McNair to Hall: October 8, 1981


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October 8, 1981

Dear Don,

Enclosed, two revised poems. Hope
you like them.

I had to go ahead and have my book
mimeo’d, since the contests are calling
for manuscripts now. I’m therefore
going to have to assume you like
The Faces well enough–

Hope all is well at the Farm–




Oddly, being so large
gave them a sense of possibility.

Women with huge upper arms
felt freer.

Children never stopped opening
the landscapes of flesh that grew
in their hands.

Their word for the thin ones
whose long faces seemed
part of their necks
was “chinless”.

Barking dogs and stray cats
were also called “chinless”.

No one knows when
the thin ones began
to seem beautiful,

when the fat people first worried
about weight.

A woman came to fear her knuckles
and elbows were sinking
into dimples.

A man believed his chin
which shook when he talked
was also speaking.

For many years
the fat life continued.

Each day inside strange houses
with wide doors
the fathers rose folding themselves
into their pants.

Each night the families dreamed of bones
hung forever in fat’s
locked closet.

–Wesley McNair

for Diane

I was driving the old Dodge wagon
again, with Coke cans rolling
to the front at stop signs,
and you stroking the dash
every so often to thank the car
for not needing the spare tire
we hadn’t fixed. We were on a trip
that felt like going to your father’s camp, only
we never got there and didn’t care.
It was a beautiful day, just enough wind
coming into the back to make the kids
squint with pure pleasure
as it scribbled their hair, and your mother
patted them, saying what a nice ride it was
in the odd, small voice
she used only for your father.
It was then in the rear-view mirror I saw him,
wearing the brown cardigan he always wore
and putting on the shining bell
of his saxophone as if just back
from an intermission. You were smiling,
and suddenly I saw the reason
we were traveling together
and did not want to stop
was Herman, who just sat there
in the cargo space, breathing the scale
until the whole family leaned back
in their seats, and then he lifted his sax
and opened one more song as wide
and delicate as the floating trees.

–Wesley McNair

Editorial note about this letter: Minus its fifth stanza, this version of “The Fat People of the Old Days” is the way the poem finally appears in The Town of No.  The published version is here: The Fat People of the Old DaysThe above draft of “A Dream of Herman” is its final version, later published in The Faces of Americans in 1853.