Dec. 14, 2001

Winter Song

by Carolyn Kizer

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Poem: "Winter Song," by Carolyn Kizer from Cool, Calm, & Collected Poems 1960-2000 (Copper Canyon Press).

Winter Song

So I go on, tediously on and on...
We are separated, finally, not by death but life.
We cling to the dead, but the living break away.

On my birthday, the waxwings arrive in the garden,
Strip the trees bare as my barren heart.
I put out suet and bread for December birds:
Hung from evergreen branches, greasy gray
Ornaments for the rites of the winter solstice.

How can you and I meet face to face
After our triumphant love?
After our failure?

Since this isolation, it is always cold.
My clothes don't fit. My hair refuses to obey.
And, for the first time, I permit
These little anarchies of flesh and object.
Together, they flick me toward some final defeat.

Thinking of you, I am suddenly old...
A mute spectator as the months wind by.
I have tried to put you out of my mind forever.

Home isn't here. It went away with you,
Disappearing in the space of a breath,
In the time one takes to open a foreknown letter.
My fists are bruised from beating on the ground.
There are clouds between me and the watery light.

Truly, I try to flourish, to find pleasure
Without an endless reference to you
Who made the days and years seem worth enduring.

It's the birthday of short story writer Amy Hempl, born in Chicago (1951). She had a difficult relationship with her mother. The only thing they seemed to have in common was a love of books. She read voraciously, in order to have something to talk about with her mother, and discovered that she wanted to be a writer. Then her mother committed suicide, and Hempl nearly died in a motorcycle accident. To overcome the fear of death that these experiences left her with, she took an anatomy class where she took part in autopsies. She said: "I thought I'd be better off if I could make myself view the whole thing from the scientific side. It absolutely worked." From there, she went on to write three collections of short stories: Reasons to Live (1985), At the Gates of the Animal Kingdom (1990), and Tumble Home (1997).

It's the birthday of poet and cultural critic Stanley Crouch, born in Los Angeles (1945). He started out in the mid-'60s as an actor and jazz drummer, before becoming an instructor at Claremont College in California. His first book was a volume of poems, Ain't No Ambulances for No Nigguhs Tonight (1972). In 1990, he became a contributing editor of The New Republic, and gained national attention for his collection of essays, Notes of a Hanging Judge: Notes and Essays, 1979-1989 (1990). The provocative essays covered a wide range of topics, from feminism and Black Power to boxing and jazz. Two more collections of essays followed: The All-American Skin Game (1995) and Always in Pursuit (1998).

It's the birthday of writer Shirley (Hardie) Jackson, born in San Francisco (1916). As soon as she graduated from Syracuse University, she got married and moved with her husband to New York City, where she landed a position as a staff writer for The New Yorker. That was in 1941. Seven years later, The New Yorker published her most famous story, "The Lottery" (1948), a horror tale about an apparently normal town's deadly secret. Meanwhile, her family had moved to Bennington, Vermont, where her husband taught college and she wrote humorous books about raising her four children and being a faculty wife. The books were Life Among the Savages (1953) and Raising Demons (1957).

On this day in 1911, Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen became the first person to reach the South Pole. He faced a race to the South Pole against the English explorer Robert Falcon Scott. Amundsen set up his base camp on the Ross Sea, sixty miles closer than Scott's camp, and with four companions set out on dog sleds on the race to the Pole. Scott got there one month behind Amundsen, on January 12, 1912.

It's the birthday of artist and critic Roger (Eliot) Fry, born in London (1866). In 1905, he was named director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, where he became famous was his discovery of Cézanne, Matisse, Van Gogh, and other French painters whom he dubbed the Post-Impressionists. His books include Giovanni Bellini (1899), Vision and Design (1920) and Cézanne (1927). He was part of the Bloomsbury circle which included the novelist Virginia Woolf. In 1913 he opened a collective design workshop, the Omega Workshops, where artists, including Woolf's sister, Vanessa Bell, designed practical objects like furniture and clothing.

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