Nov. 25, 2008
My grandfather is lying in the hospital bed
Listening to the radio every night.
It's the second week of the season; he's an Orioles fan
Ever since the O's came to Baltimore
In 1954but it's 1988 and they lose game
After game after game after game after game.
My grandfather's face looks like a hardball hit it
Black and blue and yellow. It's cancer
That tie dyes you in muted shades so you
Wind up looking like a hung-over toad,
Which is no big thing to my grandfather
Who drank too much and smoked way too much
Cigarsbut never was vain, never was
A look-in-the-mirror type but always grabbed
His hat and said he was ready. Grandpa's got a month
At the most, according to the oncologist who spoke as if
He were putting down a deuce at Pimlico.
Grandpa knows this, which is to say it's not
The dogwoods or forsythia or magnolias he's going to miss,
Not the newly mown grass or the crab soup his long time
Paramour, Bessie, still makes even though Grandpa can't
Eat much of anything anymore; he's a slave to tubes.
It's the losing streak that he can't abide because they're
Bound to win one, sooner or later the announcer's
Voice is going to take off into the ozone of announcer
Excitement with a whoosh and a wallop
And the curse will be over. Losing is for losers and Grandpa,
Who has spent his life making and taking bets,
Hates losers. Inning by inning we sit listening
And Grandpa knows it's stupid, he knows
He's dying and he should be thinking about last things
But he doesn't know anything about last things.
He hasn't been in a shul in fifty years and his
Only religion is the worship of the female body.
He's an idolater. A sack of calcified lust. I turn off
The radio and the nurse looks in on the mostly gone man
And his grandson sitting in the wan, fluorescent light
That could have come from Macbeth it's so
Grievous and spectral and unhealthy. Death light.
We aren't saying anything, but Grandpa's still alive
And though the O's have lost another there's still
Tomorrow. Grandpa closes his eyes when the nurse
Comes in with a little paper cup filled with pills
And I say that I've got to head home and grade some themes.
He opens his watery hesitant eyes because he knows
He might not see me again; he might not hear another
"Here's the first pitch." "We're not finished yet," he rasps
And I smile a smile I can't help because he's right.
It's the birthday of the man who popularized the story of Paul Bunyan, a man named James Stevens, (books by this author) who was probably born on this day on a farm near Albia, Iowa, in 1892. He worked as a logger, and at night in the logging camps, he listened to stories about Paul Bunyan. He wrote an article about the strongman who was a legend in the timber industry, and people liked it. So he wrote a whole book of stories, which he published in 1925 as Paul Bunyan.
It's the birthday of the poet Martha Collins, (books by this author) born in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1940. Her most recent book is called Blue Front (2006), a book-length poem about a lynching that her father saw when he was five years old in his hometown of Cairo, Illinois.
It's the birthday of Leonard Woolf, (books by this author) born in London in 1880. He was the husband of Virginia Woolf, and also a writer himself. He wrote many novels, and a five-part memoir: Sowing (1960), Growing (1961), Beginning Again (1964), Downhill All the Way (1967), and The Journey Not the Arrival Matters (1969).
It's the birthday of the Chinese novelist Ba Jin, (books by this author) born in Sichuan in 1904. As a young man, he went off to Paris, but he was incredibly lonely. He started to write about his experience growing up in a feudal household in China, and that became his first novel, Destruction (1929). He went back to China, and he spent the rest of his life writing novels, short stories, and essays, until he died a few years ago, at age 100.
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®