Jul. 7, 2004

A Brief Lecture on Door Closers

by Clemens Starck

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Poem: "A Brief Lecture on Door Closers," by Clemens Starck, from Traveling Incognito. © Wood Works. Reprinted with permission.

A Brief Lecture on Door Closers

Although heretofore unconsidered
in verse or in song,
the ordinary door closer is, I submit, a device
well worth considering.
Consisting primarily
of a spring and a piston, in combination,
here's how it works:
                  You open a door,
either pushing or pulling.
The spring is compressed, the piston extended.
Now, having passed through the doorway,
you relinquish control,
and the door closer takes over. The spring remembers
how it was—
it wants to return. But the urge is damped
by the resistance the piston encounters,
snug in its cylinder
filled with hydraulic fluid.

Such is the mechanism of the door closer,
invented in 1876
by Charles Norton, when a slamming door
in a courtroom in Cincinnati
repeatedly disrupted
the administration of justice.

Whether concealed beneath the threshold
or overhead in the head jamb,
whether surface-mounted as a parallel-arm installation
or as a regular-arm,
door closers are ever vigilant,
silently performing their function, rarely

Whereas doors can be metaphorical—as in,
for example, "He could never unlock
the door to her heart"—
door closers cannot.

Remember this when you
pass through, and the door closes behind you
with a soft thud
and final click
as the latchbolt engages the strike.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of composer Gustav Mahler, born in Kaliste, Bohemia (1860). He wrote ten symphonies, and served as the conductor for both the Metropolitan Opera and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.

Mahler said, "If you think you're boring your audience, go slower not faster."

It's the birthday of science fiction writer Robert Heinlein, born in Butler, Missouri (1907). He wrote over fifty novels and collections of short stories over a span of four decades. He's best known for his novel Stranger in a Strange Land (1961), a cult classic about a boy who is born during the first manned mission to Mars. He's raised by Martians, then returns to earth, starts a church and preaches free love.

He called his books "speculative fiction" rather than "science fiction," in the tradition of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells. He tried to write about events that could actually happen, taking into consideration everything we know about the natural laws of the universe.

It's the birthday of novelist and short story writer Jill McCorkle, born in Lumberton, North Carolina (1958). She's the author of the novels Tending to Virginia (1987) and Ferris Beach (1990), and the short story collections Crash Diet (1992) and Final Vinyl Days (1999).

She wrote her first novel, The Cheer Leader (1984), while she was studying for a Masters degree, but she couldn't find a publisher for it. Her next novel was July 7th (1984), about the events on a single day in a small town in North Carolina. The publisher Louis Rubin liked it so much that he published both that novel and The Cheer Leader at the same time, and they both got great reviews. In the space of a few months, McCorkle had published two books, and had already established a reputation as a writer.

It's the birthday of poet Margaret Walker, born in Birmingham, Alabama (1915). She grew up in the South during a time of extreme racial segregation. She said, "Before I was ten I knew what it was to step off the sidewalk to let a white man pass; otherwise he might knock me off. I had had a sound thrashing by white boys while Negro men looked on helplessly. I was accustomed to riding in the Jim-Crow streetcars with the Negro section marked off by iron bars that could not be moved. For a year and a half I went to school in a one-room wooden shack. ... [One] time my mother stood for hours upstairs in a darkened theatre to hear a recital by Rachmaninoff because there were no seats for the colored.... And always the answer and the question in a child's mind to each of these was 'Why? Why do they do these things?'"

Walker took refuge in her father's huge library of classic literature, reading poets like Dante, Shakespeare and Milton. She went to Northwestern University, and when she graduated in 1935 she found a job as a junior writer for the Works Progress Administration. Walker worked for the Federal Writers' Project, which prepared regional guidebooks, organized archives, and conducted sociological studies. Many other young writers were working for the same project, including Saul Bellow, Nelson Algren and Richard Wright. Walker and Wright became good friends. Wright was writing stories and poems, but he wasn't very good at spelling or punctuation, so he gave his work to Walker to revise and type. Years later, Walker would write a biography on Wright called Richard Wright: Daemonic Genius (1988).

In 1965 Walker published her best known work, the novel Jubilee. It's a long novel about life in the American South from before the Civil War to the days of Reconstruction. The main character is a black woman who is the daughter of a slave and a white plantation owner in Georgia. The novel became a bestseller.

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