Laura Erickson's For the Birds

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Oh, no! Kurt Vonnegut has died

This is really sad--Kurt Vonnegut, who wrote a bunch of the books I voraciously devoured when my children were babies, has died. He and I shared a birthday--November 11. When I was a little girl that day was called Armistice Day, which my grandpa told me was the day we celebrated the end of the war to end all wars. It was a horrifying discovery, years later, when I learned that my grandpa had fought in World War I, so named because it had an encore, and then I found out that there had been another war going on when I was a baby. And as a little girl I'd never have guessed that we were already getting involved in a war that my big brother was going to have to fight in. Kurt Vonnegut's experience in World War II were most eloquently used in his masterpiece, Slaughterhouse Five. He ends the book with the captured American soldiers being released from the underground meat locker where they'd been put to work manufacturing vitamin supplements with other prisoners of war. That underground meat locker ironically saved their lives during the firebombing of Dresden. From there they were imprisoned in a stable outside Dresden for a while.

And somewhere in there was springtime. The corpse mines were closed down. The soldiers all left to fight the Russians. In the suburbs, the women and children dug rifle pits. Billy and the rest of his group were locked up in the stable in the suburbs. And then, one morning, they got up to discover that the door was unlocked. World War Two in Europe was over.

Billy and the rest wandered out onto the shady street. The trees were leafing out. There was nothing going on out there, no traffic of any kind. There was only one vehicle, an abandoned wagon drawn by two horses. The wagon was green and coffin-shaped.

Birds were talking.

One bird said to Billy Pilgrim, 'Poo-tee-weet?'
Vonnegut's final book, A Man without a Country, ends with a poem called "Requiem":

When the last living thing

has died on account of us,

how poetical it would be

if Earth could say,

in a voice floating up


from the floor

of the Grand Canyon,

“It is done.”

People did not like it here.

Read the New York Times obituary for Kurt Vonnegut.