Good morning said a woman as she walked up to the man sitting on ground.
The man slowly looked up.
This was a woman clearly accustomed to the finer things of life. Her coat was new... She looked like she had never missed a meal in her life.
His first thought was that she wanted to make fun of him, like so many others had done before... "Leave me alone," he growled....
To his amazement, the woman continued standing. She was smiling -- her even white teeth displayed in dazzling rows. "Are you hungry?" she asked.
"No," he answered sarcastically. "I've just come from dining with the president. Now go away." The woman's smile became even broader. Suddenly the man felt a gentle hand under his arm.
"What are you doing, lady?" the man asked angrily. "I said to leave me alone.
Just then a policeman came up. "Is there any problem, ma'am?" he asked…
"No problem here, officer," the woman answered. "I'm just trying to get this man to his feet. Will you help me?"
The officer scratched his head. "That's old Jack. He's been a fixture around here for a couple of years. What do you want with him?"
"See that cafeteria over there?" she asked.
"I'm going to get him something to eat and get him out of the cold for awhile."
"Are you crazy, lady?" the homeless man resisted. "I don't want to go in there!" Then he felt strong hands grab his other arm and lift him up. "Let me go, officer. I didn't do anything."
"This is a good deal for you, Jack" the officer answered. "Don't blow it..."
Finally, and with some difficulty, the woman and the police officer got Jack into the cafeteria and sat him at a table in a remote corner. It was the middle of the morning, so most of the breakfast crowd had already left and the lunch bunch had not yet arrived...
The manager strode across the cafeteria and stood by his table. "What's going on here, officer?" he asked. "What is all this, is this man in trouble?"
"This lady brought this man in here to be fed," the policeman answered.
"Not in here!" the manager replied angrily. "Having a person like that here is bad for business..." Old Jack smiled a toothless grin. "See lady. I told you so. Now if you'll let me go. I didn't want to come here in the first place."
The woman turned to the cafeteria manager and smiled....... "Sir, are you familiar with Eddy and Associates, the banking firm down the street?"
"Of course I am," the manager answered impatiently. "They hold their weekly meetings in one of my banquet rooms."
"And do you make a godly amount of money providing food at these weekly meetings?"
"What business is that of yours?"
I, sir, am Penelope Eddy, president and CEO of the company."
The woman smiled again. "I thought that might make a difference." She glanced at the cop who was busy stifling a giggle. "Would you like to join us in a cup of coffee and a meal, officer?"
"No thanks, ma'am," the officer replied. "I'm on duty."
"Then, perhaps, a cup of coffee to go?"
"Yes, maam. That would be very nice."
The cafeteria manager turned on his heel, "I'll get your coffee for you right away, officer."
The officer watched him walk away. "You certainly put him in his place," he said.
"That was not my intent. Believe it or not, I have a reason for all this."
She sat down at the table across from her amazed dinner guest. She stared at him intently…"Jack, do you remember me?"
Old Jack searched her face with his old, rheumy eyes. "I think so -- I mean you do look familiar."
"I'm a little older perhaps," she said. "Maybe I've even filled out more than in my younger days when you worked here, and I came through that very door, cold and hungry."
"Ma'am?" the officer said questioningly. He couldn't believe that such a magnificently turned out woman could ever have been hungry.
"I was just out of college," the woman began. "I had come to the city looking for a job, but I couldn't find anything. Finally I was down to my last few cents and had been kicked out of my apartment. I walked the streets for days. It was February and I was cold and nearly starving. I saw this place and walked in on the off chance that I could get something to eat."
Jack lit up with a smile. "Now I remember," he said.. "I was behind the serving counter. You came up and asked me if you could work for something to eat. I said that it was against company policy."
"I know," the woman continued. "Then you made me the biggest roast beef sandwich that I had ever seen, gave me a cup of coffee, and told me to go over to a corner table and enjoy it. I was afraid that you would get into trouble... Then, when I looked over and saw you put the price of my food in the cash register, I knew then that everything would be all right."
"So you started your own business?" Old Jack said.
"I got a job that very afternoon. I worked my way up. Eventually I started my own business that, with the help of God, prospered." She opened her purse and pulled out a business card.. "When you are finished here, I want you to pay a visit to a Mr. Lyons...He's the personnel director of my company. I'll go talk to him now and I'm certain he'll find something for you to do around the office." She smiled. "I think he might even find the funds to give you a little advance so that you can buy some clothes and get a place to live until you get on your feet... If you ever need anything, my door is always opened to you."
There were tears in the old man's eyes. "How can I ever thank you?" he said.
"Don't thank me," the woman answered. " Thank God...... who led me to you."
Outside the cafeteria, the officer and the woman paused at the entrance before going their separate ways....
"Thank you for all your help, officer," she said.
"On the contrary, Ms. Eddy," he answered. "Thank you. I saw a miracle today, something that I will never forget. And.. And thank you for the coffee."
God is going to shift things around for you today and let things work in your favour.
Interviewer: Mr. Berryman, recognition came to you late in comparison with writers like Robert Lowell and Delmore Schwartz. What effect do you think fame has on a poet? Can this sort of success ruin a writer?
John Berryman: I don’t think there are any generalizations at all. If a writer gets hot early, then his work ought to become known early. If it doesn’t, he is in danger of feeling neglected. We take it that all young writers overestimate their work. It’s impossible not to—I mean if you recognized what shit you were writing, you wouldn’t write it. You have to believe in your stuff—every day has to be the new day on which the new poem may be it. Well, fame supports that feeling. It gives self-confidence, it gives a sense of an actual, contemporary audience, and so on. On the other hand, unless it is sustained, it can cause trouble—and it is very seldom sustained. If your first book is a smash, your second book gets kicked in the face, and your third book, and lots of people, like Delmore, can’t survive that disappointment. From that point of view, early fame is very dangerous indeed, and my situation, which was so painful to me for many years, was really in a way beneficial.
I overestimated myself, as it turned out, and felt bitter, bitterly neglected. But I had certain admirers, certain high judges on my side from the beginning, so that I had a certain amount of support. Moreover, I had a kind of indifference on my side—much as Joseph Conrad did. A reporter asked him once about reviews, and he said, “I don’t read my reviews. I measure them.” Now, until I was about thirty-five years old, I not only didn’t read my reviews, I didn’t measure them, I never even looked at them. That is so peculiar that close friends of mine wouldn’t believe me when I told them. I thought that was indifference, but now I’m convinced that it was just that I had no skin on—you know, I was afraid of being killed by some remark. Oversensitivity. But there was an element of indifference in it, and so the public indifference to my work was countered with a certain amount of genuine indifference on my part, which has been very helpful since I became a celebrity. W.H. Auden once said that the best situation for a poet is to be taken up early and held for a considerable time and then dropped after he has reached the level of indifference.
Something else is in my head: a remark of Gerard Manley Hopkins to Robert Bridges. Two completely unknown poets in their thirties—fully mature—Hopkins, one of the great poets of the century, and Bridges, awfully good. Hopkins with no audience and Bridges with thirty readers. He says, “Fame in itself is nothing. The only thing that matters is virtue. Jesus Christ is the only true literary critic. But,” he said, “from any lesser level or standard than that, we must recognize that fame is the true and appointed setting of men of genius.” That seems to me appropriate. This business about geniuses in neglected garrets is for the birds. The idea that a man is somehow no good just because he becomes very popular, like Robert Frost, is nonsense, also. There are exceptions—Thomas Chatterton, Hopkins, of course, Arthur Rimbaud, you can think of various cases—but on the whole, men of genius were judged by their contemporaries very much as posterity judges them. So if I were talking to a young writer, I would recommend the cultivation of extreme indifference to both praise and blame because praise will lead you to vanity, and blame will lead you to self-pity, and both are bad for writers.
From “The Art of Poetry No. 16” in The Paris Review. While on a fellowship at Cambridge University in the late 1930s, Berryman met, among other poets, W.H. Auden and W.B. Yeats. He published Poems in 1942, the biography Stephen Crane in 1950, and Homage to Mistress Bradstreet in 1956. At the age of fifty-seven in 1972, Berryman committed suicide by jumping off a bridge onto the ice of the Mississippi River.
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