Friday

Feb. 22, 2013

Honda Pavarotti

by Tony Hoagland

I'm driving on the dark highway
when the opera singer on the radio
opens his great mouth
and the whole car plunges down the canyon of his throat.

So the night becomes an aria of stars and exit signs
as I steer through the galleries
of one dilated Italian syllable
after another. I love the passages in which

the rich flood of the baritone
strains out against the walls of the esophagus,
and I love the pauses
in which I hear the tenor's flesh labor to inhale

enough oxygen to take the next plummet
up into the chasm of the violins.
In part of the song, it sounds as if the singer
is being squeezed by an enormous pair of tongs

while his head and legs keep kicking.
In part of the song, it sounds as if he is
standing in the middle of a coliseum,
swinging a 300-pound lion by the tail,

the empire of gravity
conquered by the empire of aerodynamics,
the citadel of pride in flames
and the citizens of weakness
celebrating their defeat in chorus,

joy and suffering made one at last,
joined in everything a marriage is alleged to be,
though I know the woman he is singing for
is dead in a foreign language on the stage beside him,
though I know his chain mail is made of silver-painted plastic
and his mismanagement of money is legendary,
as I know I have squandered
most of my own life

in a haze of trivial distractions,
and that I will continue to waste it.
But wherever I was going, I don't care anymore,
because no place I could arrive at

is good enough for this, this thing made out of experience
but to which experience will never measure up.
And that dark and soaring fact
is enough to make me renounce the whole world

or fall in love with it forever.

"Honda Pavarotti" by Tony Hoagland, from Donkey Gospel. © Graywolf Press, 1998. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of the first president of the United States, George Washington, born in Westmoreland County, Virginia (1732), whose favorite foods were mashed sweet potatoes with coconut, string beans with mushrooms, cream of peanut soup, salt cod, and pineapples. He lost all of his teeth except for one by — according to second president John Adams — cracking Brazilian nuts between his jaws. He got dentures made out of a hippopotamus tusk, designed especially to fit over his one remaining real tooth. But the hippo dentures were constantly rubbing against that real tooth so that he was constantly in pain. He used opium to alleviate the pain.

He snored very loudly, and instead of wearing a powdered wig like other fashionable people, he put powder on his own hair, which was naturally a reddish brown. He was not good at spelling and he had a speech impediment. George Washington's inaugural address was the shortest inaugural address in U.S. history: It was only 133 words long and took him just 90 seconds to deliver.

It's the birthday of the woman who wrote "My candle burns at both ends;/ It will not last the night; / But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends — / It gives a lovely light!" Edna St. Vincent Millay (books by this author), the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for poetry, was born on this day in 1892 in Rockland, Maine.

After being educated at Vassar, she moved to Greenwich Village and lived a Jazz Age Bohemian life, which revolved around poetry and love affairs. She was beautiful and alluring and many men and women fell in love with her. Critic Edmund Wilson asked her to marry him. She said no. He later reflected that falling in love with her "was so common an experience, so almost inevitable a consequence of knowing her in those days."

She wrote: "Safe upon the solid rock the ugly houses stand: / Come and see my shining palace built upon the sand!"

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

 









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