Monday

Jun. 9, 2003

My Father at 85

by Robert Bly

MONDAY, 9 JUNE 2003
Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "My Father At 85," by Robert Bly from Common Ground (Dacotah Territory Press).

My Father At 85

His large ears hear
everything.
A hermit wakes
and sleeps
in a hut underneath
his gaunt cheeks.
His eyes blue,
alert, dis-
appointed and suspicious
complain
I do not bring him
the same sort of jokes
the nurses do.
He is a small bird
waiting to be fed,
mostly beak,
an eagle or a vulture
or the Pharoah's servant
just before death.
My arm on the bedrail
rests there,
relaxed, with new love.
All I know of the Troubadours
I bring
to this bed.
I do not want
or need
to be shamed
by him
any longer.
The general of shame
has discharged him
and left him in this
small provincial
Egyptian town.
If I do not wish
to shame him, then
why not
love him?
His long hands,
large, veined, capable,
can still retain
hold of what he wanted.
But is that
what he desired?
Some powerful
river of desire
goes on flowing
through him.
He never phrased
what he desired,
and I am
his son.

Literary Notes:

It's the birthday of the man who wrote "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To," and many other classic songs, Cole Porter, born in Peru, Indiana in 1893. Cole Porter went to Yale University, where he got horrible grades but wrote and performed over three hundred songs for school shows. He went off to Europe and eventually settled in Paris, where he lived for most of the 1920s. He was known for playing piano and singing tunes at fancy parties in his apartment, which was decorated with zebra skin furniture, platinum-colored wallpaper and ceiling-high mirrors. In 1928, he wrote his first big hit, "Let's Do It, Let's Fall in Love," which begins, "Birds do it. Bees do it. Even educated fleas do it." After that his career took off, and he ended up writing hundreds of songs for movies, television, and Broadway shows. He had some of his biggest hits in the '40s and '50s, including Kiss Me, Kate (1948). In his spare time in between writing hit shows, Cole Porter learned five languages and took astronomy classes, so almost all of his songs had something in them about the moon or the stars. He said, "My sole inspiration is a telephone call from a producer." In the song "Brush Up Your Shakespeare," he wrote the lines:

Brush up your Shakespeare,
Start quoting him now,
Brush up your Shakespeare,
And the women you will wow.

It's the birthday of American playwright John Howard Payne, born in New York City in 1791. He's remembered today for writing the song "Home Sweet Home," which was first performed in 1823 as part of the opera Clari, the Maid of Milan. The song begins, "Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam, / Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home." Payne thought it was ironic that he had written this song; he spent the last years of his life in Tunisia, Africa, 4,360 miles away from his childhood home in New York City. He wrote, "I never had a home of my own, and never expect to have one now."

It was on this day in 1899 that the manager for boxer Jim Jeffries introduced the great cliché, "The bigger they come, the harder they fall." Jeffries went on to knock out his larger opponent, Bob Fitzsimmons, in the eleventh round to win the Heavyweight Championship of the World.

It's the birthday of American mystery novelist Patricia Cornwell, born in Miami, Florida in 1956, the author of Postmortem (1991), The Body Farm (1994), and Hornet's Nest (1997), among many other books. She worked as a medical examiner, a volunteer police officer, and a crime reporter for the Charlotte Observer before she wrote her first novel in 1991.


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 Jeffrey Harrison 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 »