Saturday Sep. 24, 2016

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The Accordion

                                         for Hannah

It was the one tangible you brought home
from the city, an armful of instrument,
bellows and keys and buttons and a smell
of antique lubrication, and a sound that poured
undiminished through solid walls.
You sat in your chair with its straps around your shoulders
teaching yourself to play,
determined to do different things differently
in the tradition of your people,
mixed-breeds from a dozen lands.
You sat as at a dance
with your partner on your lap, but it was also
a baby you were coaxing to speak.
I carried you that same way long ago,
your infant head under my chin, your chest against my chest,
my arms around you, my little marsupial.
I have photos of us like that. Mother and child.
And more…I can feel it physically…my arms still ache…
it’s like phantom pain after an amputation,
phantoms being real.
                                       You left it here with us,
the accordion, debating
whether to sell it, or to indulge yourself
by retaining such a large artifact, as it troubled no one
tucked back in your closet
in its battered, leather-covered case,
though neither was it useful.
Except it came to us at such a time:
you sat alone with it for hours
before your open curtains,
the music book awash in winter light,
hesitations, repetitions, small masteries,
and beyond you
snow passed through the sieve of the pine boughs
with the delicacy of grace notes.

“The Accordion” by Connie Wanek from On Speaking Terms. © Copper Canyon Press, 2010. Reprinted with permission.  (buy now)

It's the birthday of F. Scott Fitzgerald (books by this author), born Francis Scott Fitzgerald in St. Paul, Minnesota (1896). The son of a would-be furniture manufacturer who never quite made it big in business, Fitzgerald grew up feeling like a "poor boy in a rich town," in spite of his middle-class upbringing. This impression was only strengthened when he attended Princeton, paid for by an aunt, where he was enthralled by the leisure class, tried out and was cut from the football team, and fell in love with a beautiful young socialite who would marry a wealthy business associate of her father's. By the time Fitzgerald dropped out of college and entered the Army — wearing a Brooks Brothers-tailored uniform — it was little wonder he called the autobiographical novel he was writing The Romantic Egotist.

Fitzgerald's time at an officer training camp in Alabama didn't turn out as he'd hoped, either; the war ended before he ever made it to Europe, his book was rejected, and when he failed to make it big in New York City, his new debutante girlfriend, Zelda Sayre, called off their engagement.

Fitzgerald was probably much like most young men of his generation who dreamed of being a football star, the war hero, the wealthy big shot, the guy who gets the girl, but for a few things: he had talent, drive, and an unshakeable faith that he could translate all that familiar yearning into something new ... something that would get him, at least, the wealth and fame and the girl. His revised book, This Side of Paradise, got him all that and more when it was published. Requests for his writing came pouring in, Zelda married him, and the couple — a Midwesterner and a Southerner — became the quintessential New York couple, the epitome of the Jazz Age, a term Fitzgerald himself coined. And although they eventually died separated, she in a mental hospital, he in debt and obscurity, Fitzgerald's two greatest regrets remained, for the rest of his life, having failed to serve overseas and play Princeton football.

He said, "The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function."

And his daughter, "Scottie" Fitzgerald, said about her parents, "People who live entirely by the fertility of their imaginations are fascinating, brilliant and often charming, but they should be sat next to at dinner parties, not lived with."

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