Oct. 5, 2006

Another Life

by Deborah Cummins

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Poem: "Another Life" by Deborah Cummins from Counting the Waves. © Word Press. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Another Life

My mother, 18, the summer before she married,
lounges belly-down in the sun,
books and grass all around, her head on her hands
propped at a jaunty angle.
She smiles in a way I've never seen
at something beyond the camera.
This photograph I come back to again and again
invites me to re-write her life.
I keep resisting, certain
I'd have no part in it, her first born
though not exactly. A boy first,
two months premature, my brother
who lived three days, was buried in a coffin
my father carried. "The size of a shoe box,"
he said, the one time he spoke of it.
And my mother, too, offered only once
that she was pregnant and so they married.

Drawn to this saw-edged snapshot,
I'm almost convinced to put her in art school.
Single, she'd have a job in the city,
wouldn't marry. There'd be no children
if that would make her this happy.
But I'm not that unselfish, or stupid.
And what then, too, of my beloved sister,
her son I adore?

So let me just move her honeymoon
from the Wisconsin Dells to the Caribbean.
Let the occasional vacation in a Saugatuck cabin
be exactly what she wanted. The house
she so loved she won't have to sell.
Winters, there's enough money to pay the bills.
There are no cigarettes, no stroke, no paralysis.
Her right hand lifts a spoon from a bowl
as easily as if it were a sable-hair brush
to an empty canvas.
And the grass that summer day
on the cusp of another life
is thick, newly mown, fragrant.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of one of the few writers ever to become the leader of a country, Czech dramatist and president Václav Havel, (books by this author) born in Prague (1936). In the 1960s, he wrote a series of absurdist plays, including The Garden Party (1964) and The Memorandum (1965), that attacked the Communist Party, describing the way in which the Communists were ruining the language by introducing all kinds of euphemisms and clichés.

Havel kept protesting the government, refusing to go into exile the way so many other writers and artists in the country did. He was jailed several times, and then in 1989, after another arrest and imprisonment, he was released early because thousands of artists protested to the prime minister. He'd become a national hero. After the collapse of the Communist regime, he helped negotiate the transition to democracy, and in December of 1989, he was elected president, the first non-communist leader of his country since 1948. He stepped down from power in 2003.

Václav Havel said, "If you want to see your plays performed the way you wrote them, become president."

It's the birthday of the avant-garde novelist who wrote under the name Flann O'Brien, (books by this author) born Brian O'Nolan in Strabane, Ireland (1911). His novel At Swim-Two-Birds (1939) has three beginnings and three endings and the three different strands run alongside each other for the length of the book.

It's the birthday of short-story writer and novelist Edward P. Jones, (books by this author) born in Arlington, Virginia (1950). Jones grew up in Washington, D.C. His father deserted the family when Edward was just a boy, and he was raised by his mother, who supported the family by washing dishes and cleaning houses for a living. His mother had never learned to read or write, and so Jones often had to help her with job applications and other documents. He signed her name on all his own report cards.

Jones and his mother moved about 18 times throughout Jones's childhood. He was the first person in his family to attend college, and he said his mother was so proud that she burst into tears the first time she visited the campus. It was there that Jones began writing fiction. His work was promising, but just as he was graduating, his mother got sick, and he moved back to be with her as she died.

Jones was 53 years old when he finally published a novel, The Known World. It was his first, and it won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

His most recent book is the collection of stories All Aunt Hagar's Children, which came out this year (2006). Edward P. Jones has dedicated all his books so far to the memory of his mother, and he has said, "If I write more, I will dedicate them to [my mother] as well. It is a small, small thing to do for one's creator."

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