Friday, January 30, 2009

On the Road, a poem by John Updike.

Novelist, critic, short story writer, poet, essayist, and dramatist, John Updike (1932 – 2009) who died this week, earned virtually every American literary award available during his lifetime. He first aspired to be either an animator for Walt Disney or a magazine cartoonist. But a sense of narrative was nurtured by summer work in high school as a copyboy for a local newspaper, The Reading Eagle, for which he wrote several feature articles. Graduating from Harvard in 1954, summa cum laude, he won a Knox Fellowship at the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Arts in Oxford. In June of that year, he had a short story and a poem accepted by The New Yorker, an event, he later said, that remained “the ecstatic breakthrough of my literary life.”

It’s lovely to see a poem describe something with such few words by someone who used so many millions of them in his other works. “I would write ads for deodorants or labels for catsup bottles, if I had to,” he told The Paris Review in 1967. “The miracle of turning inklings into thoughts and thoughts into words and words into metal and print and ink never palls for me.”

On the Road by John Updike

Those dutiful dogtrots down airport corridors
while gnawing at a Dunkin' Donuts cruller,
those hotel rooms where the TV remote
waits by the bed like a suicide pistol,
those hours in the air amid white shirts
whose wearers sleep-read through thick staid thrillers,
those breakfast buffets in prairie Marriotts —
such venues of transit grow dearer than home.

The tricycle in the hall, the wife's hasty kiss,
the dripping faucet and uncut lawn — this is life?
No, vita thrives via the road, in the laptop
whose silky screen shimmers like a dark queen's mirror,
in the polished shoe that signifies killer intent,
and in the solitary mission, a bumpy glide
down through the cloud cover to a single runway
at whose end a man just like you guards the Grail.

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