Aug. 16, 2008
It happens in an instant.
My grandma used to say
someone is walking on your grave.
It's that moment when your life
is suddenly strange to you
as someone else's coat
you have slipped on at a party
by accident, and it is far
too big or too tight for you.
Your life feels awkward, ill
fitting. You remember why you
came into this kitchen, but you
feel you don't belong here.
It scares you in a remote
numb way. You fear that you—
whatever you means, this mind,
this entity stuck into a name
like mercury dropped into water—
have lost the ability to enter your
self, a key that no longer works.
Perhaps you will be locked
out here forever peering in
at your body, if that self is really
what you are. If you are at all.
On this day in 1977, Elvis Presley died at 42 in Memphis, Tennessee. Elvis Presley said, "Ambition is a dream with a V8 engine."
It's the birthday of Charles Bukowski, (books by this author) born in Andernach, Germany (1920). His family moved to Los Angeles when he was just two years old. His father was so frustrated by the difficulty of earning a living in the United States that he became abusive. He once beat Bukowski with a two-by-four. The kids in the neighborhood picked on Bukowski because he came from Germany, and at the time Germans were still considered the enemy. When he was a teenager, he developed terrible acne and he decided that he hated his father, and he hated the America Dream. He got a steady job as a postal clerk, and he decided to become a writer. He published his first book of poems when he was 40 years old, Flower, Fist and Bestial Wail (1960).
He published more than 15 books of fiction and poetry in the next 10 years, including Confessions of a Man Insane Enough to Live with Beasts (1965), and Poems Written Before Jumping Out of an 8 Story Window (1968).
He said, "Bad luck for the young poet would be a rich father, an early marriage, an early success or the ability to do anything well."
It's the birthday of author and editor William Maxwell, (books by this author) born in Lincoln, Illinois (1908). He wrote many novels, including They Came Like Swallows (1937) and So Long, See You Tomorrow (1980). Most of his short stories are collected in All the Days and Nights (1995).
He grew up in a small town in Illinois. His father was salesman on the road for long periods at a time. He was very close to his mother. He said, "She just shone on me like the sun." During the epidemic in 1918, his mother came down with influenza and she died. He wrote, "It happened too suddenly, with no warning, and we none of us could believe it or bear it ... the beautiful, imaginative, protected world of my childhood swept away." He moved away from Lincoln, Illinois, but he never forgot about the place and he wrote many of his short stories about his childhood there with his mother. He moved off to New York and got a job as an editor at The New Yorker. Maxwell worked at The New Yorker for 40 years, editing fiction by John Updike, J.D. Salinger, and Vladimir Nabokov. He said that what made him a good editor was that he himself hated being edited, and so he changed very little.
It's the birthday of Beat poet Lew Welch, (books by this author) born in Phoenix, Arizona (1926). He's the author of many collections of poetry, including Hermit Poems (1965) and At Times We're Almost Able To See (1965). He became friends with poets Gary Snyder and Philip Whalen at Reed College in the late 1940s.
After he graduated, he became a part of the San Francisco poetry scene. His first book, Wobbly Rock, was published in 1960. He taught poetry workshops at Berkeley, but he became depressed and he moved up into the mountains. In 1971, his friend Gary Snyder visited Welch's campsite and he found a suicide note in Welch's truck. Welch's body was never found.
He said, "Seeking perfect total enlightenment is like looking for a flashlight when all you need the flashlight for is to find your flashlight."
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®