Nov. 4, 2003

The Zydeco Tablet

by Alison Pelegrin

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Poem: "The Zydeco Tablet," by Alison Pelegrin, from The Zydeco Tablets (Word Press).

The Zydeco Tablet

Who stole my monkey and my one good shoe?
I'm a traveling man looking for someone
To love at night, but every day I'm blue.

I'd walk ninety-five miles for a rendezvous,
Barefoot and bleeding, my collar undone.
Who stole my monkey and my one good shoe?

I'm the moody one coming to sing for you,
Rehearsing songs on my accordion.
I'm in love at night, but every day I'm blue.

I waltzed through Crowley in an orphan's suit,
No salt for the beans in my stew full of bones.
Who stole my monkey and my one good shoe?

Cochon de lait , I'd swallow nails to look at you,
Say your name until my voice is gone.
I'm in love at night, but every day I'm blue.

Sugar, you're the morning star, the midnight moon.
Of all the ladies in the Delta you're the one
Who stole my monkey. You're one good shoe
To love at night, but every day I'm blue.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of rodeo performer and humorist Will Rogers, born in Indian Territory in Oklahoma (1879). Rogers was performing in a Wild West show in New York City one day, when one of the cows got free. He captured it with a rope, and the story made the next day's papers, and caught the attention of some people in show business. He landed roles in vaudeville and then on Broadway, with Hammerstein and Ziegfeld. He said, "The magazines are full of bunk when they write about a fellow winning fame and fortune by working hard and sticking to one job. All of you know, as well as I do, it was some accident started you off on the right track."

Rogers started out pantomiming, but one day he was attempting to perform an especially complicated lassoing trick and wanted to explain it to the audience first. When he did, they all laughed, and Rogers said it was the luckiest thing that ever happened to him. He started scanning the newspapers every day for material he could use in front of audiences. He would often make the disclaimer, "All I know is what I read in the papers."

He was married, had three children, and ran a successful family polo team. He was in some silent films, as well as some talkies. He performed to raise money for drought relief in 1931 and gave hundreds of charitable benefits. He wrote daily columns for the New York Times that were syndicated weekly to 500 other newspapers. And he loved air travel, which eventually killed him on August 15, 1935, when the plane he was in crashed in Alaska.

Before his fatal crash, Rogers said, "When I die, my epitaph is going to read: 'I joked about every prominent man of my time, but I never met a man I didn't like.' I am so proud of that I can hardly wait to die so it can be carved. And when you come to my grave you will find me sitting there, proudly reading it."

It's the birthday of Pulitzer Prize-winning poet C(harles) K(enneth) Williams, born in Newark, New Jersey (1936). He won the Pulitzer Prize in 2000 for his collection Repair. He also wrote Lies (1969) and Flesh and Blood (1987), among other collections. He didn't particularly like literature when he was growing up and hated English class in school. His father encouraged him to memorize poetry, but he never thought of writing it himself until he was nineteen and wrote his girlfriend a love poem. After that experience, he knew that writing poetry was something he had to do, even if he wasn't good. He said, "Poetry didn't find me, in the cradle of anywhere near it: I found it. I realized at some point that I needed it."

Williams went to the University of Pennsylvania, and when he graduated, he did what he said he imagined every would-be writer does, which is to sit down and read everything he can think of to read. He submerged himself in Homer, Shakespeare, Dante, Chaucer, Whitman, Yeats, Eliot, Auden, Shelley, Tolstoy, Hawthorne, Miller, Frazer, Jung, Plath and Ginsberg. "It was all more or less nonstop," Williams said. "I'd fall asleep every night over a book, dreaming in other people's voices. In the morning I'd wake up and try, mostly fruitlessly, to write acceptable poems."

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