Today is William Carlos Williams’ birthday. When I was about thirteen, my dad wrote a monologue for me to do in my over-priced acting class. The class was taught by a model named Bristol. Just Bristol. She was like a younger, prettier, blonder Cher with fewer sequins.
In the monologue — which my dad pecked out two-finger-style on his type writer, eyes fixed on the keys, fingers circling like little insects — the character, a thirteen year-old girl, is talking to her math teacher. She’s rambling, and she mentions William Carlos Williams and the ridiculousness of his name. Thanks to my progressive education, and much to my father’s disappointment, I knew how to build with “big blocks,” but I had no idea who the poet was at that point. I only thought his name was amusing.
Looking back, it was quite a good monologue, and a gesture of my dad’s love that he took the time to let it flow from his brain, through his pecking pointer fingers, onto a crisp white page. It was before computers and backing things up, and before anyone had a xerox machine or a scanner in home. Perhaps against his better judgment, he gave me the only copy of the monologue. I memorized it and performed it and even received good feedback. And then I lost it.
It was around the same time that my dad leant me a leather letterman jacket emblazoned with the logo of one of the sitcoms he was working on, one I actually liked and thought was “cool.” I lost that, too, and while it was later discovered in the closet at the studio where I took the overpriced acting class, I could tell that its loss pained my father nearly as much as that of the monologue. And though he wouldn’t say it, he was disappointed.
The monologue stayed in my memory banks for a while, and for some time I imagined I would one day transcribe it from memory and give it back to my dad. I never did. And it remains lost, except for William Carlos Williams’ name and the joy I felt knowing that my dad, a real grown-up, was as amused by it as I was. My dad took both losses coolly. While his disappointment was palpable, he never mentioned it. And I never apologized.
Below is William is one of William Carlos Williams’ more famous poems:
This Is Just to Say
I have eaten
that were in
you were probably
they were delicious
and so cold
Today, in celebration of William Carlos Williams’ birthday, and by way of apology to my dad, I decided to write my own poem inspired by “This Is Just to Say”:
This Is Just to Say
I have mangled the
fruits of your creativity
in my brain
I didn’t mean to lose them in there
alongside shopping lists
and the proper sequence of buttons to
start the dishwasher
would you trade your
Full House jacket
to have those
precious words back?
“This Is Just to Say” first came into my awareness some years ago when This American Life broadcast the poem and some others, inspired by it, and written by contributors to This American Life. In further homage to Williams, and by way of thanks to my dad who continues, perhaps foolishly, and often thanklessly, to offer up plums to me, I thought I would share some of my favorites from that episode here (you can hear them all here):
“This Is Just to Say” by David Rakoff
At our wedding, I disappeared briefly
to have sex with your sister
up against the back of the Portosans.
What can I say?
The chardonnay was so fresh and cold
and I, so full of love and a sense of family.
And I said, I’m sure one day we’ll laugh about this.
Well, by one day, I meant that day.
And by we, I meant me. And by laugh, I meant laugh.
“This Is Just to Say” by Shalom Auslander
He was a trouble maker, OK?
And didn’t know when to shut up.
Still, we never would have killed him
if we’d known he was the Lord.
Delicious, right? This is just to say:
Forgive me, Dad?
I love you and miss you, David Rakoff.
Happy birthday happy, William Carlos Williams.