Sep. 5, 2014

Bottled Water

by Kim Dower

I go to the corner liquor store
for a bottle of water, middle
of a hectic day, must get out
of the office, stop making decisions,
quit obsessing does my blue skirt clash
with my hot pink flats; should I get
my mother a caregiver or just put her
in a home, and I pull open the glass
refrigerator door, am confronted
by brands—Arrowhead, Glitter Geyser,
Deer Park, spring, summer, winter water,
and clearly the bosses of bottled water:
Real Water and Smart Water—how different
will they taste? If I drink Smart Water
will I raise my IQ but be less authentic?
If I choose Real Water will I no longer
deny the truth, but will I attract confused,
needy people who'll take advantage
of my realness by dumping their problems
on me, and will I be too stupid to help them
sort through their murky dilemmas?
I take no chances, buy them both,
sparkling smart, purified real, drain both bottles,
look around to see is anyone watching?
I'm now brilliantly hydrated.
Both real and smart my insides bubble
with compassion and intelligence
as I walk the streets with a new swagger,
knowing the world is mine.

"Bottled Water" by Kim Dower, from Slice of Moon. © Red Hen Press, 2013. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Jack Kerouac's beat classic On the Road was published on this date in 1957 (books by this author). It's the mostly-true story of a cross-country hitchhiking trip Kerouac and his friend Neal Cassady took in the late 1940s. Legend — helped along by the author himself — holds that the book was the spontaneous product of a three-week writing frenzy. Actually, the book had been in the works for many years. But Kerouac did sit down and hammer out a first draft in three weeks, tuned into an all-night jazz station and powered by caffeine and other stimulants. Because he typed 100 words a minute, it annoyed him to have to load a new page all the time. He solved that problem by typing onto a roll of paper. The first draft of On the Road is measured in feet, rather than pages: 120 feet, to be exact. It should have been longer than that, but a dog ate the book's original ending.

From On the Road:

"Once there was Louis Armstrong blowing his beautiful top in the muds of New Orleans; before him the mad musicians who had paraded on official days and broke up their Sousa marches into ragtime. Then there was swing, and Roy Eldridge, vigorous and virile, blasting the horn for everything it had in waves of power and logic and subtlety — leaning to it with glittering eyes and a lovely smile and sending it out broadcast to rock the jazz world. Then had come Charlie Parker, a kid in his mother's woodshed in Kansas City, blowing his taped-up alto among the logs, practicing on rainy days, coming out to watch the old swinging Basie and Benny Moten band that had Hot Lips Page and the rest — Charlie Parker leaving home and coming to Harlem, and meeting mad Thelonius Monk and madder Gillespie — Charlie Parker in his early days when he was flipped and walked around in a circle while playing. Somewhat younger than Lester Young, also from KC, that gloomy, saintly goof in whom the history of jazz was wrapped; for when he held his horn high and horizontal from his mouth he blew the greatest; and as his hair grew longer and he got lazier and stretched-out, his horn came down halfway; till it finally fell all the way and today as he wears his thick-soled shoes so that he can't feel the sidewalks of life his horn is held weakly against his chest, and he blows cool and easy getout phrases. Here were the children of the American bop night."

It's the birthday of the avant-garde composer John Cage, born in Los Angeles, California (1912). He wrote pieces of music to be played on a variety of objects, including flowerpots, scrapped hoods of old cars, and other pieces of junk. Then he began tinkering with a piano, shoving objects under the strings, including screws, bolts, spoons, clothespins, and even a doll's arm. He said, "Just as you go along the beach and pick up pretty shells that please you, I go into the piano and find sounds I like."

He kept adding new sounds into his compositions. His piece "Water Music" (1952) required a piano, a radio, whistles, water containers, and a deck of cards. He finally decided he wanted to explore silence, so as an experiment, he entered a completely soundproof chamber at Harvard University. Instead of hearing nothing, he heard the sound of his own circulation and his nervous system. Afterward, he said, "No silence exists that is not pregnant with sound." The experience inspired him to write his most famous piece, 4'33" (1952), in which the performer was instructed to sit silently at a piano for 4 minutes, 33 seconds, to draw attention to all the sounds being made by the audience members and the world around them.

It's the birthday of novelist Ward Just (books by this author), born in Michigan City, Indiana (1935). He always knew he wanted to write novels, but his father and grandfather were newspaper publishers, and at age 14 he went to work at the family paper. He was a good journalist, and he moved on to Newsweek and The Washington Post. He said: "I didn't know enough to just sit down and write fiction. I don't mean by that, knowing facts. [...] You can find facts out anywhere. But I hadn't gotten the measure of people. I hadn't seen what I conceived of as desperate situations." After working as a war correspondent in Cyprus and Vietnam, he was ready. So he left his career as a journalist and began to write fiction.

Since then, he has written 18 novels. His most recent is American Romantic (2014), the story of a junior Foreign Service officer named Harry Sanders stationed in Saigon. Sanders is sent on a secret, vague assignment into the jungle to meet with a Vietnamese guerilla, with the promise that it may lead to negotiations. The mission goes wrong and stays with him for the rest of his life, as does his brief affair in Saigon with a beautiful German X-ray technician named Sieglinde. The novel follows Harry through his marriage and his career as a diplomat. It begins: "These events happened a while back, when the war was not quite a war, more a prelude to a war. Their army was called a guerrilla force. Our army was called a Military Assistance Command. The war is the least of the story that follows."

His other novels include Echo House (1997), An Unfinished Season (2004), and Forgetfulness (2006).

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