Monday

Nov. 15, 2010

The Day I Made My Father Proud

by Michael Moran

The doorbell jarred me
toward consciousness
on a sultry Sunday morning
when I was nineteen,
a college sophomore.
I had slept where the bourbon
laid me—on an old couch
reclaimed from a curb.
The party had sped by,
left me road-kill,
limp and snoring,
so my roommates said,
and now I stumbled
to the buzzing door,
remembering what I had never
completely forgotten—
my family is coming.

Dad at the door.
I mumble, 'I overslept,'
as he surveys the wreckage
of these tired rooms:
lip-sticked cigarette butts,
crushed aluminum cans,
glasses floating sliced limes,
broken brown bottles,
a sticky wooden floor under
smoked-and-perfumed air.
He turns slowly to me
and winks! 'We can't
let your mother see this,'
as if we'd planned the party
together, drank from the same
Yellowstone bottle all night.

We spring to action,
sponging spills, opening windows,
gathering garbage. He spins
through the rooms
with the grace of a dancer—
a miniature Falstaff—
humming old barroom songs
from his Navy days,
chuckling softly, his eyes
gleaming as he hides
the half-emptied Jim Beam.
By the time my mother
has herded all my siblings
up the stairs to the apartment,
we have salvaged it to decency.

You see, he thought I was
too serious, worried that I
read too many books, never
got into real trouble.
I remember the way
he stared at me
one Halloween evening
when I told him
I was staying home
to read King Lear.
His cold brown eyes
were sad, disgusted,
the eyes of an Elizabethan
reveler who had just heard
that the Puritans
had closed the theatres.

But that morning
I made him proud,
couldn't have done better,
unless, perhaps,
one of the girls
had slept over
and answered the door,
wearing nothing
but my faded
red flannel shirt,
top buttons
undone.

"The Day I Made My Father Proud" by Michael Moran, from The Fallen World. © Larkspur Press, 2008. Reprinted with permission.

It's the birthday of poet Marianne Moore, (books by this author) born in a Presbyterian Church in Kirkwood, Missouri, near St. Louis, in 1887. She won three of the most prestigious prizes in poetry: the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the Bollingen Award.

She was a Modernist poet, friends with Ezra Pound, but she's known for writing avant-garde poetry that was accessible to everyone — not just erudite ponderings for the educated elite. She famously wrote in one poem that it is not "valid / to discriminate against 'business documents and / school-books': all these phenomena are important." And she said, "Poetry is all nouns and verbs."

In her 20s, she was living with her mother and teaching typing at Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania. She was dreaming of being a painter, and she kept a scrapbook full of newspaper clippings and articles about Post-Impressionist criticism and art gallery openings. At the same time, she wrote poems and submitted them to modern literary journals, but kept getting rejection slips. In the months before her 28th birthday, though, she had a series of small successes: Poetry magazine, The Egoist,and a magazine called Others each published some of her poems.

She quit teaching typing in Pennsylvania, moved with her mom to Greenwich Village, and in 1921 saw her first book of poems published — though it was done without her knowledge, by her friend Hilda Doolittle in London. She hung out with other writers in the East Village, worked at the New York Public Library, edited a literary journal, and continued to write her own poems, about things like giraffes, swans, fish, snails, toads, dragons, octopi, jumping rats, baseball, and boxing.

Trying to explain her "inordinate interest in animals and athletes," she said: "They are subjects for art and exemplars of it, are they not? Minding their own business. Pangolins, hornbills, pitchers, catchers, do not pry or prey — or prolong the conversation; do not make us self-conscious; look their best when caring least. … Perhaps I really don't know. I do know that I don't know how to account for a person who could be indifferent to miracles of dexterity, a certain feat by Don Zimmer — a Dodger at the time — making a backhand catch of a ball coming hard from behind on the left, fast enough to take his hand off."

Her collections include Observations (1924), The Pangolin and Other Verse (1936), What Are Years (1941), Like a Bulwark, (1956), O To Be a Dragon (1959), Dress and Kindred Subjects (1965), Tell Me, Tell Me: Granite, Steel and Other Topics (1966), and The Accented Syllable (1969). She also wrote a verse translation of the Fables of La Fontaine (1954) and a book of literary essays called Predilections (1955). "Predilection" was one of her favorite words.

Poet Elizabeth Bishop once called Marianne Moore "the world's greatest living observer." She was already a famous American poet when in 1955 the Ford Motor Company asked for her help in naming its latest car model. She came up with the names Mongoose Civique, Varsity Stroke, the Anticipator, Resilient Bullet, Ford Silver Sword, Thunder Crester, Pastelogram, the Intelligent Whale, Andante con Moto and, ultimately, Utopian Turtletop. But the Ford Company went with the name Edsel for the new car, after Henry Ford's son. The car did not sell well.

Moore was lifelong friends with poet Wallace Stevens. She was also a lifelong Republican and a devout Presbyterian. She never married and she lived with her mom until her mom's death. She was a literary celebrity around New York, and could be seen around the city wearing a black cape and a triangular-shaped hat, her hair done up in a braid. At the age of 78, she appeared on the cover of Esquire magazine.

She hung out at the Bronx zoo and with the New York mayor, and she loved to go to boxing matches and baseball games, and — at the age of 80 — ecstatically threw the first pitch at the 1968 Yankee Stadium season opener. She suffered a stroke right afterward. She had a series of small strokes in her later years; after one of them she said, "Nearly every word I write now lacks a final letter." She lived until 1972.

She once wrote: "Poetry. I, too, dislike it: There are things that are important beyond all this fiddle. [But,] if you demand on the one hand / the raw material of poetry in / all its rawness and / that which is on the other hand / genuine, then you are interested in poetry."

And, "Poetry is the art of creating imaginary gardens with real toads."

From the archives:

It's the birthday of the poet Ted Berrigan, (books by this author) born in Providence, Rhode Island (1934). He was the author of many collections of poetry, including Poems, In Brief (1971), Red Wagon (1976), and A Certain Slant of Sunlight (1988).

It's the birthday of Georgia O'Keeffe, born in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin (1887), who was an unknown 29-year-old art teacher when a series of her charcoal drawings wound up in the hands of the photographer and art promoter Alfred Stieglitz, and he put the drawings in his art gallery on Fifth Avenue in New York City without even asking her. At first, she was angry that her work had been exhibited without her permission, but the drawings made her famous, the first American woman to be taken seriously by the art world.

She eventually met Stieglitz; they hit it off and got married. O'Keeffe eventually became even more famous for her paintings of flowers, but when asked why she chose flowers as her subject, she said, "Because they're cheaper than models and they don't move."

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

 









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