Jan. 1, 2006

Meeting My Son at the Airport

by Lou Lipsitz

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Poem: "Meeting My Son at the Airport" by Lou Lipsitz from Seeking the Hook: New and Selected Poems. © Signal Books, Chapel Hill, NC. Reprinted with permission.

Meeting My Son at the Airport

I'm there before and I wait.
When he comes through the passageway
I remember his being born,
dark-haired infant pushed out
with his mother's blood.
Now he carries the colorful
valise on his shoulder and
doesn't see me. I'm standing
right in front of him and he
doesn't see me. He doesn't
let on that he sees me.

This is the moment it is all
said. You walked out on me, dad.
I won't ever get angry. I won't
even feel the betrayal. You
walked out on us and I was
six years old. Now you come
to the airport and I don't
see you.

For a moment I imagine him
flying at me and knocking me down;
or the two of us, out of breath,
bewildered, on our knees, weeping.
But he walks on, a prince
in gorgeous athletic robes who
stops for no one. And then, as I
reach out for him, he seems
like a blind boy too proud
to ask for help.

I take one of his bags
and hug him. It's done.
Damage of twenty years ago.
If I live long enough and
he returns one day to
the small, locked, forgotten
door and I am allowed to
return from this unacknowledged
exile, maybe we will meet again.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of English novelist E. M. Forster, born in London (1879). He grew up the son of an affluent family in an old house the English countryside. After he inherited some money that made it unnecessary to earn a living, Forster began traveling around Europe and writing novels about the English social classes. In just five years he published four novels, including Where Angels Fear to Tread (1905), A Room with a View (1908) and Howard's End (1910). Then he wrote nothing for fourteen years while he worked for the Red Cross in Egypt during World War I and then traveled to India.

When he got back from India, Forster published A Passage to India (1924) which many consider his masterpiece, about a young British woman named Adela Quested, traveling in India, who falsely accuses an Indian man of attempted rape and then later retracts her accusation.

A Passage to India was Forster's most successful novel to date. He was at the height of his career. And so it was a surprise to everyone that, though he lived for almost fifty more years, he never published another novel.

It's the birthday of American writer J.D. Salinger (1919). He's one of the most famous living authors in America—even though he hasn't published anything since 1965—and he's been living as a recluse since then. He's best known for his novel The Catcher in the Rye, about a boy named Holden Caulfield who gets expelled from his boarding school and spends the next few days wandering around New York City, trying to figure out why people have to grow older, why everyone is so phony, and where the ducks go when the pond in central park freezes over.

The Catcher in the Rye started out as a short story called "Slight Rebellion Off Madison," and it was the first story that Salinger managed to sell to the New Yorker. It was the story of Holden's date with a girl named Sally Hayes. He complains to her that that he hates everything about New York, including buses and taxi cabs and movies, but at the end of the story he promises Sally that he will come to her house and help her trim the Christmas tree. the New Yorker bought the story in November of 1941, and planned to run it in their Christmas issue.

That month Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and Salinger's story was put on hold. It was considered too trivial in a time of war. Salinger kept submitting stories to the New Yorker for the next few years even as he was drafted into the army, but his stories kept getting rejected.

Then, in June of 1943, Salinger learned that he would be deployed in the ground force invasion of Normandy on D-Day. His division hit the beach in the fifth hour of the invasion, and for the next several Decembers Salinger saw some of the bloodiest fighting of the war, including the Battle of the Bulge. Between 50 and 200 soldiers in his division were killed or wounded every day. At the end of the war Salinger checked into an Army general hospital in Nuremberg suffering from shell shock.

In 1946, the New Yorker finally published "Slight Rebellion Off Madison," which they had been holding onto since before the war began. When The Catcher in the Rye came out in 1951 The New York Times ran a review titled "Aw, the World's a Crumby Place" that poked fun at Salinger's style. The New Yorker refused to run any excerpts of the novel because they said that the children in it were unbelievably intelligent, and the style of the novel was too "showoffy." But despite the mixed reviews, and the fact that Salinger refused to help with publicity, The Catcher in the Rye reached the best-seller list after being in print just two weeks, and it stayed there for more than six months. It made Salinger a literary celebrity.

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




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