Dec. 6, 2002

The Purpose of Time Is to Prevent Everything from Happening at Once

by X. J. Kennedy

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Poem: "The Purpose of Time is to Prevent Everything from Happening at Once," by X.J. Kennedy from The Lards of Misrule (The Johns Hopkins University Press).

The Purpose of Time is to Prevent Everything from Happening at Once

Suppose your life a folded telescope
Durationless, collapsed in just a flash
As from your mother's womb you, bawling, drop
Into a nursing home. Suppose you crash
Your car, your marriage -- toddler laying waste
A field of daisies, schoolkid, zit-faced teen
With lover zipping up your pants in haste
Hearing your parents' tread downstairs -- all one.

Einstein was right. That would be too intense.
You need a chance to preen, to give a dull
Recital before an indifferent audience
Equally slow in jeering you and clapping.
Time takes its time unraveling. But, still,
You'll wonder when your life ends: Huh? What happened?

It's the birthday of Peter Handke, born in Griffen, Austria (1942), the author of On a Dark Night I left my Silent House (1999), and the screenplay for the film Wings of Desire (1987).

It's the birthday of Ira Gershwin, born Israel Gershvin, in New York City (1896).He and his brother George wrote Lady, Be Good! (1924), Funny Face (1927), and Strike Up The Band! (1930); with DuBose Heyward, they wrote Porgy and Bess (1935). He wrote in a diary: "Heard in a day: An elevator's purr, telephone's ring, telephone's buzz, a baby's moans, a shout of delight, a screech from a 'flat wheel,' hoarse honks, a hoarse voice, a tinkle, a match scratch on sandpaper, a deep resounding boom of dynamiting in the impending subway, iron hooks on the gutter."

It's the birthday of Sylvia Townsend Warner, born in Middlesex, England (1893). She wrote Lolly Willowes (1926), and The Corner that Held Them (1948). She intended to devote her life to the history of music, and she edited a ten-volume study of Tudor church music. But she showed some poems to a bookseller in London, they were quickly published, and she wrote her first novel a year later. She wrote over a hundred short stories for The New Yorker.

It's the birthday of poet and critic Alfred Joyce Kilmer, born in New Brunswick, New Jersey (1886). His most famous poem was "Trees," but his children preferred two others: "Delicatessen" and "Blue Valentine."

It's the birthday of Kahlil Gibran, born in Lebanon (1883). He wrote The Prophet (1923). He never learned to write Arabic very well, and he had trouble with English, too; he depended on a series of older American women to edit his material and give him financial advice. He fell in love with all of them, fought with them, and then wrote them impassioned letters of apology.

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




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