Aug. 19, 2009
In the morning, after much delay,
I finally go down to the basement
to replace the broken dryer belt.
First I unbolt the panels
and sweep up the dust mice and crumbling spiders.
I listen to the sounds of the furnace
thinking things over
at the beginning of winter.
Then I stretch out on the concrete floor
with a flashlight in my mouth
to contemplate the mystery
of the pulley-tensioner assembly.
And finally, with a small, keen pleasure,
I slip the new belt over the spindle, rise,
and screw everything back together.
Later, we have a birthday dinner
for my wife's grandmother, who is dying
of bone cancer. Maybe,
if they dial up the chemo, fine tune the meds,
we'll do this again next year.
But she's old, and the cancer
seems to know what it's doing.
Everyone loves her broccoli casserole.
as for the cake, it sits on the table,
a small brown mountain we can't see beyond.
That night I empty the washer,
throw the damp clothes in the dryer.
For half an hour my wife's blouses
wrestle with my shirts
in a hot and whirling ecstasy,
because I replaced an ancient belt
and adjusted the pulley-tensioner assembly.
It's the birthday of Ogden Nash, (books by this author) born in Rye, New York (1902). He wrote light, clever poems in books like Hard Lines (1931) and Everyone But Thee and Me (1962), and he wrote poems for children, and a Broadway success, One Touch of Venus.
He wrote, "There is only one way to achieve happiness on this terrestrial ball, and that is to have either a clear conscience or none at all."
It's the birthday of the woman who created "the little black dress": Coco Chanel, born Gabrielle Chanel in Saumur, France (1883). Her parents were poor, she was an illegitimate child, and when her mother died, she was sent to an orphanage. When she turned 18, she went to work for a tailor, and she also sang in cafés and concert halls. She was a mistress to one wealthy man and then another, and with the money they gave her, she set up her own millinery shop, which she opened in 1910. Soon her clothes became popular among the elite of Paris. She took men's styles and made them feminine — loose clothes made from jersey, short skirts, suits — and women were relieved to have comfortable clothes suddenly be stylish, and to get rid of the corsets that had been popular for many years. She expanded into the perfume business and created Chanel No. 5. She was still at work when she died in 1971, having ruled over the Paris fashion industry for almost 60 years.
She said, "Fashion fades, only style remains the same."
And it's the birthday of a great writer who passed away just last month, Frank McCourt, (books by this author) born on this day in Brooklyn (1930). His parents were Irish immigrants, and when Frank was four years old, the family moved back to Ireland. McCourt had a difficult childhood, living in extreme poverty with an alcoholic father who was often absent. Three of his six brothers and sisters died from malnutrition and disease. He wrote: "People everywhere brag and whimper about the woes of their early years, but nothing can compare with the Irish version: the poverty; the shiftless loquacious father; the pious defeated mother moaning by the fire; pompous priests; bullying school masters; the English and the terrible things they did to us for eight hundred long years. Above all — we were wet."
When Frank McCourt was 19, he managed to make it back to America, where he worked at a hotel and at a hat factory. Then he was drafted into the Army and fought in Germany. Afterward, the Army let him go to college on the GI bill, even though he didn't have a high school education. And from there, he became a teacher. He taught English in the New York public schools for 30 years, and he frequently told his students stories about his childhood.
And then, after he retired, he started to write his story. But he struggled with the voice. He had written about 20 pages, and one night he made a note for himself about something he wanted to write about the next day, and he jotted it down in a simple present tense. And it felt right, so the next day he started writing in the voice of a child, and that became his memoir of his childhood in Ireland, Angela's Ashes (1996). It won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award, and it stayed on the New York Times best seller list for two years. He followed it up with two more memoirs, 'Tis (1999) and Teacher Man (2005).
He said, "After a full belly all is poetry."
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®