Alongside Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Tennessee Williams, Raymond Carver was part of the class of great 20th Century American writers tortured by drink. Renowned for his short stories, you may know him from ‘What we talk about when we talk about love’- Michael Keaton’s chaotic play within the film Birdman. His disease took his first marriage, his health and nearly his talent, before he started his ‘second life’, sober, at the age of 40. He found his calm and his work with his second wife, Tess, and lived 10 ‘gravy’ years before being diagnosed with, and dying from cancer at 50. This poem is his tribute to those years and can be found inscribed upon his gravestone, along with the passage:
And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth
by Raymond Carver
No other word will do. For that’s what it was.
Gravy, these past ten years.
Alive, sober, working, loving, and
being loved by a good woman. Eleven years
ago he was told he had six months to live
at the rate he was going. And he was going
nowhere but down. So he changed his ways
somehow. He quit drinking! And the rest?
After that it was all gravy, every minute
of it, up to and including when he was told about,
well, some things that were breaking down and
building up inside his head. “Don’t weep for me,”
he said to his friends. “I’m a lucky man.
I’ve had ten years longer than I or anyone
expected. Pure Gravy. And don’t forget it.”
Read more: The Trip to Echo Spring by Olivia Laing explores the unique stories of six of the great writers of this period including Raymond Carver, united by the all-powerful bottle.
Words by Matthew James. The Iris Letter March 2017.