Jul. 22, 2003

In Answer to Your Query

by Naomi Lazard

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Poem: "In Answer to Your Query," by Naomi Lazard from Ordinances (Owl Creek Press).

In Answer to Your Query

We are sorry to inform you
the item you ordered
is no longer being produced.
It has not gone out of style
nor have people lost interest in it.
In fact, it has become
one of our most desired products.
Its popularity is still growing.
Orders for it come in
at an ever increasing rate.
However, a top-level decision
has caused this product
to be discontinued forever.

Instead of the item you ordered
we are sending you something else.
It is not the same thing,
nor is it a reasonable facsimile.
It is what we have in stock,
the very best we can offer.

If you are not happy
with this substitution
let us know as soon as possible.
                        As you can imagine

we already have quite an accumulation
of letters such as the one
you may or may not write.
To be totally fair
We respond to these complaints
as they come in.
Yours will be filed accordingly,
answered in its turn.

Literary Notes:

It's the birthday of Margery Williams Bianco, born Margery Williams in London, England (1881). She's the author of the classic children's book The Velveteen Rabbit (1922) about a stuffed toy rabbit who is loved so much by the boy he belongs to that he becomes real.

It's the birthday of the painter Edward Hopper, born in Nyack, New York (1882). He's known for his eerie paintings of ordinary scenes like the all-night coffee stand in his painting "Nighthawks" (1942). Toward the end of his life, someone asked him what his goal had been as an artist. He said, "What I wanted to do was to paint sunlight on the side of a house."

It's the birthday of poet Quincy Troupe, born in East St. Louis, Illinois (1943). He's the author of many collections of poetry, most recently Transcircularities: New & Selected Poems (2002). His father was a baseball player, one of the greatest catchers in the history of the Negro Leagues.

It's the birthday of poet Emma Lazarus, born in New York City (1849). When she learned of a project to build the Statue of Liberty on an island in Upper New York Bay, she wrote the poem "The New Colossus" to help raise money for it. The poem was later inscribed on the pedestal. It contains the famous lines,

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

It's the birthday of novelist Tom Robbins, born in Blowing Rock, North Carolina (1936). He's known for novels such as Even Cowgirls Get the Blues (1976), Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas (1994) and most recently Villa Incognito (2003). He described his hometown as, "A dogpatch town whose economic backbone was picking up empty beer bottles for returns." Each summer, though, his town was transformed into an upscale vacation resort. He was fascinated by the idea that something ordinary could be changed into something extraordinary. He became obsessed with circuses and carnivals at an early age. He loved how a boring, vacant lot could suddenly fill with strange people, tents, banners and flags, and how at night it would light up with neon. He got a job at a circus one summer, and fell in love with a snake handler who had scars all over her arms from where her snake had bitten her. He later said, "I have always been one of those people who believes that a woman in pink circus tights contains all the secrets of the universe." After college, he hitchhiked around the Unites States until he was drafted and sent to Korea. He taught meteorology to South Korean fighter pilots, and also sold cigarettes and cosmetics on the Asian black market. Robbins worked for a while as a journalist in Seattle. One day, he called his boss and said that he had been sick since he started working as a journalist, but now he was well so he wasn't going to work anymore. He got involved in the counterculture movement and wrote his first novel, Another Roadside Attraction (1971), about the mummified corpse of Jesus stolen from the Vatican and displayed in an American roadside zoo. It begins, "The magician's underwear has just been found in a cardboard suitcase floating in a stagnant pond on the outskirts of Miami." The book barely sold 2,500 copies in hardcover, but the paperback became a word of mouth bestseller among college students and hippies. Robbins has gone on to write many more best selling books.

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




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