Nov. 23, 2005

Out Here

by Robin Merrill

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Poem: "Out Here" by Robin Merrill from Laundry and Stories. © Moon Pie Press 2005. Reprinted with permission.

Out Here

I know why he killed himself.
You know, the old man
who spent thirty years
trying to break out of prison
and his last two
aching to get back in.
I know him, how he missed
that cold comfort of gray.
I too, have seen colors be scary.
I know why he carved his name
in the headboard at the boarding house
before he swallowed the stolen pills.
For thirty years they barked his name.
He hasn't heard it since. After living
the same day over and over,
regimen and routine,
now he wakes without schedule.
There are no friends here.
There is no family.
He left all of that behind.
Though he didn't know it then,
prison gave him purpose.
It's lonely out here.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of mystery writer, critic and lecturer Robert Barnard, born in 1936 in Essex, England. He spent many years in academia while establishing himself as a writer of crime fiction. His first crime novel, Death of an Old Goat (1974) was written while he was professor of English at the University of Tromsø in Norway. Since then he has written over thirty crime novels including historical crime novels featuring Mozart as a detective.

It's the birthday of writer and critic Guy Davenport, born in Anderson, South Carolina (1927). He is best known for his book of essays The Geography of the Imagination (1981). Guy Davenport said, "Art is the attention we pay to the wholeness of the world."

It was on this day in 1889 the Jukebox made its debut at the Palais Royale Saloon in San Francisco. It was called a "nickel-in-the-slot player" and consisted of an Edison Class M Electric Phonograph inside a free-standing oak cabinet to which were attached four stethoscope-like tubes. Each tube could be activated by depositing a coin so that four people could listen to a single recording at one time.

It was on this day in 1903 that the opera singer Enrico Caruso made his American debut at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York, appearing in Rigoletto. At that time, the New York Met was the world's leading opera house, and Caruso made it there from a childhood in the slums of Naples, where he was the eighteenth of twenty-one children. His auto-mechanic father had tried to get him to work in a factory, but he'd run away from home at sixteen and supported himself singing at weddings and funerals.

He'd begun his career as an opera singer in 1894, at an amateur opera house. He was paid sixteen dollars for two appearances. He developed a reputation throughout Europe and around the world, and in just under ten years he had reached the top of the opera world, debuting at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York on this day in 1903.

Most critics agreed that he did a good job, but it wasn't a standout performance. The critic for the New York Times wrote, "Mr. Caruso has a natural and free delivery and his voice carries well without forcing."

But over the course of that first opera season at the Met, Caruso began to relax, and he sang better and better with each performance. By the end of the season, audiences were going into hysterics.

Less than three months after his Metropolitan debut, Caruso made some recordings for the Victor Company, and these recordings of his voice helped transform the phonograph from a curiosity into a household item. Caruso became the first vocal recording star.

He went on to perform seventeen consecutive seasons at the Met, giving a total of 626 performances in New York, in 37 different operas. He gave his final performance at the Met on December 11, 1920. He had to leave the stage after the first act, because he was coughing up blood. It was the final performance of his life. It turned out he had pneumonia, which killed him a few months later.

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