Thursday

Nov. 6, 2008

Lucky

by Tony Hoagland

If you are lucky in this life,
you will get to help your enemy
the way I got to help my mother
when she was weakened past the point of saying no.

Into the big enamel tub
half-filled with water
which I had made just right,
I lowered the childish skeleton
she had become.

Her eyelids fluttered as I soaped and rinsed
her belly and her chest,
the sorry ruin of her flanks
and the frayed gray cloud
between her legs.

Some nights, sitting by her bed
book open in my lap
while I listened to the air
move thickly in and out of her dark lungs,
my mind filled up with praise
as lush as music,

amazed at the symmetry and luck
that would offer me the chance to pay
my heavy debt of punishment and love
with love and punishment.

And once I held her dripping wet
in the uncomfortable air
between the wheelchair and the tub,
and she begged me like a child

to stop,
an act of cruelty which we both understood
was the ancient irresistible rejoicing
of power over weakness.

If you are lucky in this life,
you will get to raise the spoon
of pristine, frosty ice cream
to the trusting creature mouth
of your old enemy

because the tastebuds at least are not broken
because there is a bond between you
and sweet is sweet in any language.

"Lucky" by Tony Hoagland from Donkey Gospel. © Graywolf Press, 1998. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It was on this day in 1860 that Abraham Lincoln was elected to his first term as president of the United States. Lincoln's only experience in national politics had been a single term as a congressional representative and two unsuccessful runs for senator. He had only one year of formal schooling and no administrative experience. Newspapers called him a "third-rate Western lawyer."

Once he got the nomination, Lincoln lay low until the election. He only attended one campaign rally, in Springfield, and he didn't even make a speech.

The Southern states took his election as a sign that slavery would be abolished, and before he even had a chance to take the oath of office, South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas all seceded from the Union. Abraham Lincoln would spend all but the last few weeks of his life fighting to hold the country together.

It's the birthday of the man who founded The New Yorker magazine, Harold Ross, born in Aspen, Colorado (1892). His father worked in the mining business. He ran away from home when he was 16, and he worked at various newspapers from New Orleans to California. He was known for his love of the nightlife in San Francisco.

In the 1920s, Ross worked in the New York City publishing industry and became friends with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Irving Berlin, and George Gershwin. Ross raised money from a friend whose father had made a fortune in yeast, and on February 21, 1925, the first issue of The New Yorker hit the stands.

Ross was obsessed with the details of the magazine. He believed in accuracy above all else, and he used fact checkers for everything, including fiction and cartoons. He never let a cartoonist draw a lamp without showing the cord plugged into a socket.

It's the birthday of Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Michael Cunningham, (books by this author) born in Cincinnati in 1952 and raised near Pasadena, California. He majored in English at Stanford and then traveled around the country, working as a bartender and waiter. He went to the Iowa Writers' Workshop. Then he came up with the idea of writing a "modern-day version" of Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway, to take place in New York City. Mrs. Dalloway's counterpart would be a 52-year-old gay man.

He wanted Virginia Woolf to be a character in his novel, and he chose the title The Hours, which had been Woolf's working title for Mrs. Dalloway.

In the novel, Cunningham imagines the day in 1923 when Woolf starts to write the book that becomes Mrs. Dalloway. He won the Pulitzer Prize for The Hours.

He said, "I would never write a pessimistic book. I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act."

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

 









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