Saturday

May 24, 2003

Ghosts

by Charles Simic

SATURDAY, 24 MAY 2003
Listen
(RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "Ghosts," by Charles Simic from Walking the Black Cat (Harcourt, Brace & Company).

Ghosts

It's Mr. Brown looking much better
Than he did in the morgue.
He's brought me a huge carp
In a bloodstained newspaper.
What an odd visit.
I haven't thought of him in years.

Linda is with him and so is Sue.
Two pale and elegant fading memories
Holding each other by the hand.
Even their lipstick is fresh
Despite all the scientific proofs
To the contrary.

Is Linda going to cook the fish?
She turns and gazes in the direction
Of the kitchen while Sue
Continues to watch me mournfully.
I don't believe any of it,
And still I'm scared stiff.

I know of no way to respond,
So I do nothing.
The windows are open. The air's thick
With the scent of magnolias.
Drops of evening rain are dripping
From the dark and heavy leaves.
I take a deep breath; I close my eyes.

Dear specters, I don't even believe
You are here, so how is it
You're making me comprehend
Things I would rather not know just yet?

It's the way you stare past me
At what must already be my own ghost,
Before taking your leave,
As unexpectedly as you came in,
Without one of us breaking the silence.

Literary Notes:

It's the birthday of poet Joseph Brodsky, born in St. Petersburg, Russia (1940). He dropped out of high school at the age of 15 and had a number of odd jobs, including geologic prospector and boiler-room stoker. During this time, he began writing poetry and learned English and Polish so that he could read work not yet translated into Russian. In the process, he became familiar with the works of Kafka, Proust, and Faulkner. His poetry became quite popular in underground circulation, and he was recognized as one of the leading young poets of his generation. His reputation earned the attention of the secret police, and he was tried and convicted in 1964 of "social parasitism" and sentenced to five years' hard labor in a Siberian work camp. His sentence was commuted after 18 months because of protests from around the world, but after his release he was continually harassed for being a poet and being Jewish. He left Russia in 1972 for the United States, an involuntary exile. He served as visiting poet at several universities, including Columbia and Mount Holyoke, where he taught for 15 years. During his time in the United States, Brodsky wrote poetry primarily in English and adopted the task of translating his prior work himself. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1987 and served as the Poet Laureate of the United States from 1991-1992. He said, "There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them."

It's the birthday of singer-songwriter Robert Allen Zimmerman, better known as Bob Dylan, born in Duluth, Minnesota (1941). After an uneventful childhood in Hibbing, he moved to Minneapolis in 1959 to study art at the University of Minnesota. It was there that he became interested in the music of Hank Williams and Woodie Guthrie. He listened to their music voraciously, neglected classes, and began to perform in coffee shops under the name "Bob Dylan." In 1961, he dropped out of school and moved to New York, where he became a fixture in the famous folk music scene of Greenwich Village. He also made the acquaintance of his hero Woodie Guthrie, who was in the hospital with a rare disease of the nervous system. Dylan went to his bedside and performed Guthrie's own songs for him. His performances in New York earned him a recording contract, but it wasn't until his second album The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan (1963) that he became famous, with such songs as "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right," "Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall," and "Blowin' in the Wind."

On this day in 1844, Samuel F. B. Morse sent the first telegraph message from Washington, D.C. to Baltimore. Morse sent the line, "What hath God wrought?", a Bible verse taken from Numbers 23:23. Morse devised a series of dots and dashes to represent the alphabet, which came to be known as "Morse code." The first transcontinental telegraph line was completed in 1861, which brought an end to the Pony Express as the fastest form of communication. It marked the beginning of the telecommunications industry.

On this day in 1883, the Brooklyn Bridge was opened to the public. Taking nearly 14 years to complete, it spans the East River of New York City and links Brooklyn and Manhattan. Its 1.3 mile length made it the longest suspension bridge in the world when it first opened. On its first day of operation, more than 150,000 people crossed over. They each paid a one-cent toll.


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

 









«

»

  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
  • “I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.” —Anne Tyler
  • “Writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig” —Stephen Greenblatt
  • “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • “Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” —John Edgar Wideman
  • “In certain ways writing is a form of prayer.” —Denise Levertov
  • “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Let's face it, writing is hell.” —William Styron
  • “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann
  • “Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials.” —Paul Rudnick
  • “Writing is a failure. Writing is not only useless, it's spoiled paper.” —Padget Powell
  • “Writing is very hard work and knowing what you're doing the whole time.” —Shelby Foote
  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
  • “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.” —Iris Murdoch
  • “The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is…that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
  • “Writing is a combination of intangible creative fantasy and appallingly hard work.” —Anthony Powell
  • “I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act.” —Michael Cunningham
The Writer's Almanac on Facebook


The Writer's Almanac on Twitter

Subscribe to our daily newsletter for poems, prose and literary history every morning
An interview with Sharon Olds at The Writer's Almanac Bookshelf
Current Faves - Learn more about poets featured frequently on the show
O, What a Luxury

Although he has edited several anthologies of his favorite poems, O, What a Luxury: Verses Lyrical, Vulgar, Pathetic & Profound forges a new path for Garrison Keillor, as a poet of light verse. Purchase O, What a Luxury »