Thursday

Oct. 20, 2005

Old Roses

by Kate Barnes

THURSDAY, 20 OCTOBER, 2005
Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "Old Roses" by Kate Barnes from Kneeling Orion. © David R. Godine. Reprinted with permission.

Old Roses

When my father met my mother
at a dinner party in a garden of very old roses
on Beacon Hill one hot evening
in early June, he said to his friend, F. Morton
Smith, that night, "Morton, I have met
the girl I'm going to marry!"
                                           (We have Uncle Morton's
testimony for that, the certified word
of a Boston lawyer.)
                                  My mother
said my father had looked handsome, yes,
and talked delightfully, but what she remembered
were the mosquitoes. "If you stopped slapping at them,
even for a second, you were eaten up
alive."
            My father courted her
for the next ten years, whenever they found themselves
in the same place. It was the twenties then,
heyday of ocean liners, and she might be
in Paris, or maybe off getting
run away with by a hairy, two-humped camel
in the Gobi Desert, while he was crossing
the Pyrenees on foot; but, at last, on another
steamy hot day in Massachusetts, as she,
still wet from the bath, lay naked upstairs
on her sister's bed, she heard the wedding march
start up on the grand piano
directly below her. She sprang to her feet,
threw on her cream-colored dress with a dipping hemline,
and flung herself down the narrow old staircase
straight into the arms of matrimony – which were wearing
an English jacket of dark blue wool for the occasion,
splendid, but unendurable.
                                             Would anyone say
the marriage was a happy one? I don't think
I know. Sometimes. Perhaps. I can't imagine
either of them with anyone else. Years later, I,
a greedy child, crouched in the dark cabinet
under the attic stairs, and wolfed down
the last slice of their wedding cake, dried out fruitcake
in a little box covered with silver paper
and lined with paper lace, a keepsake
for wedding guests to slip under their pillows
that night so that they, too, would dream the bright moon
rolling her way through silver light, singing stars
clustering under the clouds.
                                              Those crumbs
became the bones in my seven-year-old body –
and they're in there yet – while the dreams
sing on in my head forever, like mosquitoes
whining among the leaves of thorny old roses.


Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the architect Sir Christopher Wren, born at East Knoyle, Wiltshire, England (1632). He designed many buildings, including the Windsor Town Hall which building inspectors said was supported by an inadequate number of pillars, and so Wren added four more pillars, none of which touched the ceiling.

He's best known for his 35-year restoration of St. Paul's Cathedral after the Great Fire of London (1666). He's buried in St. Paul's under the epitaph "Lector, si monumentum requiris, circumspice—Reader, if you seek his monument, look around."


It's the birthday of the poet Arthur Rimbaud, born in Charleville, France (1854).


In 1892, the city of Chicago dedicated the World's Columbian Exposition on this day.


It's the birthday of the poet Robert Pinsky, born in Long Branch, New Jersey (1940). He's famous for his own poems and also for his translation of Dante's Inferno.


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 »