Jul. 13, 2006

Ex-boyfriends in Heaven

by Gwen Hart

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Poem: "Ex-boyfriends in Heaven" by Gwen Hart from Lost and Found. © David Robert Books. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Ex-boyfriends in Heaven

Ex-boyfriends never go to hell,
no matter how many times
you suggest it. No, they ascend straight
to heaven, where they speak French,
wear matching socks, and always,
always arrive on time, with a full
tank of gas and a bottle of wine.
They never curse your cat
or your mother, never call you up
drunk doing Arnold Schwarzenegger
impressions, never say Hey Rita
if your name is Tammy,
never say Hey Tammy
if your name is Joan.
They're better trained than dogs
and they smell better, too, better
than Twinkies or camellias, better
than anything on earth. Once
in a while, they take a holiday,
drive their Porsches down
through the clouds
in one long line and ring
the doorbell in your dreams,
offering tender apologies, tender
chicken cutlets, tender love.
But before you take one sack
of groceries, before your lips
graze a clean-shaven jaw,
before you let one polished
Oxford loafer through your door,
remember that as soon as they cross
the threshold, the truth will slip
in behind them: ex-boyfriends only
exist this way in heaven, or
whatever you want to call it,
their new lives without you.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the Nobel Prize winning playwright and poet Wole Soyinka (books by this author), born in Abeokuta, Nigeria (1934). He won a scholarship to England's University of Leeds, where he studied Shakespeare. While he was in school, he learned that his home country would soon be freed from its colonial rulers, and he couldn't wait to return home to a newly independent nation. So he was horrified when the new native rulers of Nigeria turned out to be just as corrupt as the colonial rulers had ever been.

In 1965, on the day of an unfair election in Nigeria, Soyinka drove to the local radio station, where they were about to broadcast a prerecorded victory speech by the corrupt new president. Soyinka walked in the front door of the radio station with a gun and a reel of audiotape, and he forced to station managers to play a dissenting broadcast instead. Somehow, he managed to stay out of jail until 1967, when he was thrown in prison.

He spent the next two years in solitary confinement. They would not give him anything to write with, so he made his own ink and wrote on toilet paper and cigarette packages. His prison writings were incredibly popular, and they were eventually collected in Poems from Prison (1969) and The Man Died: Prison Notes (1972).

In time, Soyinka went into exile in England, where he began teaching at Cambridge. It was there that he wrote his play Death and the King's Horseman (1976).

He's continued fighting against corruption in Nigeria while writing books. In 1994, he had his passport revoked by Nigerian officials, and had to escape his home country on a twelve-hour motorbike ride over the border. He spent the next several years writing his memoir You Must Set Forth at Dawn, but he didn't finish it until he was able to return to Nigeria. The memoir came out this year (2006).

Wole Soyinka said, "A book if necessary should be a hammer [or] a hand grenade which you detonate under a stagnant way of looking at the world."

It's the birthday of Russian short-story writer Isaak Babel (books by this author), born in the Jewish ghetto in Odessa, Ukraine (1894).

It's the birthday of novelist Dale Peck (books by this author), born on Long Island, New York (1967). He made his name in the literary world before he reached the age of thirty with the books Martin and John (1993), about a young man's attempt to cope with his lover's death from AIDS, and The Law of Enclosures (1996).

His collection of book critiques, Hatchet Jobs, was published in 2004. It's a collection of scathing book reviews he's written over the years.

On this day in 1798, William Wordsworth (books by this author) wrote one of his greatest poems, "Tintern Abbey."

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