Apr. 4, 2009

Have You Met Miss Jones?

by Charles Simic

I have. At the funeral
Pulling down her skirt to cover her knees
While inadvertently
Showing us her cleavage
Down to the tip of her nipples.

A complete stranger, wobbly on her heels,
Negotiating the exit
With the assembled mourners
Eyeing her rear end
With visible interest.

Presidential hopefuls
Will continue to lie to the people
As we sit here bowed.
New hatreds will sweep the globe
Faster than the weather.
Sewer rats will sniff around
Lit cash machines
While we sigh over the departed.

And her beauty will live on, no matter
What any one of these black-clad,
Grim veterans of every wake,
Every prison gate and crucifixion,
Sputters about her discourtesy.

Miss Jones, you'll be safe
With the insomniacs. You'll triumph
Where they pour wine from a bottle
Wrapped in a white napkin,
Eat sausage with pan-fried potatoes,
And grow misty-eyed remembering

The way you walked past the open coffin,
Past the stiff with his nose in the air
Taking his long siesta.
A cute little number an old man said,
But who was she?
Miss Jones, the guest book proclaimed.

"Have You Met Miss Jones?" by Charles Simic, from Walking the Black Cat. © Harcourt Brace & Company, 1996. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

On this day in 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated by a rifleman while standing on the second-story balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. He had come to Tennessee to support a strike by the city's sanitation workers. The night before he died, he gave a speech at the Memphis Temple Church in which he said: "I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the promised land."

It's the birthday of French novelist, memoirist, and screenwriter Marguerite Duras, (books by this author) born near Saigon, Vietnam (1914). Her parents were schoolteachers who worked for the French government, which sent them to its colony, Indochina. But her dad got sick when she was a child, and returned to France, where he died. Her mother bought a rice field as a financial investment, but it was destroyed in a flood, and the family was destitute. Both her mother and her older brother were physically abusive to her.

As a teenager, Duras took on a lover, a wealthy older Chinese man that she met on a ferry. Her mother encouraged Marguerite to use the man for his money but not sleep with him. But Duras began a conflicted love affair. It was a period that she would return to again and again in her later writing, giving distinctly different versions of the affair in her autobiographical works The Sea Wall (1950), The North China Lover (1991), and her most famous book, The Lover (1984). In one version, she said he was ridiculous looking, short and skinny, and that she was ashamed to be seen with him. In another, she said he was handsome and romantic, and wrote that he was "a tall Chinese. He has the white skin of the North Chinese. He is very elegant. He has on the raw silk suit and mahogany-colored English shoes young Saigon bankers wear."

She moved back to France when she was 17, and studied at the Sorbonne. She got married, and she and her husband were both members of the French Resistance. He was sent to a concentration camp, but he survived. He returned very sick, hardly able to walk, weighing only 84 pounds. She struggled with alcoholism throughout her later years, and she said she drank because she knew God did not exist.

She said, "Men like women who write. Even though they don't say so. A writer is a foreign country."

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




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