Feb. 9, 2001

To the Days

by Adrienne Rich

FRIDAY, 9 February 2001
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Poem: "To the Days," by Adrienne Rich, from Dark Fields of the Republic (W.W. Norton).

To the Days

From you I want more than I've ever asked,
all of it—the newscasters' terrible stories
of life in my time, the knowing it's worse than that,
much worse—the knowing what it means to be lied to.

Fog in the mornings, hunger for clarity,
coffee and bread with sour plum jam.
Numbness of soul in placid neighborhoods.
Lives ticking on as if.

A typewriter's torrent, suddenly still.
Blue soaking through fog, two dragonflies wheeling.
Acceptable levels of cruelty, steadily rising.
Whatever you bring in your hands, I need to see it.

Suddenly I understand the verb without tenses.
To smell another woman's hair, to taste her skin.
To know the bodies drifting underwater.
To be human, said Rosa—I can't teach you that.

A cat drinks from a bowl of marigolds—his moment.
Surely the love of life is never ending,
the failure of nerve, a charred fuse?
I want more from you than I ever knew to ask.

Wild pink lilies erupting, tasseled stalks of corn
in the Mexican gardens, corn and roses.
Shortening days, strawberry fields in ferment
with tossed-aside, bruised fruit.

It's the birthday of humorist and playwright George Ade, born in Kentland, Indiana (1866). His daily column for the Chicago Record, "Stories of the Streets and of the Town," evolved into the popular Fables in Slang (1899). The book was a best seller, and he followed with 11 more humorous volumes. He turned to the theater with equal success, and at one point had three plays running simultaneously in New York. He bought a 2,400-acre estate near his home town and entertained lavishly.

 "My enthusiasms include golf, travel, horse-racing and the spoken drama. My antipathies are social show-offs, bigots on religion, fanatics on total abstinence, and all persons who take themselves seriously."

It's the birthday of writer and playwright Brendan Behan, born in Dublin, Ireland (1923), into a working-class family. His father was a Republican activist; his uncle wrote the Irish national anthem. Behan was arrested for activities connected to the IRA, and sentenced to an English borstal, or reform school—an experience he later recounted in his autobiographical novel, Borstal Boy (1958). His first play, The Quare Fellow, is set in a prison. It was rejected by both the Abbey and the Gate theaters before being staged at the experimental Pike Theater, to great acclaim

"I've never seen a situation so dismal a policeman couldn't make it worse."

It's the birthday of poet Amy Lowell, born in Brookline, Massachusetts (1874), the daughter of a prominent Boston family. One brother became president of Harvard University and another was a distinguished astronomer. She wrote her first serious poem at 28 after seeing a performance by the actress Eleanora Duse. She gave readings and lectures all over the country, telling reticent audiences, "Well, clap or hiss, I don't care which, but for Christ's sake, do something!" She was a large, outspoken woman who liked cigars, dogs and detective stories. She was intrigued by the Imagist movement in poetry—Ezra Pound referred to her followers as "Amygists." When her brother was president of Harvard, he got a call from an auto mechanic saying, "Some big, fat dame whose engine broke down wants to charge the bill to you—claims she's your sister. She's across the road, sittin' on a stone wall, smokin' a cigar." The president of Harvard said, "That's my sister, all right."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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