Jun. 7, 2002

The Way I Tie My Shoes

by Matt Cook

(RealAudio) | How to listen

: "The Way I Tie My Shoes," by Matt Cook from In The Small of My Backyard (Manic D Press).

The Way I Tie My Shoes

When the Vietnam War ended
I didn't know how to tie my shoes.

But then the men started coming home from that war,
And they began to date my mother,
And then they were moving into our apartment,
And then they taught me how to tie my shoes.

This isn't some metaphor: as a boy I associated Vietnam War veterans
With people who knew how to tie their shoes.

This guy Murphy lived with us for a while.
He also taught me how to treat a snakebite
But that doesn't come up as often.

My uncle was over there-
He told me once that the jungle did strange things to his mind.
Then, while he was telling me this, he added, seemingly out of nowhere,
That he never liked deviled eggs as a child.
I couldn't see where he was going with that,
But then he laid this on me-
The jungle, for some reason, he said, caused him to crave deviled eggs.

That was it. That was his Vietnam story:
He developed a craving for deviled eggs.

My father, who was lucky at everything all the time,
Was stationed in Germany during the war.
All he did was play ping-pong and smoke marijuana and read paperbacks.
When he would go out on sentry duty,
He would carry just one bullet with him.
When his shift was over, he would hand the bullet
To the next man coming on.

Sometimes I'll sit transfixed in a chair, with one shoe on-
I'm working up the courage to put the next shoe on.
It's early in the morning, and the shoes look like big question marks.

On this day in 1967, Dorothy Parker died alone in a hotel in New York City. She had tried to commit suicide several times before-Robert Benchley visited her in the hospital after one attempt and said, "Dorothy, you're going to make yourself sick!"-but examination revealed that she had had a heart attack.

It's the birthday of Louise Erdrich, born in Little Falls, Minnesota (1954). Her mother was French-Chippewa and her father was German-American. Her first novel, Love Medicine (1984), was accepted when her husband posed as her literary agent and resubmitted it to the publishers who had rejected it the first time around. Her latest book, Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse, takes place on the same reservation and involves many of the same characters as the four novels that precede it. "I've finally figured out that I'm just working on one long novel," she has said.

It's the birthday of Gwendolyn Brooks, born in Topeka, Kansas (1917). She started submitting work to poetry magazines when she was eleven. She often talked about her poetry as spanning three periods: a period of self-expression, an "integrationist" period, and then a period in which she tried consciously to write poems for a black audience, poems that would be accessible to ordinary people, like songs. She won the Pulitzer Prize for her second collection, Annie Allen (1949).

It's the birthday of Elizabeth Bowen, born Elizabeth Dorothea Cole in Dublin (1899). Her family were Anglo-Irish, English aristocrats who lived on isolated Irish estates surrounded by the poor fields of tenant farmers. Her father went mad, and the family doctor advised Bowen's mother to take her daughter to England and settle there. Bowen's mother died when she was thirteen, and she spent the rest of her childhood shuttling between boarding school and the houses of various aunts. Later, she often wrote about women who had been orphaned or who found themselves alone in the world, but she said of herself that her traumatic childhood had left her with "nothing more disastrous than a stammer." She took her pen name from Bowen's Court, the enormous house where she was born, which she was forced at last to sell to wreckers because she could no longer pay the taxes. She published fifteen novels. Her first, The Hotel was published in 1927, and her last, Eva Trout, was published in 1968.

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