Friday

Aug. 5, 2005

One Day You'll Knock and a Stranger Will Come to the Door

by Charles Darling

FRIDAY, 5 AUGUST, 2005
Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "One Day You'll Knock and a Stranger Will Come to the Door" by Charles Darling, from The Saints of Diminished Capacity. © Second Wind Press. Reprinted with permission.

"One Day you'll knock and a stranger
will come to the door
"
  —Linda, in Death of a Salesman

My parents write to announce—
after the predictable weather report
and brief obituary of someone I never knew—

that they're moving to Tennessee.
My sister in Knoxville has told them of forsythia
in February, of robins that punctuate the lawn

by Groundhog Day. After forty years of Lake Effect,
my parents are weary of snow.
Imagining how my father's garden

will surrender to volunteers of odds and ends,
inscrutable vegetables surprised at their
     own appearance,
I give them my blessing, thinking—as self intrudes—

yes, move while you can, and on your own.
But after they're gone, what stranger will answer
     my knock
at that door? What look will come to her face

when a bearded, absurdly tall man,
who seems close to tears, walks in and
tries to explain why tomatoes and marigolds

shoot up overnight in the lawn, why
in the fall her kitchen seems heavy with steam
     and she hears
in the night the tinkling of a hundred mason jars?


Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of one of the great French short story writers Guy de Maupassant, born in Normandy (1850). In just ten years, in his 30s, he wrote most of the work for which we remember him, including 300 stories and five novels.


It's the birthday of the poet and novelist Conrad Aiken, Savannah, Georgia (1889). When he was just 11, his father shot Aiken's mother and then himself. Aiken wrote about it in his autobiography Ushant. He wrote, "After the desultory early-morning quarrel, came the half-stifled scream, and the sound of [my] father's voice counting three, and the two loud pistol shots and [I] tiptoed into the dark room, where the two bodies lay motionless, and apart, and, finding them dead, found [myself] possessed of them forever."


It's the birthday of Wendell Berry, born in Port Royal, Kentucky (1934). He grew up on farmland that had been in his family since 1803. His great grandparents and grandparents had lived and farmed in the area. He learned how to plow with a team of mules, no tractors. Wendell Berry said, "I began my life as the old times and the last of the old-time people were dying out ... If I had been born five years later I would have begun in a different world, and would no doubt have become a different man."

Wendell Berry had an uncle who he described as "an inspired tinkerer with broken gadgetry and furniture ... and a teller of wonderful bedtime stories," And his uncle had a cabin up in the woods, and Berry often went up there as a kid to get away from everything, when he was feeling melancholic and rebellious.

He went away to school at a military academy, went on to college, and graduate school. He lived in California, Italy, and New York City but never stopped thinking about that place in Kentucky. He often went back to that old cabin of his uncle's. He decided to restore it and turn it into a writer's retreat, and that was the beginning of Wendell Berry's decision to move back to the area permanently and to write his poems and fiction and essays about farm life and farming communities.


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 »