Saturday, December 21, 2019

'Each Day Has Become Its Own Thanksgiving'

Forty-three years ago this time of year I was as close to homeless as I’ve ever been. Cleveland was cold and wet. I was alone and without a job, and the money was running out. I was living in such a way as to guarantee nothing but trouble. In time things mitigated but I was a few years away from anything like sanity and security. I don’t dwell on those days but was reminded of them on Friday by a poem-in-progress Aaron Poochigian posted on his Twitter account:

“Decade by decade I have been one cold,
one fall, one monthly bill, away from living
derelict under cardboard on the street.
Why is it, now that I am halfway old,
my mug a mug of damage and defeat,
that each day has become its own Thanksgiving?”

One of the advantages of almost losing everything is the knowledge that everything is a gift. It’s given and can be abruptly taken away. There’s no entitlement. Few of us, fortunately, get what we deserve. In his story “Jonah” (The Jules Verne Steam Balloon, 1987), Guy Davenport has the title character say while still inside the “giant fish”:

“I have made myself a stranger to kindness, and live in darkness, away from the light. My debt is enormous, but were I allowed to pay it, my thanksgiving would be endless, and I would pay beyond measure, again and again, without thought for anything else.”

I wrote many stories about homelessness for my newspaper in the Eighties. It was a hot topic, an “issue,” but that meant little to me. I’ve never been a crusader. I was – it’s embarrassing to admit – writing about myself and what I might have become. I remember meeting a man who lived in a car without wheels in a field covered with broken glass behind a liquor store. He invited me to sit down on the passenger’s side of the front seat, and I listened. He judged his car prime real estate and did his best to keep it tidy. His talk mingled harsh honesty with fabulation. Like any dutiful reporter, I noticed that the odometer in his car read “000000.”

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