Dec. 4, 2008
Although there were no witnesses
In the hallway outside the women's room
Of the Hotel Coronado,
When my aunt stumbled
And fell to her knees on the ancient marble
It must have been like the swordsman
Falling in The Seven Samurai,
A whole dynasty collapsing,
Falling out of its bones
Into the mud. I was reading
The sports section in the lobby
When a boy, probably sixteen or so,
Ran in and called my name.
An old woman has fallen, he said,
Frightened that something
So enormous could happen, that fate
Should cast him as an emissary
Announcing dynastic collapse
Instead of just a high school kid,
And I stood up and ran to her
Although I'm fifty-six now, and breaking
Into a spontaneous run feels like
Trying out a language you'd lost
As a kid who'd swapped countries.
And there she sat, lean and elegant,
Like an athlete who'd collapsed
From sheer exhaustion, her legs
Drawn up to her chin as she fought
To lift the whole city again,
The crumbling Coronado,
Where Miles Davis used to jam,
And the Continental, where the Gershwins
Hung out at the Tack Room,
And the abandoned Fox Theater
Where she saw Olivier's Hamlet
And even the boarded up
Forest Park Boat house, where her father
Used to take her for ice cream
In the sweltering St. Louis summers.
An old woman has fallen.
It's the birthday of writer Samuel Butler, (books by this author) born in Nottinghamshire, England (1835). He wrote Erewhon (1872), a satire of The Origin of Species, and a novel called The Way of All Flesh, published after he died.
It's the birthday of the poet Rainer Maria Rilke, (books by this author) born in Prague (1875). His family wanted him to be a lawyer and take over his uncle's law firm. But he published some sentimental love poetry, and it inspired him to make his living as a writer. He went to Munich to be part of the arts scene there, and he met a woman, Lou Salomé. She was brilliant, she had been friends with Nietzsche, she was 15 years older than Rilke. She took the young poet under her wing, helped him develop as a writer, and persuaded him to give up writing sentimental poems and become more ambitious. He followed her all over Europe. When they broke up, he traveled around and seduced rich noblewomen who would support him while he wrote. He wasn't too handsome, but he was poetic and romantic, so women fell for him. Then he met another older woman, the Princess Marie von Thurn und Taxis. She thought he treated other women badly and refused to be seduced. But they became close friends and exchanged hundreds of letters, and Marie let Rilke stay in her castle in Trieste, on the Adriatic Sea. He loved it there, at the Castle Duino, and one winter while he was living there alone, he said an angel appeared. The angel started talking to him about life and death, about beauty and humanity, and Rilke went right to work on what turned out to be his most famous poems, The Duino Elegies, 10 long verses.
In Letters to a Young Poet, he wrote, "You are so young, so before all beginning, and I want to beg you, as much as I can, dear sir, to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now."
And he said, "The purpose of life is to be defeated by greater and greater things."
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®