Hall to McNair: September 30, 1982

Letter from Hall to McNair, September 30, 1982, Page 1, Colby College Special Collections

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30 September 1982

Wes McNair
Box 43
North Sutton, NH 03260

Dear Wes,

You are really building up a nice group
for Joey… Now it is true that I don’t really
understand the literal/figurative configuration
at the beginning of “Mute.” And if Howard Moss,
Peter Davison, and John Nims are as dumb as I
am, they will not buy it. But I think it is
very beautiful! (I would buy it, because I do
not demand to understand everything.) And I
really love it…but I must tell you I don’t
know what really happened to the son.

In Big Cars I would surely make it a
semi-colon after “seats”. Did I tell you a
comma last time? Then I wonder about a dash
after the word “here” in the next stanza…
I don’t think that the absence of punctuation
is quite right…

Love as ever,


(Note: Don’s markings in brackets.)


Ten years later
they arrive on the thruway,
pulling winged fenders and smiling
a lane wide—big cars,
old floats that took a wrong
corner somewhere and lost
the American dream parade. Around them

the strange, grilleless
cars of the future
hum at their tires—tiny aliens
of a planet out of gas.

To think of their long trip
just beginning—the irrepressible fuel
rising everywhere into their tanks!
For the first time, armrests
Unfolded out of seats, [;]
Out of the armrests, ashtrays!
Maps fell open to the new roads

That led them, finally, here [– ?]
to the right lanes of America,
the antiques of optimism
nobody understands or wants
except the poor. Or dictators

driving down boulevards in some country
where the poor do not have cars
and run alongside until it seems
that they themselves are riding
on soft shocks, under a sun roof,
toward the great plenty of the New World.


Once on the last ice-cutting,
the son went through the surface
of their solid world,
coming to rest among the folded
legs of horses. Listening for him [fig/bit]

after all her tears was perhaps
what drew the mother
into the silence. Long afternoons
she sat with the daughter,
speaking in the sign language
they invented together,
going deaf to the world.

How, exactly, did they touch
their mouths? What was the thought
of the old man on the porch
growing so drunk by nightfall
he could not hear
mosquitoes in his ears?

There is so much no one remembers
about the farm where sound,
even the bawling of the unmilked cows,
came to a stop. Even the man’s name,

which neighbors must have spoken
passing by in twilight, on their way
to forgetting it forever.

A note from McNair about this letter: Responding to Don’s questions about clarity in the opening stanza of “Mute,” I made the changes that appear in the published version of the poem below, also adding his suggested semi-colon to “Big Cars.”

Read Big Cars (published version)

Read Mute (published version)

See also a selection of McNair’s manuscript notes and drafts for “Mute.”