Jun. 19, 2005

Right Now

by Kenneth Fields

SUNDAY, 19 JUNE, 2005
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Poem: "Right Now" by Kenneth Fields from Classic Rough News. © University of Chicago Press. Reprinted with permission.

Right Now

It's nineteen years today since he last held
A drink in his hand or held his breath while smoke
Filled as much of him as he could stand
Till, letting it out, he sought oblivion
Of the trace of memory or anticipation,
And his life fell into a death spiral. Since then
He's been around folks like him. When he's been asked,
And sometimes, eager, when he hasn't been,
He talks to the ones who are not even sure
They want to learn how to stop killing themselves.
That feeling still seems close to him some days.
Right now he's okay, and that's enough, right now.

Literary and Historical Notes:

Today is Father's Day, a holiday in this country that goes back to a Sunday morning in May of 1909, when a woman named Sonora Smart Dodd was sitting in church in Spokane, Washington, listening to a Mother's Day sermon. She thought of her father who had raised her and her siblings after her mother died in childbirth, and she thought that fathers should get recognition too.

So she asked the minister of the church if he would deliver a sermon honoring fathers on her father's birthday, which was coming up in June, and the minister did. And the tradition of Father's Day caught on, though rather slowly. Mother's Day became an official holiday in 1914; Father's Day, not until 1972.

Mother's Day is still the busiest day of the year for florists, restaurants and long distance phone companies. Father's Day is the day on which the most collect phone calls are made.

It was Strindberg who said, "That is the thankless position of the father in the family—the provider for all and the enemy of all." Oscar Wilde said, "Fathers should neither be seen nor heard. That is the only proper basis for family life."

It's the birthday of Salman Rushdie, born in Bombay, India (1947).

It's the birthday of the short story writer and memoirist Tobias Wolff, born in Birmingham, Alabama (1945). He is best known for his memoir, This Boy's Life.

It's the birthday of the film critic Pauline Kael, born in Petaluma, California (1919). She was a film critic for the New Yorker for almost 25 years.

It's the birthday of music critic Greil Marcus, born in San Francisco (1945). He is the author of Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock 'n' Roll Music, and other books.

It was on this day in 1964 that Congress passed the Civil Rights Act. After a long battle in the Senate, the act passed, outlawing all segregation on the basis of race in the United States: in hotels and motels, restaurants, cafeterias, lunch counters, gasoline stations, movies houses, theaters, concert halls, sports arenas, stadiums or any other place of entertainment.

The bill was quickly passed in the House of Representatives, but it was filibustered in the Senate for almost three months by southern Democrats. It finally came up for a vote in the Senate on this day in 1964, and every senator was present, including Senator Clair Engle of California, who was dying of a brain tumor and could not speak. In order to vote yes, he pointed to his eye.

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