Nov. 27, 2005

I always turn the radio

by Robin Merrill

My Dead Daughter

by Robin Merrill

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Poem:"My Dead Daughter" and "I always turn the radio" by Robin Merrill from Laundry and Stories 2005 © Moon Pie Press. Reprinted with permission.

My Dead Daughter

Every spring
my dead daughter spraypaints
on the road where she died.

My dead daughter has a flute
at the grammar school
for kids who's parents can't afford
a flute of their own.

My dead daughter
sends fifth graders
to art
every year.

This year
instead of marching with them
my dead daughter is helping
send her classmates to college.

My dead daughter's
changing the world.

I always turn the radio

when I stop at the
by the white cross
where you died

I always turn the radio
some sort of ceremonial
moment of silence

I forgot
for the first time
to turn the radio

I was talking
to a new friend

can you forgive me
for forgetting
to turn the radio
and also
for living

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the historian Charles Beard, born near Knightstown, Indiana (1874). He was one of the most controversial historians of his day, in part because he refused to accept the myths passed down about the nobility of the founding fathers. In one of his first important books, An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States, (1913) he uncovered the records of personal holdings of government securities by the framers of the constitution, and he found that they all got rich when the constitution was adopted.

His most ambitious book was The Rise of American Civilization (1927).

Charles Beard said, "One of the best ways to get yourself a reputation as a dangerous citizen these days is to go about repeating the very phrases which our founding fathers used in the struggle for independence."

It's the birthday of writer James Agee, born in Knoxville, Tennessee (1909). He was seven years old when his father was killed in a car accident, an event that haunted him for the rest of his life. After his father's death, he went to a series of boarding schools, and wound up at Harvard, where he began to write.

Agee got a job as a journalist right out of college, and in the summer of 1936, he got an assignment from Fortune magazine to travel to Tuscaloosa, Alabama and write a story about the lives of cotton sharecroppers for a series called "Life and Circumstances." Agee brought Walker Evans along with him as his photographer. They spent two months living with three families, and on their way back to New York City, Agee realized that he couldn't write a mere magazine article about the experience. Instead, he spent the next five years working on a book, which he called Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. It finally came out in 1941. By that point, no one cared about the Great Depression anymore. The war was on. The book went largely unnoticed, and sold about 600 copies.

Agee went on to work as a film critic, and his film criticism is still read today, even though many of the movies he reviewed have been forgotten. He also began to write film scripts, including the script for the movie African Queen (1951). For the last two decades of his life, Agee worked on and off on a manuscript about the death of his father. He said, "[I want to recreate] my childhood and my father, exactly as I can remember and represent them."

Before he could finish the book, he died of a heart attack in a New York taxicab in 1955, with no will, no insurance, and $450 in the bank. All his books were out of print. His last novel was published posthumously as A Death in the Family, and won the Pulitzer Prize (1957). Three years later, in 1960, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men was republished, and it went on to sell more than a quarter-million copies. It is now generally considered one of the best examinations of life during the Great Depression.

In Let us Now Praise Famous Men, James Agee wrote, "In every child who is born under no matter what circumstances and of no matter what parents, the potentiality of the human race is born again, and in him, too, once more, and each of us, our terrific responsibility toward human life: toward the utmost idea of goodness, of the horror of terrorism, and of God."

It's the birthday of the poet Marilyn Hacker, born in New York City (1942). Her first collection of poems, Presentation Piece (1973) won the National Book Award. Her most recent collection is Desperanto (2003).

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




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