This 1982 drama directed by Alan Parker is one of the great films of its decade—complex, adult, irresolvable, with a screenplay by Bo Goldman that poeticizes its characters’ anguish. Many of the lines stay in your head.
Though atmosphere-heavy and plot-light, and obviously pushing Brad Pitt for a “he’s doing serious art here” Academy Award, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford turns out to be a mesmerizing look at the final months of a gun-toting desperado.
Each time I visit, my father gives me The things that are sold from weekend driveways— A painting, old golf clubs, assorted books. Before it’s too late, he says, repeating That caution bimonthly for nineteen years Because the Bible says threescore and ten.
But lately, they’ve been practical, these gifts, Things requiring muscle, as if some part Of him might enter me through communion, Transubstantiation happening when I take these things in my hands, receiving His body and blood in the church of work, Believing I will take it through my hands, That forgiveness will follow when I fill His role as oldest, feeling him return In the useful things lifted one morning, The rake and clippers, the shovel and hoe.
Beside the porch, this afternoon, his gifts Are clustered like possibilities raised By numbers—a sickle, a pick, a scythe. “One last thing,” he says, waving me inside Where I imagine vacuum cleaner, broom, A year’s-stiff mop, following his shuffle Until, in his bedroom, he says, “Not these. Just look,” showing me nail file and tweezers, Cuticle scissors, the small implements Of grooming left behind by my mother, What he won’t part with, flexing those scissors With finger and thumb, ready to receive.
He knit him self up, a cable-stitch of skin. Pushed his left eye in its socket, then his right. Cracked the knuckles in his fingers (now so thin!). Raised him self from the dirt and stood up right.
Lazarus, Lazarus, don’t get dizzy. Lazarus, Lazarus, now get busy. Mary’s weeping, Martha’s made a cake, Jesus is calling at the graveyard gate. Your closest cousin, happy you are dead, Eyes Martha’s sheep and Mary’s empty bed.
He licks his lips and wags his muscled tongue. Flexes each foot till the warm blood comes. Turns from the darkness and moves toward the sun. A step. A shamble. A dead-out run.
One morning this summer I was basking in the sun With the brother closest to me in age. We had been Brought up almost as twins but then took disparate Roads, as twins do. He was sobbing and I was near Tears and the ocean was muttering. I heard a heron. We had been having the most naked open talk we’d Had in many years. I wanted to tell him how deeply I loved him but words are just so weak and shallow. So I talked about the forsythia bush we used to hide Under together. It was the safest place on the planet. The light was always amazing in there and it wasn’t Ever muddy somehow and you were draped in gold. It was a hut a huddle a tent a canopy a cave a refuge. Sometimes you have to use a thing to say something Else. We do this all the time. We talk sideways, yes? But sidelong is often the only road that gets to where You know you need to go. So much means lots more Than it seems like it could mean. Tears, for example.
John Coleman, who died recently, presided over Haverford College during the tumultuous Vietnam War era. He sympathized with students’ antiwar protests but also tried to channel the antiwar movement in constructive ways. When students considered burning the American flag, Coleman placed a washing machine at the center of the campus and encouraged students to wash the flag instead. He persuaded dozens of college presidents to sign an antiwar statement. On sabbaticals he took blue-collar jobs to explore the gap between academics and workers (Inside Higher Ed, September 12).