Dad, Poet, 1954 ad nauseum
Excerpted from Smedley's Secret Guide to World Literature, available from Anomalous Press
When all that remains of my father is print, I want these words to stand beside his on every library shelf.
My father was born on December 13, 1954, on Irving Street in Cambridge. ee cummings lived a few blocks away half a century earlier—a fact Dad pointed out to anyone in range, as though to prove the area’s durable lodestone of poetic grit. Dad’s grand-dad, my great-grandfather, who ate a bullet long before I arrived, was a heavy duty cock-meister and … nah, can’t do it …. As I said, family history isn’t my thing.
Let’s try this instead:
Not only is Dad a shameless self-googler, he also makes his students subscribe to his Twitter feed so he can share his latest insights about this week’s New Yorker. He radiates insane, even violent ambition. He covers the map of my world like an oil spill. There was a time when we used to shower together, wearing swimsuits. He’d soap me and I’d soap him until Mom finally made him stop.
Dad is also super-impressed that he teaches at Harvard. Half his sentences begin: “At Harvard, we ….” Amazingly, the words work weird magic. People fall under his spell like he was Dumbledore. Mom, on the other hand, claims Harvard has only two goals: teaching money to replicate itself, and prolonging the lifecycle of the bow tie. She says the school’s been morally bankrupted by fat-fart economists whose contribution to higher education has been to build new buildings inspired by the work of the late Albert Speer.
Needless to say, like everyone my age, I think about killing myself all the time. Not all the time. Now and again. The rest of the time, got Rene on my mind. Go figure.
Askold Melnyczuk has published three novels, as well as stories, poems, essays and reviews in The New York Times, The Nation, Poetry, APR, Threepenny Review, and elsewhere. He's founder of Agni, and teaches at both UMass Boston and in the Bennington Graduate Writing Seminars.
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