Sunday

Aug. 11, 2002

The Loon

by Mary Oliver

SUNDAY, 11 AUGUST 2002
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Poem: "The Loon," by Mary Oliver from What Do We Know (Da Capo Press).

The Loon

Not quite four a.m., when the rapture of being alive
strikes me from sleep, and I rise
from the comfortable bed and go
to another room, where my books are lined up
in their neat and colorful rows. How

magical they are! I choose one
and open it. Soon
I have wandered in over the waves of the words
to the temple of thought.

                                            And then I hear
outside, over the actual waves, the small,
perfect voice of the loon. He is also awake,
and with his heavy head uplifted he calls out
to the fading moon, to the pink flush
swelling in the east that, soon,
will become the long, reasonable day.

                                                  Inside the house
it is still dark, except for the pool of lamplight
in which I am sitting.

                              I do not close the book.

Neither, for a long while, do I read on.

It's the birthday of playwright David Hwang, born in Los Angeles, California (1957). His father was an immigrant to the United States from Shanghai, his mother was an ethnic Chinese who grew up in the Philippines. His best-known play is M. Butterfly (1988), based on the true story of a French diplomat who had a long affair with a Chinese actress who was later revealed to be a man in drag.

It's the birthday of Pakistani novelist Bapsi Sidhwa, born in Karachi, Pakistan (1938). She's known as the finest Pakistani novelist writing in English. Her first novel was The Crow Eaters (1980; reissued 1992), followed by The Bride (1983) and Cracking India (1991)--all set in Pakistan. Her fourth novel, An American Brat (1993), is set in the United States. It's about a Pakistani girl sent to the United States to escape the Islamic fundamentalism of her home country.

It's the birthday of historian Jonathan D. Spence, born in England (1936). He's known for accessible and unconventional books that combine scholarship and imagination to bring alive different periods in Chinese history. Those books include The Gate of Heavenly Peace: The Chinese and Their Revolution, 1895-1980 (1981) and The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci (1984). His latest is Treason by the Book (2001).

It's the birthday of novelist and short story writer Andre Dubus, born in Lake Charles, Louisiana (1936). He wrote highly-praised stories about lonely frustrated people, and the lack of understanding between men and women. His collections of short stories include Separate Flights (1975), We Don't Live Here Anymore (1984) and Dancing After Hours (1996). One of his stories was adapted as the film In the Bedroom (2001).

It's the birthday of author Alex Haley, born in Ithaca, New York (1921). He enlisted in the Coast Guard as a mess boy in 1939 and used every opportunity he got to work on his writing. Eventually, the Coast Guard created a new rank for him, "chief journalist," which is the rank he held when he retired from the service in 1959. After that, he became a freelance writer. His first major success came with The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965), which he based on conversations he had with the slain civil rights leader. Millions of Americans, though, came to know him as the author of Roots (1976), the fictionalized saga that follows his own ancestors from Africa, to slavery in America, to freedom.

It's the birthday of poet Louise Bogan, born in Livermore Falls, Maine (1897). In 1931, she became the poetry editor for the New Yorker magazine, a post she held until 1969. She said: "It's silly to suggest the writing of poetry is something ethereal, a sort of soul-crashing, devastating emotional experience that wrings you. I have no fancy idea about poetry. It's not like embroidery or painting or silk. It doesn't come to you on the wings of a dove. It's something you have to work hard at."

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

 









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