Sep. 26, 2006


by George Bilgere

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Poem: "Haywire" by George Bilgere from Haywire. © Utah State University Press. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)


When I was a kid,
there was always someone old
living with my friends,
a small, gray person
from another century
who stayed in a back room
with a Bible and a bed with silver rails.

They were from a time before the time
the world just plain went haywire,

and even though nothing
made sense to them anymore,
they'd gotten used to it,
and walked around smiling vaguely
at the aliens ruining the galaxy
on the color console television,

or the British invasion
growing from the sides of our heads
in little transistorized boxes.

In the front room, by the light of tv,
we were just starting to get stoned,
and the girls were helping us
help them out of their jeans,

while in the back room
someone very tired
closed her eyes and watched
a wheat field where a boy
whose name she can't remember
is walking down a dusty road.

No sound
but the sound of crickets.
No satellites,
Or even headlights in the distance yet.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1580 that Francis Drake docked his ship, the Golden Hind, at Plymouth, England, after circumnavigating the globe. He had left for the journey on December 13, 1577.

It's the birthday of T.S. (Thomas Stearns) Eliot, (books by this author) born into a prominent Unitarian family in Saint Louis (1888). He was fond of his childhood, and he liked to watch steamboats going up the Mississippi River. He adored his Irish nurse, Annie, who brought him to church and talked to him about God. He loved to read, especially the poetry of Edgar Allan Poe. He was a bird watcher and could identify more than 70 kinds of birds.

But he didn't have many friends as a boy, and he also had trouble making friends at Harvard, where he went to college. He joined some clubs and went to dances and parties here and there. He lifted weights to try to improve his appearance. But in the end, he remained somewhat of a recluse.

After Harvard, Eliot moved to England, where he got a job as a banker. He was a fastidious worker, arriving at 9:30 and leaving at 5:30 every day, working one Saturday every month. He ate lunch every day at the same restaurant, called Baker's Chop House. He met and married a 26-year-old ballet dancer named Vivienne Haigh-Wood. They had known each other for only three months, and didn't ever become completely comfortable with each other. They slept in separate rooms, and Eliot couldn't bring himself to shave in front of her. A few years into their marriage, he joined the Church of England and took a vow of chastity.

From a young age, Eliot wrote about moral decay and getting old and the hopelessness of life, and he expressed those feelings in his most famous poem, The Waste Land (1922), a long dark poem about the search for redemption in a post-World War I world.

After he divorced, Eliot had other women who loved him and wanted to marry him. Eliot said that living with a woman was a "nightmare" and something that didn't interest him. But when he was almost 70, he secretly married his 30-year-old secretary, Valerie.

Eliot and his wife were together all the time, and she made him very happy. He never left her side, and he wrote her a letter every week. They sat at home together, playing Scrabble over cheese and Scotch whiskey. His health was failing, but he brought her on a trip to the United States—to Texas and New York and Boston. They went out dancing at a boat party thrown by some Harvard students. He started telling practical jokes and became fond of whoopee cushions and exploding cigars. He wrote a fan letter to Groucho Marx, who wrote back, and the two became close pen pals.

Eliot said, "This last part of my life is the best, in excess of anything I could have deserved."

It's the birthday of Jane Smiley, born in Los Angeles (1949). She comes from a family of journalists and newspaper editors. As a young woman, she lived on a commune in the late '60s, leafleting and selling pro-labor newspapers at a local electronics factory. She then when off to travel around the world for a while with a backpack, a typewriter, and a banjo. But after a year of traveling, she got married and started a family, deciding to settle down and write.

She's best known for her novel A Thousand Acres (1991), which begins, "At sixty miles per hour, you could pass our farm in a minute."

It's the birthday of composer George Gershwin, born in Brooklyn, New York (1898). He made his name as a composer with the piece Rhapsody in Blue (1924), when he was just 26 years old.

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




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