Jan. 5, 2002


by Hayden Carruth

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Poem: "Pittsburgh," by Hayden Carruth from Scrambled Eggs & Whiskey (Copper Canyon Press).


And my beautiful daughter
had her liver cut open in Pittsburgh.
My god, my god! I rubbed
her back over the swollen and wounded
essentiality, I massaged
her legs, and we talked of death.
At the luckiest patients with liver cancer have
a 20% chance. We might have talked
of my death, not long to come. But no,
the falling into death of a beautiful
young woman is so much more important.
A wonderful hospital. If I must die
away from my cat Smudge and my Vermont Castings stove
let it be at Allegheny General.
I read to her, a novella by Allan Gurganus,
a Russian serious flimsiness by Voinovich,
and we talked. We laughed. We actually
laughed. I bought her a lipstick
which she wore though she disliked the color.
Helicopters took off and landed on the hospital pad,
bringing hearts and kidneys and maybe livers
from other places to be transplanted
into people in the shining household of technology
by shining technologists, wise and kindly.
The chances are so slight. Oh, my daughter,
my love for you has burgeoned—
an excess of singularity ever increasing—
you are my soul—for forty years. You
still beautiful and young. In my hotel
I could not sleep. In my woods, on my
little farm, in the blizzard on the mountain,
I could not sleep either, but scribbled
fast verses, very fast and
wet with my heartsblood and brainjuice
all my life, as now
in Pittsburgh. I don't know which of
us will live the longer, it's all a flick
of the wrist of the god mankind invented
and then had to deinvent, such a failure, like all
our failures, and the worst and best
is sentimentality after all. Let us go out together.
Here in brutal Pittsburgh. Let us
be together in the same room,
the old poet and the young painter,
holding hands, a calm touch, a whisper,
as the thumping helicopters go out and come in,
we in the crisis of forever inadequately medicated
pain, in the love of daughter and father.

It's the birthday of Italian writer Umberto Eco, born in 1932 in Alessandria, Italy. He was educated at the University of Turin where he started out studying law but gave it up to follow an interest in literature and medieval philosophy. His first foray into fiction was the novel The Name of the Rose, about a mysterious string of murders at a medieval abbey. He explained, "I began writing in March 1978, prodded by a seminal idea: I felt like poisoning a monk." The work was a strong success in Europe and North America; French director Jean-Jacques Annaud turned the story into a 1986 movie starring Sean Connery, which helped to popularize Eco in the United States as a novelist and encourage him to continue to write long fiction. He followed it up in 1988 with the novel Foucault's Pendulum, and then a few years later, a sweeping tale titled The Island of the Day Before. Umberto Eco, who wrote: "I believe that what we become depends on what our fathers teach us at odd moments, when they aren't trying to teach us."

It's the birthday of American explorer Zebulon Montgomery Pike, born in Trenton, New Jersey, in 1779. In 1805, just after the Louisiana Purchase, he led an eight-month expedition with 20 men along the upper Mississippi River in an attempt to reach the headwaters. With the Louisiana Purchase, the United States had bought the upper Mississippi from the French, and Pike's job was to determine the location of the headwaters, to scout out good locations for military outposts along the river, and to sign treaties with the French traders who'd settled in the area. It wasn't a very successful trip. He reached Leech Lake in what is now Minnesota, but never Lake Itasca, the true headwaters, and he failed to make any Native American allies or drive many French from the territory.

It was on this day in 1825 that the writer Alexandre Dumas the elder fought his first duel, at the age of 23. He lost the battle, and a bit of dignity as well—his pants fell down as he stood opposite his opponent.

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




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