Sentences — October 24, 2008, 5:40 pm

Weekend Read: “Better Mendacities”

ezra_pound_mugshot
Certain times, these times, often leave me wondering, late of an afternoon, what certain artists long dead might have been prompted to say about them. Although good guy Bruce Springsteen, a songwriter with a conscience, has been stumping for Obama with respectful acoustic sets in swing states, one wonders what John Lennon—never too concerned with propriety—might have done if he’d been allowed more life than he got. One could imagine him having made quite a noise this season, noise to which one might have sung along.

My other wonder today involves Ezra Pound. A complicated figure, an anti-Semite, a great poet and critic, and the sort of patriot so patriotic he became a traitor to his cause, not to say to himself. Pound’s voice could, when decrying any of his passing hatreds (the demise of the democratic experiment under the weight of a capitalist system that he found barbaric, for one), grow shrill. I wouldn’t argue that more shrillness is what we need right now, but from a selfish standpoint, the idea of Ezra Pound, at his best and worst, being interviewed by, say, Bill O’Reilly, offers more imaginary pleasure than SNL or the Daily Show are managing to deliver.

Imagined comedy aside, for the weekend read, I offer a little something for your ears, beauty and sadness: Pound’s recorded poetry. From 1939 to 1972, Pound made made many recordings of his poems. During the summer of 1970, very old and very unwilling to talk to anyone, having come to the conclusion that he had failed everyone, he put down his versions of the Confucian odes, among which is the sing-song sadness of “Alikter-Ole Brer Rabbit watchin’ his feet.”

Earlier, in 1958, just off his release from St. Elizabeths Hospital, its wing for the criminally insane, Pound in a strong voice descanted his early poem, “Hugh Selwyn Mauberley,” which begins:

“I am going to read my poem with great emphasis on the rhythm, and that may seem strange if you are not used to it,” Yeats said, before his own reading of “The Lake at Innisfree.” If such rhythms suit you, spend time this weekend over at Pennsound’s page devoted to Pound’s collected recordings. You can download them all, too, onto your whatsit, and have Pound between your ears as you try to outrun other voices.

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Ashley arrived for her prenatal appointment at Black Hills Obstetrics and Gynecology, in Rapid City, South Dakota, wearing a black zip-up hoodie and Converse sneakers.1 To explain her absence from work that morning — a Tuesday in April 2015 — she had told a co-worker that she was having “female issues.” She was twenty-five years old and eight weeks pregnant. She had been separated from her husband, with whom she had a five-year-old son, for the better part of a year. The guy who’d gotten her pregnant was someone she’d met at the gym, and he’d made it abundantly clear that he wanted nothing more to do with her. Ashley found herself hoping that the doctor would discover some kind of fetal defect, so that her decision would be easier. She glanced across the waiting room at a television playing a birth-control ad and laughed darkly. “Jesus, Lord, it would be so nice if someone just pushed me down a flight of stairs.”

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Ashley arrived for her prenatal appointment at Black Hills Obstetrics and Gynecology, in Rapid City, South Dakota, wearing a black zip-up hoodie and Converse sneakers.1 To explain her absence from work that morning — a Tuesday in April 2015 — she had told a co-worker that she was having “female issues.” She was twenty-five years old and eight weeks pregnant. She had been separated from her husband, with whom she had a five-year-old son, for the better part of a year. The guy who’d gotten her pregnant was someone she’d met at the gym, and he’d made it abundantly clear that he wanted nothing more to do with her. Ashley found herself hoping that the doctor would discover some kind of fetal defect, so that her decision would be easier. She glanced across the waiting room at a television playing a birth-control ad and laughed darkly. “Jesus, Lord, it would be so nice if someone just pushed me down a flight of stairs.”

In the exam room, she perched on the table with her feet crossed at the ankles, her blond hair brushing the back of her pink hospital gown. “I don’t know what’s available for me here,” she told her doctor, Katherine Degen, who sat facing her on a stool. “I figured nothing.”

 Some names and identifying details have been changed. 

“Big, fat zero, unfortunately,” Degen said, making a 0 with her fingers. The last doctor who provided abortions in Rapid City retired in 1986, three years before Ashley was born.

The baby was due in November, when Ashley, who was a nurse, hoped to be enrolled in a graduate program to become a nurse practitioner. Getting pregnant as a teenager had forced her to put that dream on hold, but she had thought that she was finally ready; she had even submitted her application shortly before the March 15 deadline. For the first time in her adult life, Ashley felt as if her plans were coming together. Then she missed her period.

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Ashley arrived for her prenatal appointment at Black Hills Obstetrics and Gynecology, in Rapid City, South Dakota, wearing a black zip-up hoodie and Converse sneakers.1 To explain her absence from work that morning — a Tuesday in April 2015 — she had told a co-worker that she was having “female issues.” She was twenty-five years old and eight weeks pregnant. She had been separated from her husband, with whom she had a five-year-old son, for the better part of a year. The guy who’d gotten her pregnant was someone she’d met at the gym, and he’d made it abundantly clear that he wanted nothing more to do with her. Ashley found herself hoping that the doctor would discover some kind of fetal defect, so that her decision would be easier. She glanced across the waiting room at a television playing a birth-control ad and laughed darkly. “Jesus, Lord, it would be so nice if someone just pushed me down a flight of stairs.”

In the exam room, she perched on the table with her feet crossed at the ankles, her blond hair brushing the back of her pink hospital gown. “I don’t know what’s available for me here,” she told her doctor, Katherine Degen, who sat facing her on a stool. “I figured nothing.”

 Some names and identifying details have been changed. 

“Big, fat zero, unfortunately,” Degen said, making a 0 with her fingers. The last doctor who provided abortions in Rapid City retired in 1986, three years before Ashley was born.

The baby was due in November, when Ashley, who was a nurse, hoped to be enrolled in a graduate program to become a nurse practitioner. Getting pregnant as a teenager had forced her to put that dream on hold, but she had thought that she was finally ready; she had even submitted her application shortly before the March 15 deadline. For the first time in her adult life, Ashley felt as if her plans were coming together. Then she missed her period.

It would be too difficult to attend school as a single mother of two, Ashley knew. She had made an appointment for three weeks from now at the nearest abortion clinic, in Billings, Montana, 318 miles away. But just a week and a half ago, her husband had said he wanted to get back together and offered to raise the child as his own. Was it a sign that she was meant to continue the pregnancy? As a rule, Ashley approached her problems with resolve. She was capable and tough; she liked shooting guns and lifting weights. She kept track of her stats and checked off her goals as she achieved them one by one. Yet the dilemma before her had shaken her confidence. She leaned back and turned to watch the ultrasound screen. The black-and-white image danced. A sharp, fast thumping emerged from the machine. As Degen removed the wand, Ashley wiped the corner of her eye.

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