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The Sun Magazine

Essays, Memoirs, & True Stories

Last Lecture

Recently I was invited to give a special lecture at the university where I teach. I accepted the invitation though, contrary to what my sons might tell you, I don’t really like to lecture.

Another Appetite

The air has cooled and somehow smells different. The garden has calmed down and the sun is setting further south. The kitchen is no longer the furnace it was in August and people like me get the urge to create some hot and hearty concoction to nourish those who sit down at our table.

Tabula Rasa

I have a question (many as a matter of fact). I find that asking questions is the first activity of the awakened other. This other — the awakened stranger, the child of Self — is helpless and vulnerable as an infant curled, before the cord’s cut, lying on the curve of the mother’s belly. Once the cord is cut, the first breath (in or out? the question is enormous) having been delivered, the other is seeded, like a grain of sand in an oysterling, waiting for the moment when the flesh becomes aware and begins to create the pearl of wisdom.

Another Appetite

That’s one way to nourish one’s mind and body, and for most Americans today it’s considered the best way. Fill the belly with meat, potatoes, Big Macs, shakes, cokes, coffee — keep stuffing it in. And if there’s no food about chew gum, smoke a cigarette. And words are the food for the mind — no matter if they are empty; keep the noise coming in. Music, too, has become meaningless background filler to keep the mind feeling “full.” Our sounds are as nutritious as our food, and it’s no wonder so many eyes around us seem dead behind their dark glasses.

Shelter: an introduction

When we hear that half of Guatemala’s population is homeless because of the recent earthquake, our usual questions about shelter — whether to live in town or in the country, in an apartment or a farmhouse— are thrown into sharp and disquieting perspective. The cruel irony of so many Americans on diets in a starving world is paralleled by our indulgence in revolutionary new architectures (everything from ecologically questionable domes to the towering monstrosities of the World Trade Center in New York) in a world where “home” can be anything from an abandoned car to a refugee tent. We may be indignant about hollow doors in new houses, built by carpenters forbidden by their unions to use a hammer heavier than fourteen ounces (which might speed up construction and make some union men expendable) and paid for by 30-year mortgages whose accumulated interest comes to twice the value of the house. But all this means about as much to a family living on the streets of Calcutta as the price of a Rembrandt to a blind man. Shelter is relative; there is no right dwelling, except what’s right for the individual.

Another Appetite

Golden-headed Rebecca gleefully carried her little red bench through the door of her cardboard house, closed all the “shutters” and secured the entrance and was all alone in her canton retreat. Flashback — five years ago in Tiajuana: a whole village constructed of cardboard crates, corrogated paper, stacks of newspaper and sheets of tin where blackheaded children ran in and out of the makeshift doors. When asked why the people didn’t build more permanent shelters, I was told that the river annually floods the area, destroying the homes anyway.

An Introduction

Death and birth is the theme of this issue. There are no more powerful, and less understood, words in the language. To demythologize one, we must demythologize the other. Yet our very vocabularies stand in the way.

Another Appetite

While nursing my rosey two-month-old, I read of the death by starvation of a three-month-old child in — no, not India — but within the “Golden Triad,” in Winston-Salem. The child lived one block from a federally-sponsored health center and her mother qualified for ADC benefits and food stamps.