One Word

The Log of Pi

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Transcript:

I remember the log of Pi, the battle
of Antietam, the insertion of the biceps, the action
of Adriamycin. Why? When’s the last time
anyone asked these data? I’ve filled my head
with assorted facts, ordered and chronoed,
sorted and cataloged. Maybe a game-show host
will choose me. I’ll win stacks of money
answering questions about paramecia, Picasso’s
pink period, the sequence of DNA, the dose
of 5FU. But no, they always ask the question
I never knew. They ask me over
and over again, every day. First
I pretend not to hear. Then I change
the subject. Then when pressed I say,
the answer floats on angel’s lips
and is whispered in our ear just once.

Poet’s Commentary:


"I started writing poetry seriously ‘only’ about eleven years ago. I applied for a workshop at the 92nd Street Y and hadn’t written a poem in five years. After the first two-hour session, I absolutely knew that this was something I had to do without having any idea what I would write or how I would write or whether there would be any reception for it. Very early on I found that I was writing poems about doctor-patient relationships and the very first poem I wrote for that workshop was a rhyme triplet in the voice of a noodgy, little old lady who was complaining about one of her doctors. I’m going to read you one of the early poems I wrote in the first collection (One Word). A lot of this work you’ll see intersects both lives."

*Text from One Word. (Evanston: TriQuarterly Books/Northwestern University Press) 1994 . Copyright 1994 by Marc J. Straus. All rights reserved. Permission for electronic use of audioAand text granted by Marc J. Straus and Northwestern University Press.

 

One Word

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Transcript:

A man at the bus stop stooped
to retrieve a dime rolling toward
the drain. Looking at me, he said,
"No ordinary dime, mister," "Really?" I said,
thinking how life is sometimes reduced
to a single word, a reflex, a courtesy.
Like the time I interviewed this young man
for a job in my lab, my mind wandering,
not attached to the conversation,
at best noticing his outdated tie.
Perhaps in response to some statement,
I said, "Why?" Then sensing the opportunity
he answered more eloquently and that changed
everything. Like the time a woman walked
into my medical office for one thing
and I put my fingers in the crevice of her neck,
the right side, and touched a fullness
deep within, and I knew that moment
I would say one word to her and nothing
would ever be the same again.

Poet’s Commentary:


"The title poem [of my first collection] is called ‘One Word.’ I remember the moment of beginning to write this. It had something to do with this guy bending over to find a dime he had lost and I thought ‘Oh, this is pretty dopey. I’ve no idea what this poem is about,’ and then it began to find its own voice. One Word, I think you’ll understand pretty easily, becomes emblematic for the book."

*Text from One Word. (Evanston: TriQuarterly Books/Northwestern University Press) 1994 . Copyright 1994 by Marc J. Straus. All rights reserved. Permission for electronic use of audioAand text granted by Marc J. Straus and Northwestern University Press.

 

People Who Live in Glass Houses

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Transcript:

An old man sitting up front in a hard chair, in a tattered
blue robe,
with legs crossed, was asked by the psychiatry resident,
"Do you know what to kill two birds with one stone means?"
Certainly, he said. If you were walking next to me
on 42nd Street
and a hoodlum ran by to steal your wallet he could put a knife
in your ribs,
and twist it until the blade broke off and you could fall on me,
your blood
pouring in my mouth, suffocating me, the collar of your coat
stretched
across my neck, and what good would it do to yell,
I’ve been here
before, it’s not a memory lapse. I could tell you what
Jimmy Walker said
when he was mayor and you’d wonder if I made it up or why
they put me here
when I was twenty-five. But that was the beginning
of the Depression.
It was possible to stay awhile, avoid the bread lines and when
it was over
why go to World War II when here there was three squares
and a bed,

and after that the outside seemed bleak; people never realize it
when young like you. So you sit there casually, but nervous,
stethoscope showing from a side pocket, asking me
in front of sixty students this question, hoping I give you
a concrete rather than abstract answer. There are no metaphors

here. There are the same hallways, the same room,
same robe every day. But while I think about it,
what does it mean to you, people who live
in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones?

Poet’s Commentary:


"I need to read you a poem that I wrote early on in this process and that reflected back on an elective I took in fourth year medical school. It was a psychiatry elective and I came out of it unfairly thinking that the only thing I really learned was how you diagnose psychosis-which is if you say to a patient ‘What does it mean to you, people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones?’ and the patient says ‘the glass breaks’ then of course, you know tthe patient is psychotic.
"In one of our sessions, we were at a big state hospital not unlike one of the local hospitals here and a very old man was walked out onto the stage wearing an old robe. Aparently he had been a patient there for years and years and one of the residents was asked to interview him on stage in front of a full house. Many years later, I wrote a poem reminiscing about that experience.
"I obviously took sides in the poem. It wasn’t for me to figure out as the poet whether this patient was psychotic or not, but obviously he had been through this experience way more times than the resident had."

*Text from One Word. (Evanston: TriQuarterly Books/Northwestern University Press) 1994 . Copyright 1994 by Marc J. Straus.AAll rights reserved. Permission for electronic use of audioAand text granted by Marc J. Straus and Northwestern University Press.