Sep. 15, 2001

Staying at Ed's Place

by May Swenson

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Poem: "Staying At Ed's Place," by May Swenson from New and Selected, Things Taking Place (Houghton Mifflin).

Staying At Ed's Place

I like being in your apartment, and not disturbing anything.
As in the woods I wouldn't want to move a tree,
or change the play of sun and shadow on the ground.

The yellow kitchen stool belongs right there
against white plaster. I haven't used your purple towel
because I like the accidental cleft of shade you left in it.

At your small six-sided table, covered with mysterious
dents in the wood like a dartboard, I drink my coffee
from your brown mug. I look into the clearing

of your high front room, where sunlight slopes through bare
window squares. Your Afghanistan hammock,
    a man-sized cocoon
slung from wall to wall, your narrow desk and typewriter

are the only furniture. Each morning your light from the east
douses me where, with folded legs, I sit in your meadow,
a casual spread of brilliant carpets. Like a cat or dog

I take a roll, then, stretched out flat
in the center of color and pattern, I listen
to the remote growl of trucks over cobbles on
    Bethune Street below.

When I open my eyes I discover the peaceful blank
of the ceiling. Its old paint-layered surface is moonwhite
and trackless, like the Sea—of Tranquillity.

It's the birthday of Fawn Brodie, born in Ogden, Utah (1915), who became a writer of biography and was known for her incorporation of psychological analysis into biography in her book on the life of Joseph Smith, leader of the Mormons, on account of which she was excommunicated from the Mormon church. Her biography of Thomas Jefferson was also controversial for it's extensive examination of Jefferson's liaison with the slave Sally Hemings.

It's the birthday of the film director Jean Renoir, born in the Montmartre district of Paris (1894), a son of the impressionist painter, Pierre August Renoir. He was taken with motion pictures when he watched quite a few while recovering from an injury in WWI—began as a screenwriter, became a director to make sure his screenplays were done right, and made Grand Illusion in 1937 and The Rules of the Game (1939). He also wrote a memoir, Renoir, my Father (1962).

It's the birthday of Dame Agatha Christie, born in Torquay, England, in 1890. Her first detective novel was The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920), which introduced her famous detective, Hercule Poirot, who appeared in many of her 60 detective novels, which have sold hundreds of millions of copies.

It's the birthday of humorist Robert Benchley, born in Worcester, Massachusetts (1889). He went to Harvard, wrote for the Harvard Lampoon, and was known for the final exam for an international law course, in which he argued the merits of a fisheries dispute from the point of view of the fish. Benchley became a theater critic in New York, then a writer of short humorous essays for The New Yorker, and went to Hollywood in the '30s where he starred in short features, such as "The Treasurer's Report" and "How to Sleep," and "The Courtship of the Newt." Robert Benchley, who said: "It took me 15 years to discover that I had no talent for writing, but I couldn't give it up because by that time I was too famous."

It's the birthday of the poet and novelist Claude McKay, born in Sunny Ville, Jamaica (1889). He moved to the United States as a young man, to Alabama and then Kansas, where he was shocked by the racism he observed. He moved to New York City where he was a leading light in the Harlem Renaissance movement. He spent much of his adult life in Europe, first Russia, then France and Spain. Aside from his poetry, he is known today for his novels Home to Harlem, (1928), Banjo (1929) and Banana Bottom (1933).

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