At times, I really enjoy reading The New Yorker. Most issues have at least on story, poem, or something that inspires me. Below is on of those sections.
John Updike, as you may know, is an American author, considered to be one of the greatest modern American writers. Aside from his novels, he had a number of short stories published in The New Yorker.
John died in January of this year from lung cancer. In the latest issue, 10 poems were published, poems written between April 14, 2008 and December 22, 2008.
When I began reading these, I just browsed them jumping from one poem to another. It was only a short time before I realized the theme of these poems and started over from the beginning. It is an beautiful way to document such sadness. How inspiring for a man so near to death working on his art, his craft. I have not read any of his books but I will now.
Spirit of '76
Cypresses have one direction, up,
but sometimes desert zephyrs tousle one
so that a branch or two will sick straight out-
a hatchling fallen from the nest,
a broken leg a limp will not forget,
a lock of cowlicked hair that spurns the comb,
Aspiring like steeples inky green,
they spear the sun-bleached view with nodding tips
How not to think of death? Its ghastly blank
lies underneath your dreams, that once gave rise
to horn-hard, conscienceless erections.
Just so, your waking brain no longer stiffens
with careless inspirations - urgent news
spilled in clenched spasms on the virgin sheets.
Here in this place of arid clarity,
two thousand miles from where my souvenirs
collect a cozy dust, the piled produce
of bald ambitions pulling ignorance,
I see clear through to the ultimate page,
the silence I dared break for my small time.
No piece was easy, but each fell finished,
in its shroud of print, into a book shaped hole.
Be with me, words, a little longer; you
have given me my quitclaim in the sun,
sealed shut my own adolescent wounds, made light
og grownup troubles, turned to my advantage
what in most lives would be pure deficit,
and formed, of those I loved, more solid ghosts.
Our annual birthday do: dinner at
the Arizona Inn for only two,
White tablecloth, much cutlery, decor
in sombre dark-beamed territorial style.
No wine, thank you. Determined to prolong
out second marriages, we gave that up,
with cigarettes. We toast each other's health
in water and a haze of candlelight.
My imitation of a proper man,
white-haired and wed to aging loveliness,
has fit me like a store-bought suit, not quite
my skin, but wearing well enough until,
at ceremony's end, my wife points out
I don't know how to use a finger bowl.
A Lighted Life
Beverly Farms, April 14, 2008
A lighted life: last novel proofs FedExed-
the final go-through, back-and-forthing till
all adjectives seemed wrong, inferior to
an almost glimpsed unreal alternative
spoken perhaps on Mars - and taxes, state
and federal, mailed. They were much more this year,
thanks to the last novel's mild success,
wry fruit of terror - fear and author's tours
Checks mailed, I stopped for gas, and plumb forgot
how to release the gas-cap door. True,
I'd been driving a rented car for weeks. But,too,
this morning I couldn't do the computer code
for the accent grave in fin-de-siecle, one
of my favorite words. What's up? What's left of me?
November 2, 2008
My window tells me the euonymus
arrives now at the last and deepest shade
of red, before its leaves let go. One of
my grandsons leaves a phone message for me;
his voice has deepened. A cold that wouldn't let go
is now a cloud upon my chest X-Ray:
pneumonia. My house is now a cage
I prowl, window to window, as I wait
for a time to take away the cloud within.
They rusty autumn gold is glorious.
Blue jays and small gray bird, white-chested,
decline to join the seasonal escape
and flit on bushes below. Is this an end?
I hang, half-healthy, here, and wait to see.
November 6, 2008
A wakeup call? It seems that death has found
the portals it will enter by: my lungs,
pathetic oblong ghosts, one paler than
the other on the doctor's viewing screen.
Looking up "pneumonia," I learn
it can, like an erratic dog, turn mean
and snap life short for someone under two
or "very old (over 75)."
Meanwhile, our President Obama waits
downstairs to be unwrapped and I, a child
transposed toward Christmas Day in Shillington-
air soft and bright, a touch of snow outside-
pause here, one hand upon the bannister,
and breathe the scent of fresh-cut evergreens.
Mass. General, Boston, November 23-27, 2008
Benign big blond machine beyond all price,
it swallows us up and slowly spits us out
half-deafened and out blood still dyed: all this
to mask the simple dismal fact that we
decay and find out term of life is fixed.
This giant governance, a mammoth toy,
distracts us for the daytime, but the night
brings back the quiet, and the solemn dark.
God save us from ever ending, though billions have.
The world is blanketed by foregone deaths,
small beads of ego, bright with appetite,
whose pin-sized prick of light winked out,
bequeathing Earth a jagged coral shelf
unseen beneath the black unheeding waves.
My visitors, my kin. I fall into
the conversational mode, matching it
to each old child, as if we share a joke
(of course we do the dizzy depths of years.)
and each grandchild, politely quizzing them
on their events and prospects, all the while
suppressing, like and acid reflux, the lack
of prospect black and bilious for me.
Must I do this, uphold the social lie
that binds us all together in blind faith
that nothing ends, not youth nor age nor strength,
as in a motion picture which, once seen,
can be rebought on DVD? My tongue
says yes; within, I lamely drown.
I think of those I loved and saw to die;
my Grandpop in his nightshirt on the floor,
my first wife's mother, unable to take a bite
of Easter dinner, smiling with regret,
my mother in her blue knit cap, alone
on eighty acres, stuck with forty cats,
too weak to walk out to collect the mail,
waving brave goodbye from her wind-chimed porch.
And friends, both male and female, on the phone,
their voices dry and firm, their ends in sight.
My old piano teacher joking, of her latest
diagnosis, "Curtains." I brushed them off,
these valorous, in my unseemly haste
of greedy living, and now must learn from them.
Endpoint, I thought, would end a chapter in
a book beyond imagination, that got reset
in crisp exotic type future I
- a miracle! - could read. My hope was vague
but kept me going, amiable and swift.
A clergyman - those comical purveyors
of what makes sense to just the terrified-
has phoned me, and I loved him, bless his hide.
My wife of thirty years is on the phone.
I get a busy signal, and I know
she's in her grief and needs to organize
consulting friends. But me, I need her voice;
her body is the only locus where
my desolation bumps against its end.
The City Outside
December 11, 2008
Stirs early: ambulance pull in far
below, unloading steadily their own
emergencies, and stray pedestrians
cross nameless streets. Traffic picks up at dawn,
and lights in the skyscrapers dim.
The map of Beacon Hill becomes 3-D,
a crust of brick and granite, the State House dome
a golden bubble single as the sun.
I lived in Boston once, a year or two,
in furtive semi-bachelorhood. I parked
a Karmann Ghia in Back Bay's shady spots
but I was lighter then, and lived as if
within forever. Now I've turned so heavy
I sink through twenty floors to hit the street.
I had a fear of falling; airplanes
spilling their spinning contents like black beans;
the Guggenheim proving too low and sucking
me down with impalpable winds of dread;
engorging atria in swank hotels,
the piano player miles below his music,
his instrument no bigger than a footprint.
I'm safe! Away with travel and abrupt
perspectives! Terra firma is my ground,
my refuge, and my certain destination.
My terrors - the flight through dazzling air, with
the binding smash, the final black - will be
achieved from thirty inches, on a bed.
Strontium 90 - is that a so-called
heavy element? I've been injected,
and yet the same light imbecilic stuff -
the babble on TV, newspaper fluff,
the drone of magazines, banality's
kind banter - plows ahead, admixed
with world collapse, atrocities, default,
and fraud. Get off, get off the rotten world!
The sky is turning that pellucid blue
seen in enamel behind a girlish Virgin -
the doeskin lids downcast, the smile demure.
Indigo cloud-shreds dot band of tan;
the Hancock Tower bares a slice of night.
So whence the world's beauty? Was I deceived?
Peggy Lutz, Fred Muth
December 13, 2008
They've been in my fiction; both now dead,
Peggy just recently, long stricken (like
my Grandma) with Parkinson's disease.
But what a peppy knockout Peggy was!-
cheerleader, hockey star, May Queen, RN.
Pigtailed in kindergarten, she caught my mother's
eye, but she was too much girl for me.
Fred - so bright, so quietly wry - his
mother's eye fell on me, a "nicer" boy
than her son's pet pals. Fred's slight wild streak
was tamed by diabetes. At the end,
it took his toes and feet. Last time we met,
his walk rolled wildly, fetching my coat. With health
he might have soared. As was, he taught me smarts.
Dear friends of childhood, classmates, thank you,
scant hundred of you, for providing a
sufficiency of human types: beauty,
bully, hangers-on, natural,
twin, and fatso - all a writer needs,
all there in Shillington, its trolley cars
and little factories, cornfields, and trees,
leaf fires, snowflakes, pumpkins, valentines.
To think of you brings tears less caustic
than those the thought of death brings. Perhaps
we meet our heaven at the start and not
the end of life. Even then were tears
and fear and struggle, but the town itself
draped in plain glory the passing days.
The town forgave me for existing, it
included me in Christmas carols, songfests
(though I sand poorly) at the Shillington,
the local movie house. My father stood,
in back, too restless to sit, but everybody
knew his name, and mine. In turn I knew
my Granddad in the overalled town crew.
I've written these before, these modest facts,
but their meaning has no bottom in my mind.
The fragments in their jiggled scope collide
to form more sacred windows. I had to move
to beautiful New England - its triple
deckers, whited churches, unplowed streets -
to learn how drear and deadly life can be.
December 22, 2008
All praise be Valium in Jesus' name:
a CAT-scan needle biopsy sent me
up a happy cul-de-sac, a detour not
detached from consciousness but sweetly part-
I heard machines and experts murmuring about me-
a dulcet tube in which I lay secure and warm
and thought creative thoughts, intensely so,
as in my fading prime. Plans flowered, dreams.
All would be well, I felt, all manner of thing.
The needle, carefully worked, was in me, beyond pain,
aimed at an adrenal gland. I had not hoped
to find, in this bright place, so solvent a peace.
Days later, the results came casually through:
the gland, biopsied, showed metastasis.
With what stioc delicacy does
Virginia creeper let go:
the feeblest tug brings down
a sheaf of leaves kite-high,
as if to say, To live is good
but not to live-to be pulled down
with scarce a ripping sound,
still flourishing, still
stretching toward the sun-
is good also, all photosynthesis
abandoned, quite quits. Next spring
the hairy rootlets left unpulled
snake out a leafy afterlife
up the same smooth-barked oak.
December 22, 2008
Why go to Sunday school, though surlily,
and not believe a bit of what was taught?
The desert shepherds in their scratchy robes
undoubtedly existed, and Israel's defeats-
the Temple in its sacredness destroyed
by Babylon and Rome. Yet Jews kept faith
and passed the prayers, the crabbed rites,
from table to table as Christians mocked.
We mocked, but took. The timbrel creed of praise
gives spirit to the daily; blood tinges lips.
The tongue reposes in papyrus pleas,
saying, Surely - magnificent, that "surely"-
goodness and mercy shall follow me all
the sayd of my life, my life, forever.
2 years ago