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is a Republican shoe-in. But even To Kill a Mockingbird, with its Southern nostalgia and noble, white-suited patriarch, holds conservative charm. Regardless of the range of his audience, the political sensibility of Foote’s work seems most closely aligned with a kind of Texas liberalism that almost doesn’t exist anymore, a Ralph Yarborough-style white, rural populism that once saw no inconsistency between progressive and county-minded values. In Beginnings, Foote recollects his father’s New Deal fervor. During Foote’s first visit back home after moving to New York, brimming with fresh, Yankee-fled opinions, his father wisely cautioned: `I hope you’re still a Democrat, son.’ `Yes,’ I said. ‘I’m still a Democrat.’ `I tell you son,’ he said sounding relieved, ‘I could forgive you almost anything except your voting the Republican ticket.’ Assured of his son’s party loyalty, Foote’s father began to grouse about his sister’s appalling failure to vote for Roosevelt. “Did you ask her why she voted Republican?” Horton’s mother asks. `Yes, I did.’ And what did she say?’ `She said it was because of Mrs. Roosevelt.’ `Mrs. Roosevelt?’ `Yes. She said she had gotten the Negroes in Houston starting Disappointment Clubs’ `What are they?’ `She says you read in the paper’s want ads of a colored woman applying for a job as a maid or a cook and you call them to come for an interview and they come and you make arrangements to hire them, you agree on a salary and the day for them to start work, and then when that day comes they don’t show up, which means they are members of the Disappointment Clubs whose purpose is to disappoint white ladies’ And you believe that foolishness?’ I asked her. `Of course, I do,’ she said. ‘I know it as a fact. Its happened to all my friends’ All your friends,’ I said. `Well, a number of them. … I wouldn’t put anything past [Mrs. Roosevelt.] She just hates the South. … She is taking out all her unhappiness on the South’ INearly 6o years later, Foote borrowed his father’s harangue and placed it, almost verbatim, in his 1995 play, The Young Man from Atlanta. In this new context, the story provides a measure of comic relief, as an aging couple realizes how terribly little they know about the life of their late son. It’s hilarious when Lily Dale, the play’s lead character, probes her housekeeper for details about Houston’s Disappointment Clubs, but it also raises the dramatic stakes. Knowing so little about our own flesh and blood, Foote questions, how much less do we know about the world POETRY I JOHN POCH DEAR READER Denominator, help me upkeep. Dying irises, for instance. Elide the failing finery, make the failure finer, cut for the future. Make a meal of bone and turn it in. The less you are… but do not become nothing. Rise, kiss me on the mouth with your small mouth. Equal me into a line, a page seen from the side. Treat me like a treaty signed, the ink kiss spilled down both our throats. Together we will decide the four saddest words in English history, whether day or night is praiseworthy, the folding of the grief industry. Alter at this altar. John Poch teaches at Texas Tech University. “Dear Reader” is from his most recent collection, Dolls, due out in September. beyond our families? “Who knows about anything, Lily Dale?” her husband says, bewildered, in the final scene. This was always Foote’s narrative strategy for handling politics or personal tragedy, all the overwhelming stuff of life: He fit tremendous subjects inside tiny conversations, and then he seemed to shrug his shoulders. “If you’ve got a message, send a telegram:’ Sam Goldwyn used to warn his writers. Goldwyn was one studio head who would have loved Horton Foote. His plays never sent messagesnot because he was hedging, but because he had confidence in the unknowable-ness of life, faith in the “miracles of the everyday,” as Edward Albee, speaking on that May day at Lincoln Center, described it. That afternoon, Casey Childs, executive producer of the Primary Stages theater company and a frequent collaborator of Foote’s, spoke of the playwright’s reliable composure during the inevitable frustrations of producing a play. After an “especially grueling day,” Childs recalled saying that “on days like this I am just happy for the little things.” Foote smiled, and continued walking calmly past him. “Ah, yes,” he said. “Tender mercies. Tender, tender mercies.” Contributing writer Robert Leleux is the author of The Memoirs of a Beautiful Boy. His second book, The Living End, will be published next year by St. Martin’s Press. JULY 10, 2009 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 37