Like most American writers worth or not even worth their salt, I have long been an admirer of Mark Twain. I always felt a loving sense of connection, and in one of my novels, Kingdom Come, which takes place in the Afterlife, the heroine finds him in the place in Heaven for those who didn’t believe, where they get into an argument. My American Lit professor from Bryn Mawr, Warner Berthoff, gave me an A plus for their exchange, and though it came many years after graduation, lifted my heart. That was my only deep connection with that masterly gentleman, if you didn’t count a happy friendship with Kurt Vonnegut about which my son, Robert, after having dinner with him, said “that must make you feel like you’re with Mark Twain.”.
That same young man, Robert, called me today on my cell when I was at my doctor’s office, laughing, to tell me that his office-mate had Wikipediaed me and found my life to have ended on April 21, 2010. This has been a challenging few weeks, but none of the difficulties I encountered seem so bad to me now, as I check my pulse and review the things that made them seem dispiriting. There were a few encounters with people I thought were allies who turned out not to be, the suicide attempt of Mimi, who ate a stalk of grapes and had to be Intensive-Cared in the pet hospital, as raisins and grapes destroy the renal system and cause kidney failure, a few theatrical openings and presentations that make me wonder what Broadway is coming to or going from, and why I still hanker for it, and the opposite unexpectedly upbeat discovery that I had friends I hadn’t realized were. All of it put in curious perspective by my death date, though I could not help feeling good that I had been cited, when passing. as novelist and ‘poet,’ when very few, except for you to whom I send my pomes know of the poetry. So I am given these days to examine what really matters, and review those of them when I was supposedly already gone, to find them not bad at all.
But of course I called to mind (and checked, though not on Wikipedia) the quote long attributed to that literary hero, “reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated,” The actual letter reads “reports of my death are exaggerated,” which is good enough for me, being the same in my case. Still, I am going tomorrow for a Stress test, as my doctor was sufficiently spooked to think it was a good idea to check. But it remains an honor to be connected in any way with Mr. Clemens, so I hope if there is that heaven in which he didn’t believe he is having a chuckle, reminding us both not to take things too seriously.