Oct. 30, 2010

Mormon Missionaries Pay Me a Visit

by Ken Hada

I'm sitting on my lawn
enjoying a nice blunt cigar
watching children ride scooters
up and down the street
twilight gently falling,
swallows circling,
Mississippi Kites high overhead,
tree frog, sounds of sweet shadows

Then I see them in the corner of my eye,
two bikes slow
they can not pass a lost soul
I'm too conspicuous
I don't want this feeling, I want them
to pass me by

Good evening sir they say
I'm Elder Hansen says the first
I'm Elder Olson the second chokes
and then they wait
but all I can think to say:
You're kind of young to be elders, aren't you?
They launch into their sales pitch
about Restoration and Heavenly Father
while I recoil in smoke, then interrupt
If I convert do I have to give up this cigar?
They are not sure
but soon get back on track
like a loose wheel wobbling
until they finally bid me good evening.
I watch them roll away
and wonder
what gives them the audacity to interrupt me
while I am at worship

"Mormon Missionaries Pay Me a Visit" by Ken Hada from Spare Parts. © Mongrel Empire Press, 2010. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of Robert Caro, (books by this author) born in New York City 75 years ago today (1935). He's the author of The Power Broker (1974), for which he won the 1975 Pulitzer Prize. It's a biography of Robert Moses, an urban planner and leading builder of New York City. President Obama said that he read the biography when he was 22 years old and that the book "mesmerized" him. Obama said, "I'm sure it helped to shape how I think about politics."

Caro has also written three biographies on Lyndon Johnson, including The Path to Power (1982), Means of Ascent (1990), and Master of the Senate (2002), for which he won both the Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award. He's at work on a fourth and final volume about Lyndon Johnson, which he says will take him a few more years still.

The Rally to Restore Sanity, led by Jon Stewart, is scheduled to begin at noon today on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. It's being coordinated by two aides from the Clinton administration, and it features such slogans as "Take it down a notch for America" and "I disagree with you, but I'm pretty sure you're not Hitler." Also scheduled is the competing Colbert-led rally "March to Keep Fear Alive."

A month ago, speaking to grade-school children in Richmond, Virginia, about the counterproductiveness of name-calling and inciting controversy, President Obama plugged Jon Stewart's rally. Obama referred to it as "a rally called something like, 'Americans Who Favor a Return to Sanity' or something like that."

It's the birthday of Ezra Pound, (books by this author) born 125 years ago today in Hailey, Idaho (1885). He was known as "the poet's poet" because he was so generous about promoting the work of other writers — including James Joyce, William Carlos Williams, D.H. Lawrence, Marianne Moore, Hilda Doolittle, and T.S. Eliot.

In his early 20s, he started teaching literature at a small college in the Midwest. But he caused a scandal by allowing a stranded vaudeville actress to sleep over at his place. He was fired. But the college gave him the rest of his year's salary, and he headed off to Europe with it.

He believed that Yeats was the greatest poet writing in English, and he was determined to make himself an apprentice to Yeats. He found him, befriended him, worked as his secretary, and even lived with Yeats at his Sussex cottage for a while. Later, he married the daughter of Yeats's former lover.

In 1914, Pound met T.S. Eliot, and he campaigned to get "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" published in Poetry magazine. He's sometimes credited as "discovering" Eliot because of this.

He lived in England for eight years, and writers always hung out at his home. He moved to Italy and was living there when World War II began. He did radio broadcasts for the Italian government in which he condemned America and praised Mussolini, and he kept up these broadcasts even after the U.S. entered the war. He was arrested by the U.S., charged with treason, and placed in a cage on an American Army base near Pisa.

At the end of the war, he was taken back to the U.S. to stand trial. But then he was found mentally incompetent for a trial and instead sent to a hospital for the criminally insane in Washington, D.C. He spent 12 years there, from 1946 to 1958. Friends, famous poets, and admirers streamed in to visit him while he was in the psychiatric hospital; regular visitors included Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Lowell, and William Carlos Williams. Robert Frost campaigned for his release. Pound was awarded the Bollingen Prize for poetry during his stay. The treason charges were eventually dismissed. Ezra Pound was declared incurably insane but not dangerous. When they let him out, he went straight back to Italy, and remained there until his death in 1972.

He spent most of his writing life on The Cantos, a modern epic. There are 109 completed Cantos; the first of The Cantos begins:

"And then went down to the ship,
Set keel to breakers, forth on the godly sea, and
We set up mast and sail on that swart ship.
Bore sheep aboard her, and our bodies also
Heavy with weeping, and winds from sternward
Bore us out onward with bellying canvas
Circe's this craft, the trim-coifed goddess."

From the archives:

It's the birthday of the second president of the United States, John Adams, born in Quincy, Massachusetts, in 1735. He represented Massachusetts at the Continental Congress. He served on the committee to draft the Declaration of Independence, and even though Thomas Jefferson wrote most of it, John Adams edited it, and he defended it to the rest of the Congress and helped get it passed. Adams was vice president for George Washington, but he didn't like it much. In 1796, he was elected the second president of the United States. But his party, the Federalist Party, ended up divided, and the next time around he lost to Jefferson.

John Adams said, "Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There was never a democracy that did not commit suicide."

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