Jun. 3, 2005

For the Thief

by Alison Hawthorne Deming

FRIDAY, 3 JUNE, 2005
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Poem: "For the Thief" by Alison Hawthorne Deming from Genius Loci. © Penguin Poets Press. Reprinted with permission.

For the Thief

Thank you for leaving the desk and the chair,
the books, snapshots and piano.
I've heard of moving van robberies—
coming home from work to percussion
of empty rooms. Thank you for
leaving the trapped air
that softens the blunt edge of my day.
What's mine - the hum of identity—
still surrounds me,
though the electronics
are gone and the jewelry
that was too precious to wear.
Thank you for not spraying
the walls with coke or with piss.
Thank you being a professional,
tidy and quick, entering with a clean
silent cut, not wasting your time
or mine with vandalism or assault.
When my mother was robbed
the closets and drawers were dumped
on the floor. All that was stolen were
towels that had hung in her bathroom.
Her neighbors, the police said, had
lost their cookware. Better our houses
become someone's mall than shooting range.
With my cousins, one in New York took
a knife-blade against her throat.
Another in Madrid was dragged
three blocks by her hair. Thank you
for knowing what you were here for,
for tending to your business without rage.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the novelist Larry McMurtry, born Wichita Falls, Texas (1936). He grew up in a little town called Archer City. He came from a long line of Texas ranchers, but Larry McMurtry figured out he didn't like working on a ranch when he was a kid. He said, "I saw right away that my father and all the cowboys were slaves to these stupid animals. Who wants to be a slave to a cow?"

He never thought cowboys were romantic figures. He thought they led mostly drab, repetitive, unexciting lives, and weren't necessarily strong or free. Many of them were twisted, fascistic, and dumb.

He studied literature at Rice University. He started writing dark novels about his home town, in which he portrayed most of the people there as none too bright, none too good. His third novel, The Last Picture Show came out in 1966. It begins, "Sometimes Sonny felt like he was the only human creature in the town. It was a bad feeling, and it usually came on him in the mornings early, when the streets were completely empty, the way they were on Saturday morning in late November. The night before Sonny had played his last game of football for Thalia High School, but it wasn't that that made him feel so strange and alone. It was just the look of the town."

People in Archer, Texas didn't much care for the way they were portrayed by Larry McMurtry. He moved away to Washington, D.C., became a severe critic of the whole Western genre. But even though he hated the idea of the romanticized Old West, there was a story in his head that he couldn't get rid of. It was a story about the Old West, which started as a movie treatment for John Wayne, but Wayne had backed out of the project. Once in a while McMurtry would think about the characters again, and then one day he drove past a sign for a church called "Lonesome Dove," and that inspired him to rewrite the screenplay as a novel.

It was the story of a former Texas Ranger, Augustus McCrae, who persuades two friends to ride with him to Montana to find his one true love Clara Allen, the only woman who could ever beat him in an argument. Lonesome Dove became a huge best-seller. It won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, and was made into a TV mini-series.

After it came out, McMurtry's home town embraced him. The local hotel changed its name to the Lonesome Dove Hotel, and Larry McMurtry moved back there and opened one of the largest antiquarian bookstores in the country, and he announced that keeping a bookstore was a form of ranching, and instead of herding cattle, he herded books.

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