Dec. 8, 2002

At 35

by Barry Spacks

(RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "At 35," by Barry Spacks from Spacks Street (Johns Hopkins University Press).

At 35

Father, what would you make of me? I wear your face.
I hear my cough and think the worms have sent you home.
Here at my table in my insubstantial house,
your myth of hope,
the piece of man you left,
I live your death
stroke for stroke.

There are no vows you did not keep I will not break.
I leave no darkness unacknowledged for your sake.
You are the school I teach. The course I take.
I move toward age, and you become my son.
Along the path ahead
you lift aside
the branches.

It's the birthday of Mary Gordon, born in Far Rockaway, New York (1949). She wrote Final Payment (1978), The Company of Women (1981), and Men and Angels (1985).

It's the birthday of the poet Delmore Schwartz, born in Brooklyn (1913), whose first collection, In Dreams Begin Responsibilities, won him praise from which he never recovered. He died alone in a hotel when he was fifty-two, and even though the New York Times published a long obituary about him, it took days for someone to come forward and claim his body. The rest of his career was a long, slow slide into alcoholic paranoia. He was married twice; he said he got married the second time "in the way that, when a murder is committed, crackpots turn up at the police station to confess the crime." He had a big scar on his forehead that he used to tell people he got "dueling with Nietzsche."

It's the birthday of Richard Llewellyn, (1906), who wrote a sentimental novel about a Welsh mining village, How Green Was My Valley (1940), later made into a very popular movie. He told people that he'd been born in the valley where the novel was set, and that his father had been a miner there. But it turned out later that he'd made the whole thing up; he was born under the name Vivian Lloyd in a London suburb, where his father had run a pub.

It's the birthday of James Thurber, born in Columbus, Ohio (1894). He's the author of "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" (1947) and The Years With Ross (1959). His first piece for The New Yorker appeared in 1927; he'd submitted twenty before that, but they were all rejected. He wrote for the magazine for thirty-four years, and he drew cartoons for it, too, until he lost his sight in his forties. Dorothy Parker said the people in his cartoons "had the outer semblance of unbaked cookies." Even after he stopped drawing, the magazine continued to use the cartoons they had; they flipped them over and had Thurber write new captions for them. He had a nearly perfect memory for text, and later in his life composed pieces of several thousand words in his head, rearranging words and paragraphs until his wife or a secretary came to write them down. James Thurber, who said, "Humor is emotional chaos remembered in tranquility."

It's the birthday of the playwright Georges Feydeau, born in Paris, France (1862). He wrote fast-moving, door-slammer farces like The Lady from Maxim's (1899) and A Flea in Her Ear (1907).

It's the birthday of the poet Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, born in Kvikne, Norway (1832) who wrote novels and poems and the words for "Ja, vi elsker dette landet" ("Yes, We Love This Land Forever"), the Norwegian national anthem.

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




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