Summer – Do Your Worst!

Dorothy Parker (1893 – 1967)

“In youth, it was a way I had,
To do my best to please.
And change, with every passing lad
To suit his theories.

But now I know the things I know
And do the things I do,
And if you do not like me so,
To hell, my love, with you.”

Dorthy Parker

An August Midnight

by Thomas Hardy  (1840-1928)


A shaded lamp and a waving blind,
And the beat of a clock from a distant floor:
On this scene enter—winged, horned, and spined—
A longlegs, a moth, and a dumbledore;
While ‘mid my page there idly stands
A sleepy fly, that rubs its hands…


Thus meet we five, in this still place,
At this point of time, at this point in space.
—My guests besmear my new-penned line,
Or bang at the lamp and fall supine.
“God’s humblest, they!” I muse. Yet why?
They know Earth-secrets that know not I.

I don’t remember a summer where the drum beat of doom has sounded so regularly from the encroaching jungle.  I can’t hardly listen to NPR anymore, every news item goes from bad to worse, from drought to flood, from fire to furnace, from peace to war, it takes its toll on optimism.   I keep reminding myself, yes, its dry and its been dry before. Likely it will rain again and refill the wetland that lays to the north of my driveway; more likely it will do that than dry up completely.   In the interim, the sky is blue, the purple loosestrife is purple and the trumpeter swans swimming on what remains of the lake are white, just like last year and all is just as beautiful.    I have to remind myself that of all the things I should be feeling with all the bad news around the world, the one that stands is out in my mind is gratitude.  I am incredibly fortunate to be in a position to pick and choose what I allow to enter my mindset because I have choices, something most people around the world do not.   

Today’s poems are a bit of fluff to enjoy on a late summer day.  I was struck by the word dumbledore in Hardy’s poem, given that anyone who is a fan of the Harry Potter books thinks of that word in the context of a character in the book.  It sent me looking it up in the Oxford dictionary and discovered the word dumbledore is synonymous with bumblebee or a type of beetle, which also makes a sound when it flies, in my mind’s eye I hear the likes of a June bug.  The Parker poem is easier to connect with if you know the definition of the word slattern – which means harlot.   Parker has a tendency towards a self-deprecating style.  I think of her use of the word like a current female rapper using the word “bitch”; it’s possible to call yourself all manner of things without taking offense.  

I found Parker’s poem took on more interesting ideas if I read it several times through, putting myself in as the person experiencing the words, writing the words, with eyes as weeds, and new lilac sprouts pushing up through my heart….


by Dorothy Parker

When my eyes are weeds,
And my lips are petals, spinning
Down the wind that has beginning
Where the crumpled beeches start
In a fringe of salty reeds;
When my arms are elder-bushes,
And the rangy lilac pushes
Upward, upward through my heart;

Summer, do your worst!

Light your tinsel moon, and call on
Your performing stars to fall on
Headlong through your paper sky;
Nevermore shall I be cursed
By a flushed and amorous slattern,
With her dusty laces’ pattern
Trailing, as she straggles by

We Will Surely Awake


“You wouldn’t let your grandparents pick your playlist. Why would you let them pick your representative who’s going to determine your future?” 

Barack Obama

 I don’t know if my individual vote changes anything, other than it makes me feel better.  I feel better by the act of picking candidates who are more aligned with my beliefs and hopeful they will prevail.  I believe today’s election is the first step on a path to a better future and by doing my civic duty and voting I have helped be part of that first step.  The good thing about democracy and voting is at least you can hope things will change.   

I know that on any typical day two-thirds of the approximately 200 people that visit Fourteen Lines are not Americans.  The majority of the people that might read this are not personally invested in this election, regardless of its outcome. I wonder how American politics must appear to the rest of the world?  Do you find this as bewildering as we do, the rhetoric so out of balance from our day to day lives?

I expect we will not know the outcome of this election for a while. I don’t anticipate that I will wake up tomorrow and the rhetoric will be less volatile, less divisive.  Instead I anticipate  that the specter of disunity might in the short term heighten, not lessen. But I remain hopeful that someday we will awaken to a calmer day with new leadership that views power as an obligation to not obscure the truth in search of political expediency.  A President that talks honestly about difficult nuanced subjects so that we can deal with seemingly intractable problems through compromise.  A day when Senators and Congressman on both sides of the isle believe in coalition building, on seeking agreement on common ground and see that process as not a failure in political strategy but as a moral obligation of principled leadership. Let’s pray today is the start of something new, something better.  But given that Whitman was writing about waking up 170 years ago from the political malaise of his era, its fair to ask whether I should really expect change from politicians or like my vote, only hold myself accountable for change? 

To the States

By Walt Whitman

To Identify the 16th, 17th, or 18th Presidentiad.

Why reclining, interrogating? why myself and all drowsing?
What deepening twilight—scum floating atop of the waters,
Who are they as bats and night-dogs askant in the capitol?
What a filthy Presidentiad! (O South, your torrid suns! O North, your artic freezings!)
Are those really Congressman?  are those the great Judges?  Is that the President?
Then I will sleep awhile yet, for I see that these States sleep, for reasons
(With gathering murk, with muttering thunder and lambent shoots we all duly awake,
South, North, East, West, inland and seaboard, we will surely awake.)

Poem in the American Manner

by Dorothy Parker

I dunno yer highfalutin’ words, but here’s th’ way it seems
When I’m peekin’ out th’ winder o’ my little House o Dreams;
I’ve been lookin’ ‘roun’ this big ol’ world, as bizzy as a hive,
An’ I want t’ tell ye, neighbor mine, it’s good t’ be alive.
I’ve ben settin’ here, a-thinkin’ hard, an’ say, it seems t’ me
That this big ol’ world is jest about as good as it kin be,
With its starvin’ little babies, an’ its battles, an’ its strikes,
An’ its profiteers, an’ hold-up men—th’ dawggone little tykes!
An’ its hungry men that fought fer us, that nobody employs.
An’ I think, “Why, shucks, we’re jest a lot o’ grown-up little boys!”
An’ I settle back, an’ light my pipe, an’ reach fer Mother’s hand,
An’ I wouldn’t swap my peace o’ mind fer nothin’ in the land;
Fer this world uv ours, that jest was made fer folks like me an’ you
Is a purty good ol’ place t’ live—say, neighbor, ain’t it true

Break My Ghostly Heart

Dorothy Parker and Alan Campbell

On A Play Twice Seen

By F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896 – 1940)

Here in the figured dark I watch once more;
There with the curtain rolls a year away,
A year of years — There was an idle day
Of ours, when happy endings didn’t bore
Our unfermented souls, and rocks held ore:
Your little face beside me, wide-eyed, gay,
Smiled its own repertoire, while the poor play
Reached me as a faint ripple reaches shore.
Yawning and wondering an evening through
I watch alone — and chatterings of course
Spoil the one scene which somehow did have charms;
You wept a bit, and I grew sad for you
Right there, where Mr. X defends divorce
And What’s-Her-Name falls fainting in his arms.

It has been extremely pleasant to spend the week in Dorothy Parker’s company.  Parker doesn’t have the reputation today in literary circles of F. Scott Fitzgerald, which is a shame, because Parker accomplished something that Fitzgerald could not – she persevered.  Parker is rumored to have had a brief affair with Fitzgerald and whether that is true or not we’ll leave to their ghostly hearts.  But there is no question that Parker and Fitzgerald were cut from the same cloth; talented writers, hedonistic, hard drinkers and tortured souls. Parker once said, “wear a short enough skirt and the party will come to you,” and Fitzgerald likely replied – “Would you like to dance?”

Parker was said to have hated Fitzgerald as a mirror into her own demons, and yet she wrote late in her life The Portable F. Scott Fitzgerald, a selection of some his finest writing that helped to resuscitate his reputation and cement Fitzgerald as one of the great writers of the 20th Century.

The question is why no one has done the same for Parker and elevate her reputation as a writer posthumously?  Is it because she was a master wit and remembered more for her voluminous quips.  The literati tend to look down their noses at such things as rhymes and biting humorous jabs, but if it was easy, everyone would be known for it.

“If, with the literate, I am
Impelled to try an epigram,
I never seek to take the credit;
We all assume that Oscar said it.”

Dorothy Parker – Life Magazine – 1927.

Parker was a working writer her entire life.  At times blue collar, at times destitute and at times fabulously wealthy, neither money nor success seemed to bring her peace, nor did love.   Parker was married three times, twice, successfully, to the same man – Alan Campbell, her writing partner and true protector, who took care of her and gave her room to write.  He also brought out the best in her, letting her take the lions share of the accolades for the successes achieved in their professional partnership.

Early in her career Parker was a staff writer for Vogue, Vanity Fair, and the book reviewer for The New Yorker in the 1920’s under the name Constant Reader.  She published articles, poetry, short stories and novels during this period in her career as well as wrote a couple of plays.  Parker’s poetry and short stories were both commercial and critical successes. As a journalist, she was acerbic and witty in her commentary but also generous with her praise of the writers and books she loved,  She was her own harshest critic, saying – “writing is a struggle, good writing always is.”

She moved to Hollywood and flourished during the 1930’s and 1940’s.  This is where she met and married Alan Campbell the first time and the two of them wrote scores of screen plays including Saboteur (Hitchcock)) and A Star is Born (Garland).  At their height Parker and Campbell were making $5,000 dollars a week in the 1940’s working in Hollywood.  However, all of that success came crashing down, when in 1950 both her and Campbell were blacklisted and branded as communists.

Parker moved back to New York under very diminished circumstances and continued to write.  Late in her life Parker wrote book reviews for Esquire magazine for the princely sum of $750 dollars a month and lived in a residential hotel in New York.  Alan Campbell died from what was deemed an accidental overdose of barbiturates and booze in 1963 and Parker died in 1967.

Parker left what was left of her estate – $20,000 – to Martin Luther King.  One of her iconic sayings was “excuse my dust”, which is tragic or ironic, depending on your sense of humor, considering her ashes went unclaimed for 19 years, moldering in the backroom of her lawyer’s office, until the NAACP claimed them and laid them to rest in a memorial garden in Baltimore Maryland in 1988.

After reading many of her poems this week, I am struck by how effortless she makes the difficult task of blending wit and beauty with perfect meter and rhyme.   She wrote more than 300 poems of all colors and stripes, from flippant, to funny to serious.  The more I read the more I felt her sonnets reflect the complexity of Parker’s character.  All of her poetry ascribes to my rule of good mouth feel, which means you don’t truly appreciate it until you read it out loud and let it flow off your lips.   Most of what I learned this week about Dorothy is that happiness is over-rated.  Do what you are good at, and if you are so fortunate as to keep a roof over your head in the process, then count yourself blessed. I think she was her best when grinding out another page at her typewriter.  She was a hard working professional writer who lived uncompromisingly as a true original.

“Now I know the things I know, and I do the things I do; and if you do not like me so, to hell, my love, with you!”  – Dorothy Parker.


I Shall Come Back

by Dorothy Parker (1893 – 1967)

I shall come back without fanfaronade
Of wailing wind and graveyard panoply;
But, trembling, slip from cool Eternity-
A mild and most bewildered little shade.
I shall not make sepulchral midnight raid,
But softly come where I had longed to be
In April twilight’s unsung melody,
And I, not you, shall be the one afraid.

Strange, that from lovely dreamings of the dead
I shall come back to you, who hurt me most.
You may not feel my hand upon your head,
I’ll be so new and inexpert a ghost.
Perhaps you will not know that I am near-
And that will break my ghostly heart, my dear.

Who Humbly Followed Beauty

Dorothy Parker

Once, when I was young and true,
Someone left me sad-
Broke my brittle heart in two;
And that is very bad.

Love is for unlucky folk,
Love is but a curse.
Once there was a heart I broke;
And that, I think, is worse.

Dorothy Parker


Sonnet On An Alpine Night

by Dorothy Parker

My hand, a little raised, might press a star-
Where I may look, the frosted peaks are spun,
So shaped before Olympus was begun,
Spanned each to each, now, by a silver bar.
Thus to face Beauty have I traveled far,
But now, as if around my heart were run
Hard, lacing fingers, so I stand undone.
Of all my tears, the bitterest these are.

Who humbly followed Beauty all her ways,
Begging the brambles that her robe had passed,
Crying her name in corridors of stone,
That day shall know his weariedest of days –
When Beauty, still and suppliant at last,
Does not suffice him, once they are alone.

Now I Am My Own Again

Dorothy Parker (1893 – 1967)

Unfortunate Coincidence

By the time you swear you’re his,
Shivering and sighing,
And he vows his passion is
Infinite, undying –
Lady, make a note of this:
One of you is lying.

Dorothy Parker


Sonnet For The End Of A Sequence

by Dorothy Parker

So take my vows and scatter them to sea;
Who swears the sweetest is no more than human.
And say no kinder words than these of me:
“Ever she longed for peace, but was a woman!
And thus they are, whose silly female dust
Needs little enough to clutter it and bind it,
Who meet a slanted gaze, and ever must
Go build themselves a soul to dwell behind it.”

For now I am my own again, my friend!
This scar but points the whiteness of my breast;
This frenzy, like its betters, spins an end,
And now I am my own. And that is best.
Therefore, I am immeasurably grateful
To you, for proving shallow, false, and hateful.