Nov. 4, 2007

A Scandal in the Suburbs

by X. J. Kennedy

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Poem: "A Scandal in the Suburbs" by X.J. Kennedy, from In a Prominent Bar in Secaucus: New and Selected Poems, 1955–2007. © The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

A Scandal in the Suburbs

We had to have him put away,
For what if he'd grown vicious?
To play faith healer, give away
Stale bread and stinking fishes!
His soapbox preaching set the tongues
Of all the neighbors going.
Odd stuff: how lilies never spin
And birds don't bother sowing.
Why, bums were coming to the door—
His pockets had no bottom—
And then-the foot-wash from that whore!
We signed. They came and got him.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the poet C. K. (Charles Kenneth) Williams, (books by this author) born in Newark, New Jersey (1936), the author of many collections of poetry, including Lies (1969) and Flesh and Blood (1987) and Repair (2000), which won the Pulitzer Prize.

It's the birthday of humorist Will Rogers, (books by this author) born near Claremore, Oklahoma (1879), who started out in vaudeville, performing rope tricks for the audience, but he talked to the audience between tricks and often made them laugh. He didn't want his jokes to grow stale, so his wife suggested that he read the newspaper everyday before performing, and make jokes about whatever was happening in the world. That was the beginning of his career as a so-called "Cowboy Philosopher." He went from being a Broadway showman, to a Hollywood actor, traveling public speaker, radio commentator, and newspaper columnist. His career as a newspaper columnist only lasted for 13 years, but in that time he managed to publish more than 2 million words. His column was syndicated in almost 400 papers; it was the most widely read column of its day.

It was on this day in 1918 that British war poet Wilfred Owen was killed in World War I, at the age of 25. He was trying to get his men across a canal in the early morning hours when they were attacked, and Owen was fatally hit. The war ended a week later.

It was on this day in 1922 that a British man named Howard Carter discovered the tomb of King Tutankhamen. At that time, most of the tombs in Egypt had been emptied of anything of value, but Carter had found references to a little-known pharaoh whose tomb had never been found. So he got funds for a series of excavations, and on this day in 1922, one of the site workers needed to set down his water jar, so he kicked some rocks off a flat spot on the ground and noticed that it looked like part of a staircase. By the end of the day, Carter had uncovered a series of steps that led to a sealed door. He waited three weeks to enter the tomb with his patron, Lord Carnarvon. When they finally went inside, Carter said, "At first I could see nothing, the hot air escaping from the chamber causing the candle flame to flicker, but presently, as my eyes grew accustomed to the light, details of the room within emerged slowly from the mist, strange animals, statues and gold ... everywhere the glint of gold."

It's the birthday of the novelist Charles Frazier, (books by this author) born in Asheville, North Carolina (1950), who was an English professor when he started researching the history of North Carolina and the southern Appalachians, in part to learn about his ancestors, who had lived in the area for more than 200 years. But he also felt that Appalachian culture was disappearing and he wanted to preserve it. Then, one day, he learned that his great-great-uncle was a Confederate soldier who had deserted the Confederate army and walked more than 250 miles to his home. Suddenly, Frazier realized that he could use all his research to write a novel loosely based on his ancestor's journey home from the war.

The result was Cold Mountain (1998). The first printing was just 25,000 copies. It sold out within a week of publication. The book went on to sell almost 2 million copies, and it won the National Book Award.

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