Jun. 18, 2003

My Father's Neckties

by Maxine Kumin

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Poem: "My Father's Neckties," by Maxine Kumin from Selected Poems 1960-1990 (Norton).

My Father's Neckties

Last night my color-blind chain-smoking father
who has been dead for fourteen years
stepped up out of a basement tie shop
downtown and did not recognize me.

The number he was wearing was as terrible
as any from my girlhood, a time of
ugly ties and acrimony; six or seven
blue lightning bolts outlined in yellow.

Although this was my home town it was tacky
and unfamiliar, it was Rabat or Gibraltar
Daddy smoking his habitual
square-in-the-mouth cigarette and coughing
ashes down the lightning jags. He was
my age exactly, it was wordless, a window
opening on an interior we both knew
where we had loved each other, keeping it quiet.

Why do I wait years and years to dream this outcome?
My brothers, in whose dreams he must as surely
turn up wearing rep ties or polka dots clumsily
knotted, do not speak of their encounters.

When we die, all four of us, in
whatever sequence, the designs
will fall off like face masks
and the rayon ravel from this hazy version
of a man who wore hard colors recklessly
and hid out in the foreign
bargain basements of his feelings.

Literary Notes:

It's the birthday of Amy Bloom, born in New York City (1953). She's the author of the novel Love Invents Us (1996) and the collection of short stories A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You (2000). She is a practicing psychotherapist and began writing fiction in her spare time. Many of the characters she writes about suffer from mental illness. She says that psychotherapy and writing are both about using small details to find out what's going on as opposed to what people say is going on. She says that both fiction and psychotherapy are about putting your hands on people lives, to be intimate.

It's the birthday of novelist Gail Godwin, born in Birmingham, Alabama (1937). She's the author of A Mother and Two Daughters (1982) and The Good Husband (1994).

It was on this day in 1983 that Dr. Sally Ride became the first American woman in space, aboard the Challenger for a six-day mission. She said, "The thing that I'll remember most about the flight is that it was fun. In fact, I'm sure it was the most fun I'll ever have in my life."

It's the birthday of film critic Roger Ebert, born in Urbana, Illinois (1942). He dropped out of graduate school at the University of Chicago to become a journalist for the Chicago Sun Times and he became the newspaper's film critic. In 1975, he became the first film critic to win a Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism. He's the author of many collections of movie reviews, including I Hated, Hated, Hated This Movie (2000). He said, "No good movie is depressing, all bad movies are depressing."

It's the birthday of children's author and illustrator Chris Van Allsberg, born in Grand Rapids, Michigan (1949). He's the author of the children's books Jumanji (1981) and The Polar Express (1985).

Today is the anniversary of the day in 1815 that Napoleon Bonaparte lost his final major battle near Waterloo Village in Belgium. One of the most famous Emperors of all time, there are an estimated forty-five thousand books about him. He's one of the only historical people we remember by his first name. Napoleon took command of the French army after the French revolution, and was the first military leader in Europe to use commoners as officers. He believed that in order to inspire his men, the officers of his army should be dressed in beautiful uniforms, and they should all carry the same flag. In 1799, Napoleon became dictator of France, and in 1804 he declared himself emperor. From 1805 onward, he started invading and attacking almost everyone in Europe. England, Germany, Russia, Spain. His invasion of Russia became the subject of Tolstoy's novel War and Peace. After a series of defeats, Napoleon abdicated the throne and went to live on the island of Elba. He took long salt baths and read "The Arabian Nights". After a year in exile, he got bored and went back to France. He gathered an army and marched north toward Belgium at Waterloo, where the allied armies of England and Germany were waiting for him. A heavy rain fell the evening before the battle, so Napoleon delayed his attack until the morning of June 18th. His army and the English army fought for ten hours, and Napoleon would have won, but the rain delay allowed the Prussians time to arrive and help the British win the battle. Napoleon lost twenty-five thousand men. He signed a second abdication in Paris and went to live on the remote island of St. Helena off the coast of Africa.

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