Friday

Sep. 25, 2009

Once in a While

by Mark Perlberg

Mother was agitated all morning.
A call had come from her brother Harold,
who was spoken of only in whispers
and despised by those with a talent
for never changing their minds.
But Mother loved him.

Somehow I learned that my uncle
had forged checks and spent time in prison.
And I knew he played the saxophone
in small jazz bands.

In late afternoon the doorbell rang.

My uncle stood in the hall.
A tall man slightly stooped, he shook snow
from his long brown overcoat. He had a high
hooked nose and wavy brown hair
that fell across his forehead,
and he carried packages wrapped in Christmas paper.

My stepfather signaled: disappear.

In early evening Uncle Harold
knocked on my door with a gift for me:
jazz records, the first I'd seen.

Fats Waller beaming from the album cover
is clearer to me now than my uncle's face.
"I can't give you anything but love, baby."

A mourning sax backing Lee Wiley:
"Once in a while, will you give just
one little thought to me…"

At first light my uncle was gone,
His footprints vanishing in a fresh fall of snow.

"Once in a While" by Mark Perlberg, from Waiting for the Alchemist. © Louisiana State University Press, 2009. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of children's book author and poet Shel Silverstein, (books by this author) born in Chicago (1930), who wrote the verse:
If you had a giraffe
and he stretched another half …
you would have a giraffe and a half.

Silverstein wrote many children's books, including best-sellers A Light in the Attic (1981) and Where the Sidewalk Ends (1974).

It's the birthday of William (Cuthbert) Faulkner (born Falkner) (books by this author) in New Albany, Mississippi (1897). He liked to get up early, eat a breakfast of eggs and broiled steak and lots of coffee, and then take his tobacco and pipe and go to his study. He took off the doorknob and carried it inside with him. There he wrote his novels by hand on large sheets of paper, and then typed them out with two fingers on an old Underwood portable. He was prolific this way — in a four-year span, he published some of his best novels: Sartoris (1929), The Sound and the Fury (1929), As I Lay Dying (1930), Sanctuary (1931), and Light in August (1932). In 1949, he won the Nobel Prize in literature.

He grew up in Oxford, Mississippi. When he was 24, he went north when a friend got him a job at the Doubleday bookstore in New York. His uncle, a judge in Oxford, said, "He ain't ever going to amount to a damn — not a damn." At first, Faulkner was a good salesman, but pretty soon he started telling his customers not to read the "trash" they wanted to buy. He went back to Oxford and took a position as a fourth-class postmaster at the University of Mississippi, but he was forced to resign because he kept magazines until he'd read them, let holiday hams spoil before he delivered them, and closed down early to drive out to the golf course in his yellow Model T Ford. He went to New Orleans, where he met the writer Sherwood Anderson. In college, Faulkner had written poetry, but Anderson said: "You've got too much talent. You can do it too easy, in too many different ways. If you're not careful, you'll never write anything." Anderson encouraged him to try fiction, and Faulkner moved into his apartment and wrote his first novel, Soldiers' Pay (1926).

William Faulkner's most violent book was probably Sanctuary (1931), which he first wrote as a potboiler. He wanted it to shock people. He said he wrote it after having "made a thorough and methodical study of everything on the list of best-sellers. When I thought I knew what the public wanted, I decided to give them a little more than they had been getting." There are nine murders mentioned in the story, and a college student is raped with a corncob by a gangster. When Faulkner's publisher read it, he said, "Good God, I can't publish this. We'd both be in jail." But Sanctuary was published, and it sold more copies in three weeks than The Sound and the Fury sold in two years. When his wife read it, she said, "It's horrible." Faulkner said, "It's meant to be."

William Faulkner said, "The writer's only responsibility is to his art. He will be completely ruthless if he is a good one."

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

 









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