookstores and comic-book shops across the country. After 15 years, he was picked up by a publishing house. His work inspired a whole generation of artists to write autobiographical comic books. An anthology of his work called American Splendor: The Life and Times of Harvey Pekar came out in 2003.

When asked why he wanted to turn his life into a comic book, Harvey Pekar said, "I wanted to write literature that pushed people into their lives rather than helping people escape from them."

It's Columbus Day, the day we remember Christopher Columbus's voyage across the Atlantic in 1492, though he actually came ashore in the New World on October 12, 1492. He didn't discover the Americas, of course, there were people here already, but he was the first to publicize the existence of the Americas to the rest of Europe, sparking waves of exploration. He was trying to find a new trade route to Asia, and he'd gotten the idea to sail around the world in the opposite direction. He just miscalculated the size of the Earth. He thought the distance from Spain to Asia was about 2,700 miles, when in fact it's about 13,000. He pitched his idea to the Spanish King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella and they turned him down, twice, until they conquered the Moorish kingdom of Granada in January 1492 and had some extra treasure to pay for the trip.

And so Columbus sailed, with the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria, three relatively small ships, none of them bigger than a tennis court. After sailing for a little more than a month, they saw a light on the western horizon about 10:00 p.m. on October 11, 1492. Columbus said it was "like a little wax candle that was lifting and rising." They went ashore the following day, probably on one of the islands of the Bahamas.

Columbus never made much money from his exploration, and when he died in 1506, he still believed that he had found a new route to Asia.

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




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