Hugh Fox
The Last Summer 

ISBN 1-879378-13-2 (paper)
xix, 153 pages, $15




Hugh Fox is a professor of American Thought and Language, a specialist in pre-Columbian Amerindian religion and a prolific writer. He teaches at Michigan State University, does research in Latin America and publishes fiction and non-fiction with houses big and small. His early titles include Glyphs (Fat Frog Press, 1969), The Ecological Suicide Bus (Camels Coming, 1970), Paralytic Grandpa Dream Secretions (Morgan, 1971), The Gods of the Cataclysm (Harper's, 1976) and First Fire: Central and South American Indian Poetry (Doubleday, 1978). 




Fox's more recent titles include the novel Leviathan: An Indian Ocean Whale Herd Journal (Carpenter, 1980), the novel Shaman (Permeable, 1993) and The Living Underground: The Prose Anthology (Whitson, 1994). Of The Gods of the Cataclysm, a study of plumed serpents, yogic yantras and Mayan hieroglyphs, Curt Johnson wrote that it "ought to be required reading for cultural historians of all disciplines." Of Leviathan, the Library Journal found that "Fox's musings on man as the killer animal are often chilling." The Small Press Review called Shaman "quite simply a masterpiece... so original that it is hard to fit into any category." Fox is a contributing editor to numerous literary journals and was the editor of Ghost Dance: The International Quarterly of Experimental Poetry.

Fox got the idea for The Last Summer when his ten-year-old son came to spend the summer with him in Michigan a few years ago and Fox broke his ankle in the first week. Rather than send the boy back to his mother in Kansas, Fox had a "walking cast" made and hobbled around with the boy for three months. Fox's lawyer friend, Jerry Beckwith, had died from lung cancer the year before, and Fox conceived the idea of turning the broken ankle into lung cancer and writing the story of a dying father spending his last summer with his youngest child. Before writing, Fox frequented the radiation department at the hospital where his wife, a pathologist, works. During the writing, he drew on his own medical background (four years before turning to literature) and his experience of sitting at the bedside of Jerry.

The diary technique is the same as used in Leviathan, a story of survival on the high ocean, also ending in disaster. "With this technique," says Fox, "the reader gets inside the head of the protagonist. It's the closest you can get to virtual reality on the printed page. I carried around a notebook the whole summer and wrote it as it happened. I have no mercy on the reader or on myself."

From The Last Summer

I wonder if I should even keep this diary going.

It's one a.m., fan blowing on me. I feel like I'm adrift in deep space.

The radiation technician at Sparrow's a woman about my age. The whole time she's working with me she's on the edge of tears. You'd think that after 25 years of working mostly with the dying, that she'd get used to it. Or maybe I'm an especially personal case for her. The way I unintentionally, instinctively (my old Czech grandmother) turn everything into an instantaneous little village. Like we've known each other for a thousand years.


Took Chris out by the farms tonight to see the evening sky, Venus just above the horizon, a little below and to the left of Pollux and Castor, the twins...

Then talked to him a little about ancient myth.

"That's all anyone lived for. Like the story of Ishtar going through seven gates into the Underworld, at every gate taking off some jewels, being followed into the Underworld by this boatman in his boat. It's really Venus in the Fall, the receding from the Earth (the taking off of the jewels), then Mars (the boatman) inside a crescent moon (the boat) following Venus over the horizon. That's the Babylonian legend. Among the Greeks it's Orpheus with his lyre/harp, Mars (Orpheus) inside the crescent moon, which is the lyre, following Venus (Eurydice) down into the Underworld--which simply means over the horizon."

"Can I go to Seven-Eleven for a slurpie now?" he asks.

"Why not?"

And that's where we go. Then--at his insistence--to Pinball Pete's to play a little Splatter House, this gruesome character with a hockey mask on (like Jason in the Friday the Thirteenth films), going through basements and axing all these corpses and bloodsuckers. Only that's too hard for him. So he moves over to Superman, which is a little bit easier, Double Dragon, which gives him the most for his quarter.

All I can give him are a couple dollars a day.

Three years ago, when his mother hit me with a car, I got double insurance to the tune of $8,000 (multiple fractured right arm, just fragments, really, held together by metal plates and screws), but now I'm down to my last $75.00. Trips to the Atacama Desert with Twyla, TV's, clothes, trips to New York, little presents all the time, a continuous procession of gifts from me to my kids, their mother, their mother's sister.

Why not? And now we're down to the end in all ways.

"Why don't I get a leave of absence, borrow some money to live on. Just stay home full-time. You can't really do it alone," Tanya said today.

"But I'm doing it," I answered.

Dragging myself out of bed in the morning, dragging myself over to the pool, dragging myself to class, dragging myself to the video store, dragging myself to Pinball Pete's, dragging, dragging, dragging, running down, non-rechargeable batteries, mornings like midnights, midnights like Judgement Day, three-quarters gone, one quarter to go.

Don't really want her around full-time. She already radiates enough deep melancholy/fatalism. Let her go to work. There's always the last act in the hospital. Until then...

Why do I see her like a vulture descending from the heavens beginning its feast on dead water-buffalo-me with the anus--the easiest place to begin with?

"Why not let up a little," she insisted. "Why push it?"

"Let me push it as long as I can. It hardly makes any difference."

"You're wasting your time."

"Not for long!"

A few more weeks. What? And then the boy has seventy years without me. Don't tell me I'm wasting my time, that all we are is leaves and snow. What's that poem by Hopkins, immortal diamond. We are what Christ was, immortal diamond! All of Hopkins' thrust toward creating an aesthetics where our "thisness" somehow counts, so we aren't just les nieges d'hier (last year's snows), melting, evaporating. A site like Nazca or La Venta. Who lived there? What were their names? What did they believe? How can you believe in immortality when you open a tomb and see five-thousand-year-old bones?

Watched an old Captain American film this afternoon.

Like the Paleolithic Age of Sci-Fi films, the fifty-cent shield, the low-budget, doctored-up motorcycle. And the plot's always the same, some madman-criminal gets a poison or a bomb of some kind and blackmails the national government for a million dollars.

Acting primitive, sets primitive, plot primitive--even Chris recognized that.

"It's kind of hard to believe in, isn't it?"


Thinking at the pool this morning the whole time about sociological determinism and the two ways of life Continuity versus Fragmentation.

The Jews always in the back of my mind. Such a small "tribe" of people, but such an impact on the world. If you just think about it, THE BIBLE, Christ, TALMUD, Spinoza, KABALLAH, Marx, Mahler, Einstein, Salk, Gershwin... this endless list. Because there's always the sense of the Chosen People, family, ethics, Hebrew School, continuity. What is TALMUD, after all, but an endless discussion about how to deal with the vagaries of life?

Then you smash the family, take out continuity, ethics, education, the sense of purpose, change Chosen to Cursed, and what do you have? Detroit.

Looking at the boy in the pool thinking about all the shit he's been through in the last few years, facing the fact that Christine has deep emotional problems, walking out on her teaching job five years ago, getting fired, never since then really getting back on any track, a couple of science-courses, but then stopping taking courses altogether, just waiting for Mimi to get a grant of some kind to set up a lab so that then she can work with her. And if the grant never comes, I guess she'll never work. No insurance, empty days, Mimi finishing medical school. But what is Christine finishing? Always the same overwhelming sense of purposelessness in her life, her father like a giant negative force (black umbrella) overshadowing her entire life. Magnet and iron-filings. As if she doesn't have a will of her own.




The City of Dis versus the City of Light (God).

She'd even tried the same dependency game with me, but I was always pushing her to write criticism, get on the tenure track in the department, create her own image/purpose/destiny. Now she's back on the coattails of someone else's destiny again.

The boy actually swimming now. Ready to jump off the big board.

How much have I already passed on? How much good, how much evil? To have even thought that Christine and I could have just brought Tanya into the marriage and it would have all worked out...

Talk about her profound mental problems, what about mine?



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