In memory of Norman Rosten, 1914-1995
It’s been only five days now, but reliable
as Mozart, he’s already following me around
like a clumsy phantom of winds, reeds,
flies and brown bears. Doppelganger
with the sardonic smile, he took such long pains
to construct himself—a sort of small-sized, shaggy
aircraft-carrier, emitting flights—
now he can laugh, hide behind doors,
make great fun of going where he’s already gone.
What they call Death is ordinary,
respectable and rude. He doesn’t fit.
How can he be giving me prods
and showers of hilarious meaningless threats?
He makes a terrible spook, an incompetent vampire
who’s donated all his blood to poems.
Yet no mistaking who’s slamming the doors,
creaking on the stairs, fluttering in the glass
with the orange juice. Each wandering electricity
is followed by the smell of its own ozone.
You may throw iron filings in the air, as you will,
he’s free of exact diagrams. And honored
as I am to be haunted so, I remember there are—
how shall I say, ever so many others’—
he’ll want to frequent, to honor with his wraithly
touch, that it’s pure luck—pure luck!—
every one of us—to be dogged by the spirit
of such a generous poltergeist, whatever
side of the door the gift is coming from,
whether going out or coming in.
© Andrew Glaze, 2002, from Remembering Thunder
Norman Rosten, was the Poet Laureate of Brooklyn, and became my father’s best friend. Their story began in 1964, when Oscar Williams suddenly died. Oscar was a poetry anthologist with several highly successful volumes that were standard at US high schools and colleges. Someone introduced them, they became friendly and eventually Oscar asked why my father never showed him any of his poems. When my father obliged, Oscar shared them with his poet friend Elizabeth Lambert and reported back that they were “Impressed”. In a 1985 interview with Steven Ford Brown, my father said that it was Williams who’d nagged him to put a manuscript for a book together. I remember that my father said Oscar was planning to include his work in the next anthology. I met Williams when he came to dinner at our apartment one evening. But most importantly, he personally took the manuscript of my father’s poems to Trident Press at Simon & Schuster and told them to publish it. Trident was the publisher of his own books, and he was an advisor/editor there. Oscar began overseeing the editing of the book and my father was blissfully happy. And then, just as suddenly as the burgeoning friendship began, Oscar was gone. My father was in shock. Then a miracle happened. Trident Press had another poet advisor by the name of Norman Rosten. They turned to him for advice and he said, “Publish it!” He was also impressed.
Norman was a special person, warm, gregarious, and with a sense of humor that matched my fathers. He lived in a huge rent controlled apartment in a Brooklyn brownstone building that he shared with his wife Hedda and daughter Patricia. It was in fact such a great apartment that later in life when he was an aging widower, his young landlord, who longed to live there himself, offered a trade to him. In exchange for Norman giving up his rent controlled lease, he would receive the gift of ownership of a nearby studio condo apartment. Norman took him up on the offer.
Norman was full of surprises. Besides doing screenplays, stage plays, poems, and a children’s book, in 1973 he came out with the book Marilyn; an Untold Story, revealing his families close friendship with Marilyn Monroe. In fact, Norman was the last person Marilyn spoke to on the night she died. In 1993, he wrote the libretto for an opera titled “Marilyn” which was premiered by the City Opera at Lincoln Center. But his real specialty was sending postcards to friends with humorous cartoon balloon captions drawn above postage stamps of past presidents.
One winter in the 1990’s, when he was recovering from heart problems, he flew to Miami to stay with my father and stepmom for a while. When I was there at Christmas my father told me about the visit and said, “We have to do whatever we can to keep Norman healthy. The world is a better place with him in it”. He mentioned that Norman had looked frail when he arrived, but enjoyed going to the beach, relaxing, and looked a bit better when he left.
When Norman died in 1995, I can truly say that my father was heartbroken. Yet, what came out in the poem was his fondness for Norman, the shared sense of humor, and the twinkling eyed personality of his late friend.
Visiting Norman and Hedda Rosten. On the playful photo of Glaze with his wife Hedda, Rosten wrote, “Stop it you two!” on the front and “Sag Harbor Lovers, July 1975” on the back. Photos by Norman and Hedda Rosten. Property of the estate of Andrew Glaze.
The postcard below was sent to me by Norman, in 1969.
“I hear Betsy’s going to England.”
“I hope she remembers we won our independence.”
1970’s photo of Norman Rosten, by Adriana Glaze. Property of the Andrew Glaze Estate.
— E. Glaze