Yesterday marked the anniversary of the death of Raymond Carver at age 50 in 1988. Not that I'm celebrating or anything, just observing the passage of one of the greatest short story writers in the second half of the 20th century. There will never be another Carver--though many have tried (like me) and come close (not me).
As the date of the un-celebration came and went, I thought of a poem I wrote after the publication of Call If You Need Me: The Uncollected Fiction and Other Prose. Something about the random scraps of writing I found there bothered me. It's not a bad book by any means, but at the time I chafed at the idea of the book. I thought Tess Gallagher, Carver's widow, was scavenging his bones and tainting his legacy. Now, however, I'm grateful to have Call If You Need Me and all it contains. I wrote another poem about Carver on Aug. 3, 1988, but I'm unable to find that verse right now--and it's probably best for all concerned because, if I remember correctly, it was pretty awful. Here's the one written in reaction to Call If You Need Me:
In Memory Of
What an awful thing it is
to lose a writer.
What a gut-empty sorrow
to read the typed vowel,
knowing the a, the e, the o
will never again be filled.
This is what we talk about
when we talk about needing closure.
And so we rush in
after the cancer
after the car wreck
after the gun in one’s mouth
to plumb the memory
to pursue the widow
to scavenge the attic
to publish the unpublished
And this poem brought to mind another one I wrote late last year:
We are none of us
Given x number of days
The heart will seize and stop
Abrupt and rude as a slammed door
You will choke in a restaurant
Filled with people who always intended
To take that Red Cross course
Intent on getting that family photo at Yellowstone
You will take one backward step too many
And trip into the blast of the geyser
You will over-correct on that icy turn
You will be visited by cancer, that bastard
Drunk, you will mistake the bleach for a tonic and gin
You will ride helpless on the plane when it starts to shudder
Or maybe, just maybe, you will stop on the sidewalk
Precisely at that spot marked with a red x
When the piano, keys tinkling, falls from the sky.
And just so I won't leave you reaching for the razor blade or the noose, here's "Late Fragment" from Carver himself:
And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.