Aug. 11, 2005

Take Care

by Heather McHugh

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Poem: "Take Care" by Heather McHugh, from Hinge & Sign I Prefer © Wesleyan University Press. Reprinted with permission.

Take Care

When a man dies, it's not only of his disease;
he dies of his whole life. -Charles Péguy

Our neighbor Laura Foley used to love
to tell us, every spring when we returned
from work in richer provinces, the season's
roster of disease, bereavement, loss. And all
her stars were ill, and all her ailments worth
detailing. We were young, and getting up
into the world; we feigned a gracious
interest when she spoke, but did
a wicked slew of imitations, out
of earshot. Finally her bitterness drove off
even such listeners as we, and one by one the winters nailed
more cold into her house, until the decade crippled her,
and she was dead. Her presence had been
tiresome, cheerless, negative, and there was little
range or generosity in anything she said. But now that I

have lost my certainty, and spent my spirit in a waste
of one romance, I think enumerations have their place,
descriptive of what keeps on
keeping on. For dying's nothing
simple, single. And the records of the odd
demises (stone inside an organ, obstacles to brook,
a pump that stops, some cells that won't,
the fevers making mockeries of lust)
are signatures of lively
interest: they presuppose
the life to lose. And if the love of life's
an art, and art is difficult, then we
were less than laymen at it (easy come
is all the layman knows). I mean that maybe
Laura Foley loved life more, who kept
so keen an eye on how it goes.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the short story writer Andre Dubus, born in Lake Charles, Louisiana (1936). He wrote stories about ordinary people in his collections The Cage Keeper and Dancing After Hours.

It's the birthday of the man who wrote Roots, Alex Haley, born in Ithaca, New York (1921). Roots came out in 1976. It was a fictionalized history of seven generations of his family from Africa through slavery in the United States. He spent more than seven years doing research for it. And in order to imagine the slaves' passage across the Atlantic Ocean, he booked a trip on a boat from West Africa and spent every day on the second level of the boat in a cramped bunk bed wearing only his underwear.

It's the birthday of playwright David Hwang, born in Los Angeles (1958), best known for his play M. Butterfly in 1988.

It's the birthday of short story writer and novelist Angus Wilson, born in Sussex, England (1913), author of The Wrong Set and Such Darling Dodos.

It's the birthday of Scottish poet who wrote under the name Hugh MacDiarmid. He was born Christopher Murray Grieve, in Langholm, Scotland (1892). He started out writing poetry in English but then felt more at home writing in the Scottish dialect that he had spoken as a child. His masterpiece was A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle, published in 1926.

It's the birthday of poet Louise Bogan, born in Livermore Falls, Maine (1897). Louise Bogan said, "I have no fancy idea about poetry. It's not like embroidery or painting or silk. It doesn't come to you on the wings of a dove. It's something you have to work hard at."

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




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