Nov. 17, 2005

Late Poem to My Father

by Sharon Olds

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Poem: "Late Poem to My Father" by Sharon Olds from The Gold Cell © Knopf. Reprinted with permission.

Late Poem to My Father

Suddenly I thought of you
as a child in that house, the unlit rooms
and the hot fireplace with the man in front of it,
silent. You moved through the heavy air
in your physical beauty, a boy of seven,
helpless, smart, there were things the man
did near you, and he was your father,
the mold by which you were made. Down in the
cellar, the barrels of sweet apples,
picked at their peak from the tree, rotted and
rotted, and past the cellar door
the creek ran and ran, and something was
not given to you, or something was
taken from you that you were born with, so that
even at 30 and 40 you set the
oily medicine to your lips
every night, the poison to help you
drop down unconscious. I always thought the
point was what you did to us
as a grown man, but then I remembered that
child being formed in front of the fire, the
tiny bones inside his soul
twisted in greenstick fractures, the small
tendons that hold the heart in place
snapped. And what they did to you
you did not do to me. When I love you now,
I like to think I am giving my love
Directly to that boy in the fiery room,

As if it could reach him in time.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of American novelist and historian Shelby Foote, born in Greenville, Mississippi (1916). Foote had published several highly regarded novels, including Tournament (1949), Follow Me Down (1950) and Love in a Dry Season (1951), when in 1952, an editor asked him if he would try writing a narrative history of the Civil War. Foote said he thought it would take about four years, but it wound up taking two decades, and the result was three volumes, more than 1.6 million words, and almost 3,000 pages long when published. Foote later compared the project to swallowing a cannonball.

Shelby Foote wrote all his books with an antique pen that had to be dipped in ink after every three or four words.

He spent the last twenty-five years of his life working on an epic novel about Mississippi called Two Gates to the City. It remained unfinished when Foote died this past summer.

It's the birthday of film director Martin Scorsese, born 1942 in Flushing, in the New York borough of Queens. Scorsese grew up in Little Italy in Manhattan where he lived until he was 24. He had asthma and wasn't able to work odd jobs during the summers or play with the neighborhood boys. Instead, he went to movies with his father and afterward sketched motion picture scenes on drawing pads.

Scorsese was raised a devout Roman Catholic and enrolled in a seminary with the intention of becoming a priest. But he was expelled for roughhousing during prayers and transferred to a high school in the Bronx where he found that what he really wanted to do was make movies. He went to New York University and won awards for his student films What's a Girl Like You Doing in a Place Like This? (1963) and It's Not Just You, Murray (1964).

Then in 1973, he made a 45-minute documentary out of an after-dinner conversation with his parents. The film, Italianamerican, includes his parents telling stories about their childhood, and a demonstration of his mother making spaghetti sauce. It received a standing ovation at the 1974 New York Film Festival, during which his mother blew kisses to the audience.

Scorsese's big breakthrough was Mean Streets (1973), based on a relationship between a couple of small-time hoods in the criminal world of Little Italy. That movie also launched the career of Robert de Niro.

It was on this day in 1558 that Queen Elizabeth I acceded to the English throne upon the death of her sister, Queen Mary.

It was on this day in 1968 that NBC interrupted its coverage of a football game between the Oakland Raiders and the New York Jets with one minute remaining in order to show the scheduled movie Heidi, about an orphaned girl who goes to live with her grandfather in the Swiss Alps.

In the last minute of the game, the Raiders scored two touchdowns, coming from behind to win the game 43 to 32. Football fans were enraged. So many people called to complain that the NBC's telephone switchboard in New York City blew 26 fuses.

It was that game, and the storm of protest by fans, that forced TV executives to realize how passionate the audience for football really was. Two years later, networks began showing football on Monday nights as well. And because of that game, the NFL now has a contract with the networks that all football games will be shown until their completion.

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




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