In 1995, The Nation was bought by a group of investors, including E.L. Doctorow, Victor Navasky, and my father, Paul Newman. A longtime reader of the magazine and sometime contributor, he understood the responsibility of having a public voice and chose his words carefully.
He was always embarking on unfinishable grand projects, immersing himself in research, locking himself in his office for weeks on end, lured away only by the siren call of a race car. As he said in an interview with his friend the writer Stewart Stern, “It takes me three days to write a poem, it takes me three days to write four little columns in The New York Times…. How could I write eight hundred pages?” I heartily supported his forays into shorter forms of expression.
To the end of his life he remained, as noted in The Nation’s obituary in 2008, “dedicated to civil rights, women’s rights and gay rights, committed to ending the nuclear arms race and determined to elect opponents of war and militarism.” He was practical in his allegiances, however, and was not averse to aligning with Republicans on occasion.
This poem was given to me by my sister Nell, who found it stashed away in my parents’ house. Uncharacteristically serious, it was scrawled and reworked on the back of a schedule of doctors’ appointments after my father’s diagnosis with lung cancer in 2007. I kept it tucked in a drawer for many years, unsure of his intention. Now seems like the right time to set it free, and as a longtime reader, The Nation the perfect perch.
Ed Doctorow arranged a dinner with Paul Newman. Paul brought Joanne Woodward with him—and at the time I was a little disappointed, because it had been my fundraising experience that when the wife was present, her role was to put the kibosh on any substantial investment. At the appropriate moment, Paul asked me how much money I was looking for. When I replied, “One million dollars,” he looked at me and said, “That’s very rich.” At which point, Joanne interjected, “So are you, dear.” He invested, we became friends—and I became a lifelong fan.
Half my lung,
Removed by knife,
Is tightly packed in plastic now
Along with other waste
Then dumped somewhere on Staten Island
I had other plans for it of course.
A state funeral along with the rest of me
Honoring a life of plunder well-spent.
Malignancy’s a funny thing though
And it had other plans.
It was payback
Who needs a full lung
For a mouth clamped shut in fear
By politics no less.
I can remember, I think I can
When I was on the stump
On the shout full voice full fury
Pissing way above my rank—
Good Lord the arc of it—
On Them, their Crowns their Hair
Dripped yellow in their eyes. Yup.
I throw a blanket of silence now
Over things I’ve built.