May 30, 2010

A Very Rich Old Woman

by David Starkey

My sons and grandsons greeted my demise
with glee, though they were politic enough
to mute it at my memorial. Inside,
they bubbled with plans: new Jags,
the latest Rolexes. They daydreamed
of gorgeous, irresponsible women
impossibly contorted on heart-shaped beds.
Men's money cravings are different
than women's.
                       I know.
to a great man, I married wealthy
in my twenties. It was security I wanted
not show. Forty years my senior,
a grandfatherly old scamp,
he wasn't around for long. As decades
passed, I managed my interests well,
knew when to get in
and out of oil, had a knack
for high-tech stocks. I befriended
the right people. I listened
carefully. When it mattered, I held
my tongue.
                 Hoi polloi
expect scandal from the great,
so I drank Screwdrivers for breakfast,
Bloody Marys were my lunch,
and by evening all I needed with my vodka
was a twist of lime. I bathed nude
on my private beach well into my seventies,
and seduced the local Monsignor,
giving him a new Mercedes every year.
None of it clouded my judgment,
and though they all said spiteful things
behind my back, no one ever returned
a penny of the money I spread around
like manure at planting time.
                                            In accordance
with my wishes, they burned me,
scattering my ashes
from a plane over the ocean:
some of me sank straight to the bottom,
some of me was borne aloft on the breeze,
settling on the roof of the university library,
which bears my bountiful name.

"A Very Rich Old Woman" by David Starkey, from A Few Things You Should Know About the Weasel. ©Biblioasis, 2010. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It was on this day in 1431 that Joan of Arc was burned at the stake in Rouen, France. She revitalized the French army by claiming she was on a mission from God, but she was captured by the English and tried for heresy. Her trial lasted for months. Every day she was brought into the interrogation room, where she was the only woman among judges, priests, soldiers, and guards. The judges hoped to trick her into saying something that would incriminate her as a witch or an idolater, so they asked endless questions about all aspects of her life, in no particular order. They were especially interested in her childhood, and because the transcripts of the trial were recorded, we now know more about her early life than any other common person of her time.

After months of questioning, she was told that if she didn't sign a confession, she would be put to death. She finally signed it, but a few days later she renounced the confession, and on this day in 1431, she was burned at the stake. She was 19 years old.

Joan of Arc has been portrayed in more than 20 films; the first was made by director Georges Méliès in 1899. And she's the subject of more than 20,000 books.

It's the birthday of the physician and novelist Abraham Verghese, (books by this author) born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (1955) to Indian schoolteachers. He's the author of two memoirs, My Own Country (1994) and The Tennis Partner (1998). His first novel, Cutting for Stone, came out just last year and was a best-seller.

His novel begins:
"After eight months spent in the obscurity of our mother's womb, my brother, Shiva, and I came into the world in the late afternoon of the twentieth of September in the year of grace 1954. We took our first breaths at an elevation of eight thousand feet in the thin air of Addis Ababa, capital city of Ethiopia. The miracle of our birth took place in Missing Hospital's Operating Theater 3, the very room where our mother, Sister Mary Joseph Praise, spent most of her working hours, and in which she had been most fulfilled.

"When our mother, a nun of the Diocesan Carmelite Order of Madras, unexpectedly went into labor that September morning, the big rain in Ethiopia had ended, its rattle on the corrugated tin roofs of Missing ceasing abruptly like a chatterbox cut off in midsentence."

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




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