By. J.B. Hogan
Reading a Dickens Biography in Spanish – Puerto Escondido, Mexico
Outside the hotel room in Puerto Escondido –
soft sandy beaches, waves big enough to surf,
a resort town rising up a steep hill to
cantina, café, and tourist shop.
Inside the hotel room in Puerto Escondido –
cheap painting on wall, old unvarnished wooden chair,
garish lamp shining down on small bedside table;
and a biography of Charles Dickens in Spanish.
Between meals and body surfing, then,
rediscovering the man, the work,
alive again in a colorful second language,
translated, catalogued, envisioned images of:
offal-strewn London streets,
chimney-sweeps, blackened and filthy,
rapacious entrepreneurs, dredged from the
foul underbelly of the industrial revolution.
But pleasure in reading, too,
pleasure and renewed joy in
recognition, remembrance of
Mr. Dickens, without whom the world
would have been colder, harsher and
immeasurably less entertaining.
Dickens in America
Nineteen days on the packet Brittania from Liverpool,
nineteen days of the churning, rolling North Atlantic,
making Boston harbor at last, a British re-invasion.
Mr. Dickens, wife and maid, feted, cheered,
celebrated in New York, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, the wild prairie of distant Illinois.
Traveling on corduroy roads, steamships, by longed for train.
George Putnam recording all – both strange and wonderful,
and in Washington, an amiable visit with John Tyler.
But asylums, too, prisons, and Richmond in the south,
abhorrent slavery – the “domestic situation,”
stumping for international protection, copyright laws
protecting all authors, their right to earn.
Suddenly a quick diminishing of welcome,
trip going sour, notes to be developed,
American critique to come.
Last salvo hurled: not the republic
he had come to see,
not the one of his imagination.
Retracing the North Atlantic, back home
at last, America safely in the distance
even more fame to come.
Civil war settled, past differences assuaged,
American beckon proffered, the lord of writ returned.
Once more in Boston, the eastern tour repeated,
twenty-five years on,
the western urge restrained.
Full houses everywhere, packed and cheering loud,
five successful months in country,
seventy-six extraordinary performances,
a staggering triumph,
some £20,000 taken in.
Joyous time unparalleled, but
underneath: a crushing truth.
Age coming swiftly, its ails and troubles growing,
the end not far from sight.
One last reading to thunderous applause,
Final reconciliation with the colonies,
home awaiting the ultimate curtain call.
He and America, he told those reporting,
were changed forever more,
slavery gone and author rights improving,
a better place for all.
Both had grown apace, together and afar,
one left to press on into an uncertain future,
the other to the certainty of immortal death.
J. B. Hogan was nominated for a 2010 Pushcart Prize for his story “Kerosene Heat.” His dystopian novel New Columbia was published in Aphelion and his prize-winning e-book Near Love Stories is online at Cervena Barva Press. He has many stories and poems in such journals as: Cynic Online Magazine, Istanbul Literary Review, Every Day Poets, Ranfurly Review, and the Dead Mule. His work has been anthologized in Flash of Aphelion and Best of Tales from the South: Volume 6. He lives in Fayetteville, Arkansas.