Our Loss

[This year is the 20th anniversary of Cape Cod Light by Michael Hattersley. The other parts of this series are here.]

In 1984 Michael joined the faculty at the Harvard Business School teaching Management Communication, and became cochairman of the program. The course heads taught via case study, looking at a specific communication challenge faced by a particular business and discussing them.

Michael let me sit in on a class when I visited him once (I must have been 11 or 12) and I was struck by how this graduate course (I didn’t know what a graduate course was at the time) was very different from elementary school. The entire class time was a discussion, and students were expected to come prepared having done the reading about the case, which Michael or one of the other course heads had written.There were no answers, only good and bad analysis.

Michael did not actually teach at HBS all that long; he was already transitioning to life as a writer on the Cape with David full time when we arrived in 1989. His first big project was writing a textbook with a fellow course head, containing many of the cases they had developed. The first edition was published in 1997 it was successful for a while, especially the Chinese translation. It still has its value, but it was written when email was still a novelty (there was a short, rather naïve section towards the end about how formal emails should be). It’s on the third edition now; we in the family have thought about updating it posthumously to revive it, but even revising a textbook is a lot of work.

While he lived in Boston, Michael developed a circle of friends; one of the most frequent visitors to the apartment included Robert Kent, his fellow cochairman at HBS, who became a good family friend of ours. Robert and his partner Ron were his and David’s regular bridge opponents in the evening. Michael also became friends with Richard Schneider, founder of the Gay and Lesbian Review, where Michael was a regular contributor.

The twenty-third poem in Cape Cod Light is Our Loss. It appears to be about another Harvard colleague—or at least about someone he knew for a long while, including in Cambridge—but we are not sure who it is. “You spent ten years writing about how you’d set yourself against the elements for three weeks” is a very characteristically Michael way to disparage a one-trick-phony.

Our Loss

You knew how to play. That’s what vanished over the years.
Now that you started taking yourself seriously;
You’d always done that.
I remember when you were a dancer, and, even at the end, they say,
Among strangers, you could crank yourself up to be the life of the part.
Something was denied.
Nothing could reach the essential betrayal.
When you had love, it was wrong.
When you’d thrown it away
You were the victim of a tragedy.
No more thoroughly urbanized American
Was more determined to pose as a child of nature.
You spent ten years
Writing about how you’d set yourself against the elements
For three weeks. Now you’re dead,
Crushed into the tarmac of a country road,
Now that you’ve been dead four years,
Why am I still angry at you
As if we’d just had a tense lunch in Harvard Square?
Maybe it’s the methodological determination
With which you strangled the playful child you loved and despised.


The next poem is here.

1 thought on “Our Loss

  1. Debbie

    It’s funny that Michael had a section in his book about the formality of email. I remember emailing him and always feeling that I should be very careful with my grammar and punctuation. I mentioned it to him once and he just laughed, telling me that wasn’t necessary. I also remember telling him about a party I attended at one of my co-workers homes. A good portion of the attendees were from Provincetown and many were interesting characters. When I told Michael about them in an email, he responded, “How did you end up mixed up with that bunch?” He was a good guy. I miss him too.

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