December 15, 2017
The Births of Raymond CarverOn this day in 1938 Raymond Carver was born in Clatskanie, Oregon, the family moving three years later to Yakima, Washington, where Carver grew up. Carver's biographical essay, "My Father's Life," tells about his upbringing what his highly-acclaimed stories tell about others: the grind of poverty, the ruin of alcohol, the permanent worry of cave-in or break-up, the resolve and dignity of those who keep going when their only sure direction is down. Many of Carver's poems are also biographical -- "Shiftless," for example, in which we learn what the Carvers were not:
They lived in painted houses with flush toilets.
Drove cars whose year and make were recognizable.
The ones worse off were sorry and didn't work.
to room, no one was home.
What luck, I thought.
I still wanted to give up
friends, love, starry skies,
for a house where no one
was home, no one coming back,
and all I could drink.
Most of Carver's characters are alone, usually in anguished and irremediable ways. The poem "Distress Sale" -- like the better, story version, "Why Don't You Dance?" -- describes the front lawn sell-off of a family's belongings. It is one of Carver's end-of-the-line moments, one which "reduces us all" but can't be helped by any, least of all an alcoholic friend:
to take everything off their hands right now,
every trace of this life before
this humiliation goes on any longer.
Someone must do something.
I reach for my wallet and that is how I understand it:
I can't help anyone.
you wanted from this life, even so?
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.
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