Jun. 9, 2003

My Father at 85

by Robert Bly

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Poem: "My Father At 85," by Robert Bly from Common Ground (Dacotah Territory Press).

My Father At 85

His large ears hear
A hermit wakes
and sleeps
in a hut underneath
his gaunt cheeks.
His eyes blue,
alert, dis-
appointed and suspicious
I do not bring him
the same sort of jokes
the nurses do.
He is a small bird
waiting to be fed,
mostly beak,
an eagle or a vulture
or the Pharoah's servant
just before death.
My arm on the bedrail
rests there,
relaxed, with new love.
All I know of the Troubadours
I bring
to this bed.
I do not want
or need
to be shamed
by him
any longer.
The general of shame
has discharged him
and left him in this
small provincial
Egyptian town.
If I do not wish
to shame him, then
why not
love him?
His long hands,
large, veined, capable,
can still retain
hold of what he wanted.
But is that
what he desired?
Some powerful
river of desire
goes on flowing
through him.
He never phrased
what he desired,
and I am
his son.

Literary Notes:

It's the birthday of the man who wrote "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To," and many other classic songs, Cole Porter, born in Peru, Indiana in 1893. Cole Porter went to Yale University, where he got horrible grades but wrote and performed over three hundred songs for school shows. He went off to Europe and eventually settled in Paris, where he lived for most of the 1920s. He was known for playing piano and singing tunes at fancy parties in his apartment, which was decorated with zebra skin furniture, platinum-colored wallpaper and ceiling-high mirrors. In 1928, he wrote his first big hit, "Let's Do It, Let's Fall in Love," which begins, "Birds do it. Bees do it. Even educated fleas do it." After that his career took off, and he ended up writing hundreds of songs for movies, television, and Broadway shows. He had some of his biggest hits in the '40s and '50s, including Kiss Me, Kate (1948). In his spare time in between writing hit shows, Cole Porter learned five languages and took astronomy classes, so almost all of his songs had something in them about the moon or the stars. He said, "My sole inspiration is a telephone call from a producer." In the song "Brush Up Your Shakespeare," he wrote the lines:

Brush up your Shakespeare,
Start quoting him now,
Brush up your Shakespeare,
And the women you will wow.

It's the birthday of American playwright John Howard Payne, born in New York City in 1791. He's remembered today for writing the song "Home Sweet Home," which was first performed in 1823 as part of the opera Clari, the Maid of Milan. The song begins, "Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam, / Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home." Payne thought it was ironic that he had written this song; he spent the last years of his life in Tunisia, Africa, 4,360 miles away from his childhood home in New York City. He wrote, "I never had a home of my own, and never expect to have one now."

It was on this day in 1899 that the manager for boxer Jim Jeffries introduced the great cliché, "The bigger they come, the harder they fall." Jeffries went on to knock out his larger opponent, Bob Fitzsimmons, in the eleventh round to win the Heavyweight Championship of the World.

It's the birthday of American mystery novelist Patricia Cornwell, born in Miami, Florida in 1956, the author of Postmortem (1991), The Body Farm (1994), and Hornet's Nest (1997), among many other books. She worked as a medical examiner, a volunteer police officer, and a crime reporter for the Charlotte Observer before she wrote her first novel in 1991.

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