May 9, 2001

Make Yourself Invisible

by Charles Simic

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Poem: "Make Yourself Invisible," by Charles Simic, from Walking the Black Cat (Harcourt Brace & Co.)

Make Yourself Invisible

Drew islands with palm trees
My sister did.
The beaches were empty.
We wanted to lie on their hot sand
And drink lemonade.

Read your book and be quiet,
They yelled at us from the kitchen.

That spring we could smell lilacs
During the blackout.
Boom! Boom! The bombs fell
While a dog barked bravely
In someone's back yard.

Make yourself invisible,
The old witch said.
From now on, we were breadcrumbs
In a dark forest
Where the little red birds
Had just fallen silent.

It's the birthday of poet and translator Charles Simic, born in Belgrade (1938) at a time when it was under attack by air strikes and bombing campaigns from both the Nazis and the Allies. At the age of 15, he immigrated to the United States and completed high school outside of Chicago. His first poems were published when he was just 21; his first full-length collection was called What the Grass Says (1967). Since then he has published more than 60 books, including The World Doesn't End: Prose Poems, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1990. His most recent book, A Fly in the Soup (2001), is a memoir of his earliest childhood and young adulthood.

It's the birthday of playwright and humorist Alan Bennett, born in Leeds, England (1934). He's probably best known for his screenplay for the film The Madness of King George (1994). His first novel came out in February of 2001: The Clothes They Stood Up In. It's the story of a man and a woman who come home from the opera one night to find that their home has been robbed of everything they own.

It's the birthday of poet Mona Van Duyn, born in Waterloo, Iowa (1921).

It's the birthday of writer Richard Adams, born in Newbury, England (1920). He used to tell stories to his young daughters about rabbits, and the girls urged him to write them down. He did, and they became the novel Watership Down, which was a huge best seller when it came out in 1972.

It's the birthday of broadcast journalist Mike Wallace, born Myron Leon Wallace in Brookline, Massachusetts (1918). He started out as an actor and announcer on such popular radio series as The Lone Ranger and The Green Hornet. In the mid 1950s, he started broadcasting an hour-long weekly talk show called Night Beat, where he developed his style of interviewing.

It's the birthday of children's writer and illustrator William Pène du Bois, born in Nutley, New Jersey (1916). He started out to be an architect, but just before he was about to enter college, he sold his first children's book, The Great Geppy. His most famous book is The Twenty-One Balloons (1984).

It's the birthday of author and animal trainer Barbara Woodhouse, born in County Dublin, Ireland (1910). At the age of 70 she became famous on television - first in England, then in the United States - with her show, Training Dogs the Woodhouse Way.

It's the birthday of playwright and author J(ames) M(atthew) Barrie, born in Kirriemuir, Scotland (1860). A lonely boy, the 9th of 10 children, he was very short, and melancholy all of his life. He created one of the most memorable literary characters in history: Peter Pan. The play premiered in London in 1904. Though it was tremendously successful, he lived the last 21 of his life as a recluse, suffering from depression.

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