Sep. 15, 2005

The Undeniable Pressure of Existence

by Patricia Fargnoli

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Poem: "The Undeniable Pressure of Existence" by Patricia Fargnoli, from Duties of the Spirit. © Tupelo Press. Reprinted with permission.

The Undeniable Pressure of Existence

I saw the fox running by the side of the road
past the turned-away brick faces of the condominiums
past the Citco gas station with its line of cars and trucks
and he ran, limping, gaunt, matted dull haired
past Jim's Pizza, past the Wash-O-Mat,
past the Thai Garden, his sides heaving like bellows
and he kept running to where the interstate
crossed the state road and he reached it and he ran on
under the underpass and beyond it past the perfect
rows of split-levels, their identical driveways
their brookless and forestless yards,
and from my moving car, I watched him,
helpless to do anything to help him, certain he was beyond
any aid, any desire to save him, and he ran loping on,
far out of his element, sick, panting, starving,
his eyes fixed on some point ahead of him,
some possible salvation
in all this hopelessness, that only he could see.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of François VI, duke de La Rochefoucauld, born in Paris (1613), who wrote a slim book in 1665 called Maxims, a series of witty sayings about human nature. La Rochefoucauld said, "There are some people who would never have fallen in love if they had not heard that there was such a thing," and who said, "We all have strength enough to endure the troubles of others," and who said, "Everybody complains of his memory, but nobody of his judgment."

It's the birthday of the novelist James Fenimore Cooper, born in Burlington, New Jersey (1789). He grew up in Cooperstown, New York, a frontier village on the Susquehanna River, founded by his father. James Fenimore Cooper is best known for his series of five novels, The Leatherstocking Tales, including Last of the Mohicans. At the time, most Americans read English literature about the romance of knights and nobility, but Fenimore Cooper was the first author to make the frontier life of America seem romantic.

It's the birthday of the humorist Robert Benchley, born in Worcester, Massachusetts (1889). He started writing humor as a kid in school. Assigned to write an essay about how to do something practical, he wrote one called "How to Embalm a Corpse." When he was assigned to write about the dispute over Newfoundland fishing rights from the point of view of the United States and Canada, he instead chose to write from the point of view of the fish.

Later in life when Benchley was asked to write a little biography of himself for an encyclopedia, he said that he was born on the Isle of Wight, had written A Tale of Two Cities, and was buried in Westminster Abbey.

It's the birthday of Agatha Christie, born in Devon, England (1890). She was a Red Cross nurse during World War I. She started reading detective novels because she found they took her mind off her troubles and soon after, started writing her own.

Her big breakthrough book was her novel The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, which came out in 1926. It was the same year in which Christie had a fight with her husband, fled her own home, and was missing for ten days. There was a nationwide search. It was on the front pages of all the papers. And when she finally turned up, she was famous and all of her books were best-sellers.

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