Dorothy Parker once opined that her epitaph should read, "Excuse my dust."
On the anniversary of her death in 1967, we remember the poet and critic who had a strange if not morbid fascination with death. As often as she wrote about suicide, Dorothy Parker died of a heart attack at the age of 73.
Her poetry was primarily constructed in rhyming couplets that took playful jabs at: death (such as in Epitaph with it's closing couplet of, "And I lie here warm, and I lie here dry, / And watch the worms slip by, slip by."); herself (in Observation which closes with, "But I shall stay the way I am, / Because I do not give a damn."); love (Little Words concludes with, "I turn to little words- so you, my dear, / Can spell them out."); and of those in her literary circle — the fabled Algonquin Round Table — (in the very catty Bohemia, Parker writes, "Diarists, critics, and similar roe / Never say nothing, and never say no..").
The following three poems — by Dorothy Parker — give a glimpse into her muse. Death.
Razors pain you;
Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you;
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren't lawful;
Gas smells awful;
You might as well live.
Rhyme Against Living
If wild my breast and sore my pride,
I bask in dreams of suicide;
If cool my heart and high my head,
I think, 'How lucky are the dead!'
Four be the things I am wiser to know:
Idleness, sorrow, a friend, and a foe.
Four be the things I’d been better without:
Love, curiosity, freckles, and doubt.
Three be the things I shall never attain:
Envy, content, and sufficient champagne.
Three be the things I shall have till I die:
Laughter and hope and a sock in the eye.
As remarkable as her life was, Dorothy Parker's death took on a bizarre life of it's own.
She bequeathed her estate to Dr. Martin Luther King. Following King's assassination Parker's estate was left in the care of the NAACP. A provision that her literary executor, the esteemed playwright Lillian Hellman fought tooth and nail to void unsuccessfully.
In part because of Hellman's objection the ashes of Dorothy Parker remained in a drawer in a lawyer's office for close to 20 years.
It was not until 1988, when the NAACP built a memorial garden for her at it's Baltimore headquarters that Parker was finally laid to rest.
Her epitaph includes her chosen words, "Excuse my dust."