the man who built hemingway’s corona manual, circa 1987

He’d never read him, understand, or at least not that he’d remembered;
He might have half-skimmed something in Look or Esquire,
But he certainly wasn’t much for novels,
As there were kids to raise to rise, a war to fight
(His platoon had been pinned down at Anzio,
Leaving him precious little time for dispatches from the front,
Save a postcard he’d bought in Netunno on a rainy April afternoon,
On which he’d scratched Babe, I’m still alive and kickin’,
Worth ten thousand words to a harried, frightened seventeen-year-old,
With one in the cradle and one on the way),
But then all that was later on, or earlier depending on where you stood,
Time being a lazy, molasses-unhurried thing to him now,
Like the leisurely old Owasco Inlet which ran through town,
Seeming to go in no direction in particular,
Running north or south as it deemed fit at the moment.
Once, he’d worked at the typewriter plant on Spring Street,
Fashioning hammers and slugs for Standards and Silents
And, later on, the electric Coronets and Model 250s
Until he packed it in with forty-five years under his belt,
Though all that pretty much the stuff of memory as well:
The factory gone a couple years now,
Rubble carted away, leaving an angry brown patch of land,
The last generation who’d worked the plant
Having up and left, by and large,
In most cases taking his generation with it as well
(Factories tending to be family affairs,
So many of his contemporaries unwilling to be so distant
From children and grandchildren,
Such notions being unknown in company towns)
Leaving the place a touch foreign, a bit alien to folks who stayed on,
Men without a country as it were, doing their level best
To navigate waters without landmarks, without buoys,
Trying to reach harbors of questionable refuge.


22 thoughts on “the man who built hemingway’s corona manual, circa 1987

  1. Was there really a Smith-Corona factory in Tompkins or Cayuga County? If so, what town was it? And was it on Spring Street in that town? Was it in Homer? Did the redneck jocks let this guy use the air pump at the local gas station?

    I liked this poem. Very good. I wonder how many Corona typewriters Ernest went through. He had quite a temper, I hear, so I’m sure he went through a lot of ’em because I can imagine him throwing them across rooms.


    1. There were Smith-Corona plants in Cortland and Groton (in Tompkins County); I’m guessing the Hemingway model was built in Groton.

      I’m not sure how many of those Ernie chucked around; my brother used to collect antique typewriters, and they were all made of metal and heavy as all hell, even the portable jobs.

  2. This poem is a winner. I saw one of Hemingway’s letters typed on his Corona in the Special Collections Library at Stanford. It is the letter where he references Gertrude Stein referring to that brat pack as “the lost generation.” The typewriter was not working well as odd spaces were between words. The letter was written to his publisher from Cuba. Perhaps his Cuban Corona had deteriorated (like Hemingway himself) in the tropical air.

    Your imagery in this particular poem is excellent.

  3. As always, your poetry is an experience, a tale of simple tragedy, the changing times afford the old ways, ideals, factory towns. I warmed to your protagonist; he seems a familiar everyman of his era.

  4. I think the greatest tragedies are written in the grit of boredom… this is one where I feel the smell of your words. There are thousands upon thousands of men where the epitaph:

    He did the best he could

    Yet every one of them has their own story to tell.

  5. Gosh this is just perfect. Aren’t we all searching for refuge, mostly questionable? Love it. Love the brevity of the postcard, that’s a great detail. Who has time for novels? This is just wonderfully universal even with all the details.

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