Jun. 4, 2003

How It Is

by Maxine Kumin

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Poem: "How It Is," by Maxine Kumin from Selected Poems 1960-1990 (Norton).

How It Is

Shall I say how it is in your clothes?
A month after your death I wear your blue jacket.
The dog at the center of my life recognizes
you've come to visit, he's ecstatic.
In the left pocket, a hole.
In the right, a parking ticket
delivered up last August on Bay State Road.
In my heart, a scatter like milkweed,
a flinging from the pods of the soul.
My skin presses your old outline.
It is hot and dry inside.

I think of the last day of your life,
old friend, how I would unwind it, paste
it together in a different collage,
back from the death car idling in the garage,
back up the stairs, your praying hands unlaced,
reassembling the bits of bread and tuna fish
into a ceremony of sandwich,
running the home movie backward to a space
we could be easy in, a kitchen place
with vodka and ice, our words like living meat.

Dear friend, you have excited crowds
with your example. They swell
like wine bags, straining at your seams.
I will be years gathering up our words,
fishing out letters, snapshots, stains,
leaning my ribs against this durable cloth
to put on the dumb blue blazer of your death.

Literary Notes:

It's the birthday of the playwright Robert Anderson, born in New York City (1917). He's best known for his play Tea and Sympathy (1953), which was a big hit on Broadway. It's about a sensitive boy named Tom Lee who is falsely accused of being gay at a New England prep school. His fellow students shun him, but the housemaster's wife is kind to him and helps him restore his self-confidence by offering more than "tea and sympathy" -- she offers to sleep with him.

It's the birthday of sex expert "Dr. Ruth," Ruth Westheimer, born Karola Ruth Siegel in Frankfurt, Germany (1928) to Orthodox Jewish parents. The Nazis came to power, and in 1939 her family decided to flee Germany. But her grandmother refused to go, so Ruth was sent to safety at a Swiss school. She never saw her family again. After the war she moved to Palestine, joined the underground movement fighting for a Jewish state, and trained as a sniper. Eventually she moved to New York, got her degree, and started broadcasting a radio show called Sexually Speaking that made her famous.

It's the anniversary of three important days in the history of the Second World War: the evacuation of Allied forces from Dunkirk, in 1940; the Battle of Midway, in 1942; and the liberation of Rome, in 1944. On May 10, 1940 the Germans outflanked the Maginot Line, ran right around its northern edge, and stormed into Luxembourg, Holland, and Belgium, all the way to the English Channel, cutting off the Allies' communication. The British were trapped at Dunkirk with their back to the sea, with little chance of breaking out, but they were evacuated by a great flotilla of fishing boats, lifeboats and pleasure yachts. The Battle of Midway (1942), a naval battle fought almost entirely with aircraft, was the turning point in the Pacific. The Japanese had more numbers than the U.S., and they wanted a showdown, so they sent four heavy aircraft carriers to occupy the island of Midway, north of Hawaii. But the U.S. cracked their naval code and were ready. U.S. planes sank all of the Japanese carriers and the Japanese retreated.

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




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