Nov. 22, 2005

To the woman at the Red Edge Motel

by Tom Chandler

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Poem:"To the woman at the Red Edge Motel" by Tom Chandler from Sad Jazz. © Table Rock Books. Lincoln, Rhode Island. Reprinted with permission.

To the woman at the Red Edge Motel

Some tourist of love
in his cheap suit of longing
will elbow the bar
in the lounge of no last names,
dip his cuff accidentally
in your seven & seven
and ask you to dance
to the faint moan of muzak,
perfume your earrings
with breath mints and gin
as the lights grow yet dimmer
as his hand on the switch
hovers inches away
from the slick red edge
of your hungover heart
with its faded no vacancy sign.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was about 12:30 pm on this day in 1963 that President John F. Kennedy was fatally shot while riding in a motorcade in Dallas, Texas. It was the only presidential assassination ever caught on film. The alleged assassin Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested ninety minutes after the murder took place. Two days after his arrest, Oswald was being transferred to jail, in front of a crowd of on-lookers and TV cameras, when a local nightclub owner named Jack Ruby pulled out a gun and shot him.

The Warren Commission concluded in 1964 that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone and that Jack Ruby had also acted alone. But even before the commission's report was released, books were already being published suggesting various conspiracy theories. Today, there have been more books written by amateur historians about the Kennedy assassination than any other event in history.

The conspiracy theories include a right-wing conspiracy within the U.S. Government, anti-Castro Cubans and their supporters, left-wing pro-Castro Cubans, or the Mafia. One theory is that Oswald himself actually never returned from a trip to Russia, but had been replaced and impersonated by a KGB agent. Another theory claims that Oswald was not trying to kill the president at all, but just John Connally, the governor of Texas, who sat in front of Kennedy in the same limousine. Still another suggests that Kennedy was accidentally shot by a secret service agent.

Today, fewer than half of all Americans believe the Warren Commission's conclusion that Oswald acted alone.

It's the birthday of Andre Gide, born in Paris (1869). He was one of the first modern writers to openly defend homosexuality in his book Corydon (1924).

It's the birthday of the woman who wrote under the name George Eliot, born Mary Ann Evans in Warwickshire, England (1819). She was her father's favorite child, and he paid for the many tutors who taught her foreign languages and gave her all the best literature to read. Her father was shocked when, at the age of twenty-two, she told him that she had decided Christianity was a mix of fact and fiction, and she no longer wanted to go to church. He stopped speaking to her for nine weeks. She eventually made up with him, but she never changed her beliefs.

After her father's death, she traveled to Switzerland, wondering how she was going to support herself. When she got back to England, she became a woman of letters at a time when there was almost no such thing. She edited a literary journal and she began to write fiction. She chose George Eliot as her pen name because George was the first name of her lover and she said, "Eliot was a good mouth-filling, easily-pronounced word."

At a time when most novels were full of exaggerated characters, wild coincidences, and sentimentality, Eliot devoted herself to writing about ordinary characters and ordinary life. Eliot's first full-length novel Adam Bede (1859) was about carpenter who is betrayed by his love. It was an immediate success. People across Europe, including Leo Tolstoy in Russia, called it a work of genius, and everyone wondered who this George Eliot was. Mary Evans decided to reveal her identity, and went on to become one of the most renowned writers of her lifetime.

But she always had doubts about her abilities as a writer. Her husband had to hide the reviews of her work so that she wouldn't read them and become depressed. When she was working on her novel Middlemarch, she often reread her previous books and agonized over the idea that she would never be able to write that well again and all her best work was behind her.

Eliot was wrong, though. Middlemarch (1871) became her masterpiece. It's the story of Dorothea Brooke: an idealistic, intelligent young woman who hopes to become a social reformer. She marries the scholar Edward Casaubon, hoping to share his intellectual life, only to realize that the marriage is a disaster and her husband is a stuffy, old-fashioned snob, and the man she really loves is her husband's younger cousin.

Middlemarch made Eliot rich and famous. In the last years of her life, thousands of women wrote letters to her saying that she had described their lives, and asking for her advice in their marriages and careers.

George Eliot wrote, "If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel's heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence."

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




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