Jul. 14, 2001


by Susan Ludvigson

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Poem: "Returning," by Susan Ludvigson from Sweet Confluence (Louisiana State University Press).


It must be genetic, proof that the road
is not a series of signs to be deciphered
but a place the mind already knows.
We never can say how we got there,
but find ourselves back where we started,
hearts pizzicato at every missed turn
in a world designed to dissuade us ever
from leaving home.

Once in a country where I
knew neither landscape nor language,
a new friend lent me his car
and waved me off. I arrived
at a walled city, climbed through a maze
of golden streets and rested in a café.
Later, the missing purse—
passport, money, keys. The name
of my friend's village gone like a dream
too many hours after waking. Breathless,

blinded by panic, I ran through that network
of narrow lanes, the cobblestones Braille.
At last—the café. The owner shook her finger,
railed, and handed me the bag I'd left,
everything intact. After that I wound my way
through dusk, through villages I had not passed
to the place I'd begun. I think

it's a kind of grace—like geometry,
where right answers come through paths
we can never retrace—showing we're blessed.
Lost, lost, we cry, but return
like pigeons whose routes are unerring, unearned.

Today is Bastille Day, the great national holiday of France, and it was on this day in 1789 that the people of Paris stormed the old prison known as the Bastille, marking the beginning of the French Revolution.

It's the birthday of writer and film director Ingmar Bergman, born in Uppsala, Sweden, in 1918.

It's the birthday of singer and songwriter Woody Guthrie, born in Okeman, Oklahoma, in 1912. He left home when he was 15, riding the rails across the country as a hobo, learning songs and writing his own. He wrote 26 songs in one month, and his songs include "Roll On, Columbia," and "This Land is Your Land."

It's the birthday of writer Isaac Bashevis Singer, born in Radzymin, Poland, in 1904. His father and both his grandfathers were rabbis, and he was expected to become one, too. While attending a seminary in Warsaw, he decided to follow in the footsteps of his older brother, Israel, and become a secular writer. He wrote his first work in Hebrew, but he soon switched to Yiddish, the language he wrote in for the rest of his life. He followed his brother to America in 1935 and joined the staff of the Jewish Daily Forward, which serialized his next novel, The Family Moskat, and printed most of his fiction from then on. He wrote about the demons of Jewish folklore, the lost villages of Poland, and the lives of immigrants in America in many books including The Magician of Lublin, Enemies, a Love Story, and The Penitent. Issac Bashevis Singer , who won the Nobel Prize in 1978, and he once said: "God gave us so many emotions, and so many strong ones. Every human being, even if he is an idiot, is a millionaire in emotions."

It's the birthday of novelist Irving Stone, born in San Francisco in 1903. As a young aspiring playwright, he went to Paris and stumbled upon an exhibition of the paintings of Vincent Van Gogh. He was inspired to write a novel, Lust for Life, which was an immediate bestseller.

It's the birthday of novelist Owen Wister, born in Philadelphia in 1860. He was a Harvard graduate studying music in Paris when poor health led him to spend a summer in Wyoming. The experience helped to inspire his best-known book The Virginian, published in 1902, which contains the famous line, "When you call me that, smile." The movie version of the novel helped make a star out of Gary Cooper.

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




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