Jan. 14, 2001
Poem: “January,” by Baron Wormser, from Mulroney and Others (Sarabande Books).
"Cold as the moon," he'd mutter
In the January of 5 A.M and 15 below
As he tried to tease the old Chev into greeting
one more misanthropic morning.
It was an art (though he never
Used that curious word) as he thumped
The gas pedal and turned the key
So carefully while he held his breath
And waited for the sharp jounce
And roar of an engaged engine.
"Shoulda brought in the battery last night."
"Shoulda got up around midnight
And turned it over once."
It was always early rising as he'd worked
A lifetime "in every damn sort
Of damn factory." Machines were
As natural to him as dogs and flowers.
A machine, as he put it, "was sensible."
I was so stupid about values and intakes
He thought I was some religious type.
How had I lived as long as I had
And remained so out of it?
And why had I moved of my own free will
To a place that prided itself
On the blunt misery of January?
"No way to live," he'd say as he poked
A finger into the frozen throat
Of an unwilling carburetor.
His breath hung in the air
Like a white balloon.
Later on the way to the town where
We worked while the heater
Wheezed fitfully and the windshield
Showed indifference to the defroster
He'd turn to me and say that
The two best things in this world
Were hot coffee and winter sunrises.
The icy road beckoned to no one,
Snow began to drift down sleepily,
The peace of servitude sighed and dreamed
It’s the birthday of writer Anchee Min, born in Shanghai, China (1957). She came to this country in 1984, and a few years later began writing about her experiences in China. The resulting book, Red Azalea, was published in 1994. She has also written two novels, Katherine (1996) and Becoming Madame Mao (2000).
It’s the birthday of American novelist Tillie Olsen, born Tillie Lerner, in Omaha, Nebraska (1913). A young radical, she started work on a novel about the struggles of the working class, but put it aside when she was raising her children. Her short story, “Tell Me a Riddle,” won the O. Henry Award for the best American short story in 1961, and became the title story of her first published book (1962). In Silences (1979), she wrote about the conflict between motherhood and writing.
"Children need you now . . . The very fact that these are real needs, that you feel them as your own, that there is no one else responsible for these needs, gives them primacy. It is distraction, not meditation, that becomes habitual; interruption, not continuity; . . . Unused capacities atrophy, cease to be."
It’s the birthday of novelist John Dos Passos, born in Chicago (1896), to a wealthy family that sent him to Harvard University. He became one of the émigré writers in Paris, part of the circle that included Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and E. E. Cummings. He made his reputation with his novel Manhattan Transfer (1925), followed by The 42nd Parallel (1930), 1919 (1932) and The Big Money (1936).
It’s the birthday of Hugh Lofting, born in Maidenhead, Berkshire, England (1886). When he was 26, he decided to settle in New York City and become a writer, even though he was trained as a civil engineer. He had written letters to his children containing stories about a character named Dr. Dolittle, who was able to talk to animals. In 1922, he came out with The Story of Dr. Dolittle (1922). Its first sequel, The Voyages of Dr. Dolittle (1923), won the Newbery Medal for the best children’s book of the year. Between 1922 and 1929, Lofting produced one Dr. Dolittle book each year. He died in 1947.
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