McNair to Hall: June 20, 1981


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June 20, 1981

Dear Don,

Not a new poem–just the old one
with the revisions I mentioned typed in.

If I am lucky, this is ready
to become one of the next batch.

Am working on many other things,
but progress is, as usual, slow. I
should have a reasonable group of
things by October, though.

When is the Ploughshares coming out?

I await that and the probable return
of my manuscript from Pittsburgh…

Something to look forward to, and something to dread.

Best in your work.



When Paul Flew Away

It was the same as always,
Paul opening the big, black lung
of it with that worried look
while the cats watched
from under the stove,
but when he closed
his eyes and began to sink
down between the straps
of his bib-overalls,
it was like he died. Except
the accordion was still breathing
a waltz between his hands,
except he called back
to us every so often
from wherever he was, shit.
Which meant everything
he had ever known
in his life up to that
moment, but this song.
Not some sock-drawer
music of getting a tune out
and then rummaging
for the chord to match,
but together, exactly like
he was breathing the thing
himself. No stomping
either, just Paul twisting
like he was after some deep
itch, only right then
he was starting to lift
out of his chair. Slowly
at first, like flypaper
in a small breeze, then
the whole enormous weight
of him hanging over the sink. God,
he was happy, and I
and the kids was laughing
and happy, when all
at once it come to me,
this is it. Paul is leaving
the old Barcolounger
stuck in second
position, and the tv on top
of the tv that don’t
work, and all my hand-paintings
of strawberries as if he had never
said this would be Strawberry Farm.
Hey! I said to him out in the yard
because he was already going
right over the roof
of the goat-shed, pumping
that song. What about you
and me? And Paul
just got farther and smaller
until he looked like a kid
opening paper dolls over
and over, or like
he was clapping slowly
at himself, and then
like he was opening up the wings
of some wild, black bird
he had made friends with
just before he disappeared
into the sky above the clouds
over all of Wisconsin.

-Wesley McNair

Editorial note about this letter: This draft of the poem and its follow up on 6/18/82 are both close to the published version, which appeared in McNair’s second collection, The Town of No.

McNair’s note about this poem: The comic “Paul” of this poem is my older brother Paul in disguise, who also plays accordion and at the time I wrote “When Paul Flew Away” had been taken into the hospital for a life-threatening kidney operation — the grim back story for this character’s “flying away.”

Read When Paul Flew Away (published version)