Archive for August, 2012

The Man In The Back Room

Up at the crack of dawn and
working Saturdays and Sundays, too,
meet the man in the back room.
After all, Christmas is just weeks away.
Sixteen-hour days are the norm.

Hunched over a keyboard
he calculates the pluses and minuses,
tries to balance every account.
Separating the good from the naughty.
And he’s only through the C’s.

Consider his frayed nerves,
the world’s children await a verdict
to their petition for leniency.
Alone in that back room, he can’t be
blamed if numbers are fudged.

Having finished the list,
on Christmas Eve, pale and haggard,
Santa’s helper finally emerges.
There’s just time enough to purchase
his wife’s annual poinsettia.

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Hellhound On His Trail : The Stalking Of Martin Luther King, Jr. And The International Hunt For His Assassin / Hampton Sides

Harvey Lowmeyer, John Willard, Eric Starvo Galt, Paul Bridgman, and Ramon George Sneyd—all were aliases used by James Earl Ray.  In this book, Sides follows the movements of both Ray, after his escape from a Missouri prison in 1967, and the Reverend Martin Luther King, in the year leading up to his assassination in April, 1968.  While the King portion of the book does an excellent job of capturing his private life during this time period, dirty laundry and all, Ray’s actions are what will interest most readers.  But the man is difficult to pin down on the page.  A drifter who lived in various flophouses for most of his life, he did his best to make himself invisible to decent society.  Following his escape from prison, he travels to Mexico and California where he toys with the idea of making pornographic movies.  While living in California, he becomes an active participant in the George Wallace campaign for president.  At some point during this time period he decides to head back to Georgia and stalk Martin Luther King.  Sides is never able to explain why Ray targets King since the assassin refused to admit to the crime.  Nonetheless, the author does a marvelous job of describing the events that lead up to King’s death in Memphis.  While Ray and King are the centerpiece of the story, J. Egar Hoover and the FBI are also heavily featured.  The international hunt for the killer after King’s assassination is fully documented.  Sides is unable turn up evidence that shows how Ray was able to support himself during this time period.  Still, he convinced this reader that the assassin most likely acted alone in his killing of Martin Luther King, with little or no outside support.  The author is to be commended for presentation of Ray’s day-to-day movements in such riveting detail.  Even so, despite the wealth of evidence presented here, Ray remains a nondescript thief and con man, a loner who went to grave unwilling (or unable) to explain his actions on the night of April 5, 1968.

Await Your Reply / Dan Chaon

In Chaon’s first novel, You Remind Me Of Me, he followed three different characters as they strived to establish meaningful lives.  As its plot unfolds, the reader begins to sense these lives are linked in some manner.  Chaon carefully doled out pieces of the puzzle to keep one’s interest throughout.  In his follow-up, Await Your Reply, he appears to be covering the same ground.  At the start, I couldn’t help but wonder if he was not trying to pull the same trick twice.  Again, he intertwines a trio of story lines, with similar flawed characters trying to come to grip with what to do with their lives.  It too is a meditation on identity in a world where nothing is quite as it seems.  But gradually, the differences between the two begin to show.  In the modern day world of Await Your Reply, identity theft is an ever-looming threat.   Each character is involved in some way in a con game.  Chaon is a meat and potatoes kind of writer; there is nothing poetic about his prose.  His great strength is the ability to create a haunting story with characters that are beautifully drawn.  Even though there were numerous clues sprinkled throughout, the conclusion of this novel took me by surprise.  Chaon achieves this while remaining true to his characters and faithful to the reader’s trust.

Auspicious New Year

Love’s enduring promise
Like drifted snow
Protects against the cold

The troubled waters of
Stormy passions
Tonight are frozen fast

Accompanying us home
Under clearing skies
Moonlight and shadows

An hour to go until
Midnight arrives
The toast of the town

In this auspicious quiet
Fireworks begin
With a meteor shower

Cathedral Bell

A tolling Cathedral bell chastises
a sleepy congregation
for not filling the pews, yet its
solemn scolding
fails to attract the contrite.

Instead, raucous and profane,
gulls, as if preordained,
begin to circle the church tower;
their bawdy song
an ode that every sailor knows.

Whether celestial or impious,
this cacophony,
like the hymns that will follow,
is a prayer to evoke
some protector’s benevolence.

In deference, the priest waits
behind folded hands.