Hang it all, the good among us keep slipping earthly bonds. Latest notable to depart is the great writer John Updike, who died of lung cancer yesterday, aged 76. The one little mercy is that he will no longer have to hear, as we did tonight on NBC Nightly News, sentences such as, "Although they were born nine weeks premature, doctors say the octuplets are breathing on their own." I don't believe that the circumstances of the doctors' births, no matter how great the coincidence of prematurity, should figure into the reporting of the health of these eight tiny tots.
Updike wrote novels, essays, short stories, poems, sick notes for his kids, grocery lists and, probably, a papal bull or two in his long career. He wrote well over 50 novels, which is more than some people read in a lifetime. But I have this poem, published in the December 6, 1999, New Yorker posted on bulletin boards all over - even on some that don't belong to me. I feel these words should be read, and savored, so without further bloviation on my part, here is John Updike's Jesus and Elvis:
Twenty years after the death, St. Paul
was sending the first of his epistles,
and bits of myth or faithful memory–
multitudes fed on scraps, the dead small girl
told "Talitha, cumi"–were self-assembling
as proto-Gospels. Twenty years since pills
and chiliburgers did another in,
they gather at Graceland, the simple believers,
the turnpike pilgrims from the sere Midwest,
mother and daughter bleached to look alike,
Marys and Lazaruses, you and me,
brains riddled with song, with hand-tinted visions
of a lovely young man, reckless and cool
as a lily. He lives. We live. He lives.