Sep. 22, 2005

Something Else

by Christian Barter

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Poem: "Something Else" by Christian Barter, from The Singers I Prefer. © CavanKerry Press, Ltd. Reprinted with permission.

Something Else

I know a woman who calls me
every week or so when she has something
on her mind and starts by saying,
"I have something to talk about
but let's start by talking about
something else." It helps her get it out.
So I ask her how she is and she says
okay and tells me about some poet
or politician she's met and how
he wasn't at all what she expected
or about the DC weather,
the traffic jams, the dirty Metro.
Sometimes she never gets around to her point
at all, but ends by saying,
"Now I don't want to talk about it
anymore." Last week I had a fever
for four days and the world
took on a kind of flickering darkness—
it seemed so thin, so insubstantial,
not the kind of place a person could live.
This guy who came to the card game
last night, he says he dreams
of a dead friend all the time,
this friend walks out of a black alley,
walks always in a kind of shadow.
I asked him what it's like to be dead,
the guy said, fumbling a face-down card,
and he said it's not a place, heaven,
it's a feeling, the feeling of knowing
everything you never knew. Then the friend
told him one of the numbers to play
this week in Megabucks. Sometimes, though,
she does get around to what's on her mind—
a sadness for her little sister, killed
in a wreck, or a fear that we
won't see each other again, won't ever
feel whatever that was we felt when we
were making love. I don't know if we will.
I don't know if she will ever see
her little sister again except in dreams,
which is somewhere, I guess.
The number was eight.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1961, John F. Kennedy signed legislation that created the Peace Corps, an idea originally proposed by Senator Hubert Humphrey in 1957, but it was John Kennedy who made it a reality. He had given a speech about the Peace Corps at the University of Michigan in October 1960 to 10,000 students who waited until 2:00 in the morning to hear him. He asked the crowd if anybody there would be willing to serve their country by traveling abroad and helping develop the poorest nations of the world, and the audience shouted back that they would. And so he was inspired to include in his inaugural address the famous line: "Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country."

Today is the first day of autumn. In the next few weeks, the shortening of daylight hours will tell the trees around us that winter is coming and they'll begin shutting down their food-making process, preparing to live on the sugar they've stored for the winter. All the green chlorophyll in their leaves will be withdrawn into the trees' branches and the leaves will turn red and yellow and orange and brown.

It's the anniversary of an execution in New York City, 1776. Nathan Hale was hanged at 11:00 a.m. by the British at the gallows at which he uttered his famous last words, "I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country."

It's the birthday of the novelist and playwright Fay Weldon, born in Worcestershire, England (1931), author of Puffball, The Life and Loves of a She-Devil, and her autobiography, Auto Da Fay.

A few years ago she caused a controversy when she became the first writer that we know of to be paid for a product placement in a novel. The Italian jewelry company Bulgari paid her an undisclosed sum to mention their brand in her book The Bulgari Connection.

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




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