Aug. 1, 2010

Gil's Story

by Kathleen Flenniken

Gil tells you his story in the company truck
on your first job under his wing.
He cuts the engine and pulls

to the shoulder, which is alarming.
He's a big man who talks rough all day
to drillers, but you know he's kind—

everybody in the office says so. Gil's
a sweetheart, they say without elaboration.
He rolls to a stop and waits,

which prepares you, I think; it wipes
the fake smile off your face. He clears
his throat, then it streams like a steady well—

that lazy drive home from vacation,
his wife napping in the camper
before she and their daughter switch,

his careful introduction of the boy
who has drifted an entire lifetime
into their oncoming lane. It's beautiful

really, the way they crash into the boy's
car, how it parts the boy's curtain
of long blond hair and death anoints him

with a dot of blood on his forehead.
A single hubcap bounds like a tin deer
across the highway. Gil's frantic wife
pries the camper open to find their dead girl
whose eyes are closed as though
she's dozing through a horror movie.

Then silence. Gil turns expectantly to you.
As you sit speechless, he'll nod
at whatever sound or breath escapes you.

He starts the truck with a roar
and you're driving again to the field.
All afternoon he babies you with the pipes,

the pump, and the rig. And when you return,
the whole office comes out to greet you,
touching your shoulder, saying your name.

"Gil's Story" by Kathleen Flenniken, from Famous. © University of Nebraska Press, 2006. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of Herman Melville, (books by this author) born in New York City, (1819). In 1841, he joined the crew of the whaler Acushnet. Inspired by his adventures at sea, Melville returned to New York and settled down to write about his travels. He got married, had four children, and moved to a farm in Massachusetts, where he became friends with Nathaniel Hawthorne. Melville went to work on Moby-Dick,and Hawthorne encouraged him to make the novel an allegory, not just another adventure story. Melville thought it was his best book yet. But when Moby-Dick came out in 1851, the public did not agree. It was too psychological. His American publisher only printed a few thousand copies, and most of those never even sold.

He moved to New York and got a job as a customs inspector on the New York docks, where he worked for 19 years. The manuscript of his final work, Billy Budd, was found in his desk after he died, by which time he had become so obscure that The New York Times called him "Henry Melville" in his obituary.

On this day in 1876, Colorado became the 38th state admitted to the Union. It's one of only three states in the U.S. without any natural borders — something like a river or mountain range or desert, which separates it from its neighbors. The other two states with no natural borders: Colorado's neighbors Wyoming and Utah.

It was on this day in 1981 that MTV — Music Television — had its premiere.

It's the birthday of Jerry Garcia, born Jerome John Garcia in San Francisco (1942). He performed with The Grateful Dead for 30 years and was recently ranked by Rolling Stone magazine as 13th on their list of "100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time."

It's the birthday of poet and punk rocker Jim Carroll, (books by this author) born in New York City (1949). Today, Jim Carroll is best known for his autobiographical prose book The Basketball Diaries (1978), an edited collection of his journals from his early teenage years in New York City. They're from when he was 12 through 15 years old, when he was a star basketball player, a regular at the St. Mark's Poetry Project workshops, and a working teenage prostitute enslaved to his heroin addiction. The book was made into a movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio in 1995.

His punk rock band albums include Catholic Boy (1980), Dry Dreams (1982), and I Write Your Name (1983). He died just last year from a heart attack, on September 11th, in Manhattan, while sitting at his desk writing. His novel The Petting Zoo is due out this fall.

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




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