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Random musings on a writer's life & times, with occasional input from acquaintances

 

Monday, May 05, 2003

 
Ever read anything by Nelson Algren? He was a tough-guy writer who operated out of Chicago in the 1940s and ’50s after a youth of hopping freights, working as a door-to-door salesman, betting on horses and playing cards. He wrote the novels “A Walk on the Wild Side” and “The Man with the Golden Arm,” both of which were made into movies, the latter starring Frank Sinatra in his post-“From Here to Eternity” heyday.

Algren delivered one of my favorite pieces of school-of-hard-knocks advice: "Never eat at a place called Mom's, never play cards with a guy named Doc, and never go to bed with anyone who has more troubles than you."



Sunday, May 04, 2003

 
Today is my daughter’s birthday. Dawn Lee Jordan was born May 4, 1965, in Eugene, where I was a junior at the University of Oregon. She was killed at the age of 17 by a drunk driver who crashed a pickup truck into the car in which she was a passenger on Aug. 22, 1982, just east of Oakridge.

Dawn is buried in Bend, where we resided at the time of her death. Because I moved to Portland in 1985, I can’t visit her grave today, as I would wish. My mother, who lives in Bend, took a dozen red roses to the grave yesterday as my birthday gift.

Instead of visiting your grave today, Dawn, I offer you this poem. Happy birthday, sweetie.

Soft

I worked the night my wife went into labor, covered
the water and electric board
for the Eugene Register-Guard. I arrived home to find
my mother-in-law
anxiously underfoot, timing contractions. She held
my wife's hand
while I typed ten inches about new sewer rates
on my pink portable
typewriter, drove the story to the office
and left it
on the city editor's desk. Then we went to
Sacred Heart.
A chipper nurse took charge, put my wife into a gown
and a bed.
She showed my mother-in-law and me to a tiny
waiting room.
It was three a.m. I stretched out on a dilapidated couch,
fell asleep
worrying about fatherhood and the mid-term in
American Political Parties
I was supposed to take at ten. I awoke to the nurse
shaking my shoulder.
"The baby is here," she said. Blinking up, I asked:
"Boy or girl?"
She smiled, shook her head, said: "You'll see."
She walked
away. I lay on the couch staring at the ceiling, trying
to unmuddle
my mind. In a chair across the room, my mother-in law sat
knitting yellow yarn
into a baby cap. Someone had switched on
a radio.
"Mrs. Brown," murmured Herman's Hermits, "you have
a lovely daughter."
Minutes later, summoned down the hall to a curtained
cubicle where my wife
rested, I met our nurse cradling in her arms a bundle
of cotton blankets
from which protruded a tiny head of silky hair.
"Touch her,"
whispered the nurse, "she's soft." I placed a gentle finger
on that black hair.
Blood flecked it, but the nurse was right. My little girl
was the softest
thing I ever felt, the softest I would ever feel.





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