Wednesday

Nov. 9, 2005

The Best Ex-Husband You Could Ever Ask For

by Elizabeth W. Garber

WEDNESDAY, 9 NOVEMBER, 2005
Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "The Best Ex-Husband You Could Ever Ask For" by Elizabeth W. Garber from Listening Inside the Dance: A Life in Maine Infused with Tango.© The Illuminated Sea Press, 2005. Reprinted with permission.

The Best Ex-Husband You Could Ever Ask For

Traveling with my Ex,
we take our daughter and her friend to New York City.
Since we were traveling the same way,
it only made sense.

We settle into an old comfort,
the familiarity of all the years of car trips with our children,
as the girls chatter away in the backseat.
We worry about our sleep-deprived son at college,
and share our amazement at his last paper
he'd emailed both of us for our editing comments.

It's been six years of unwinding the knotted battles,
until they've mostly vanished, forgotten.
What were those battles all about,
when it felt like I was fighting for my life?

He talks of his girlfriend,
of living without making plans.
I gently hold him at a distance,
as he continues to vaguely court me.
as he, perhaps, vaguely courts all women.
We drive, facing our unknown lives ahead,
wondering about what still waits to be lived.

Mid trip, my mind goes blank with his talk
in all the old familiar ways.
This used to feel like dying, again and again.
Today it's like being a tourist
at a historic battleground.
Grass has grown over all the bloodshed.

We settle into the easy silence
of long married couples,
smiling as we overhear the conversations from the backseat.

It is good to find peace.
No furious expectations haunt us,
no heartbreaking slights,
no land-mined conversations.

We are thoughtful about simple things.
Thank you for driving,
for packing food, for trading off on paying tolls,
for finding this great Salsa club in Soho for our teenaged daughter.

We sit together, the parents, smiling and slightly anxious
as a man asks our daughter to dance.
We stand up as well, but tentatively,
following a rhythm and steps we don't know,
dancing like chaste old friends.
We are careful,
discovering this new dance.


Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1906 that Teddy Roosevelt went against more than a century of tradition and became the first American president ever to leave the country while in office. He went to view the construction site of the Panama Canal.

Before Roosevelt, it was assumed that a President of the United States couldn't oversee the country effectively if he traveled abroad. It would take too long for him to communicate with government officials back home. But with the invention of the telegraph and then the telephone, high speed communication had grown much more feasible.

So on this day in 1906, Roosevelt and his wife climbed aboard the U.S.S. Louisiana and sailed south. The journey to Panama made Roosevelt happier than he'd been in a long while. He strolled the decks with his wife, read a stack of books he'd brought with him, including Tacitus and Milton, and the captain even let him steer the ship at one point. When he got to Panama itself, he was so impressed by the jungle and the tropical wildlife that he didn't even mind the torrential rains.

The chief engineer had the incredibly difficult task of accompanying Roosevelt everywhere he went. He said, "I have blisters on both feet and am worn outůScaling a hill with Roosevelt is like taking a fort by storm." They took a train to the construction site, but when Roosevelt saw the first 95-ton steam shovel, he ordered that the train be stopped so that he could hike through the mud to see the steam shovel up close. It was a new invention at the time, and Roosevelt spent a half an hour asking about its operation. He then took a turn at the controls.

The photograph of the president at the controls of the steam shovel became one of the most popular images of Roosevelt at the time. His decision to build the Panama Canal had been a controversial one, in part because he had to engineer the independence of Panama from Columbia in order to have access to the land, but by the time he traveled to Panama himself, he had won the people over to the idea.


Today is the anniversary of Kristallnacht, the night in 1938 when German Nazis coordinated a nationwide attack on Jewish homes, businesses, and synagogues. The attack was inspired by the murder of a German diplomat by a Jew in Paris. When Hitler heard the news, he got the idea to stage a mass uprising in response. He and Joseph Goebbels contacted storm troopers around the country, and told them to attack Jewish buildings but to make the attacks look like spontaneous demonstrations. The police were told not to interfere with the demonstrators, but instead to arrest the Jewish victims. Fire fighters were told only to put out fires in any adjacent Aryan properties. Everyone cooperated.

In all, more than 1,000 synagogues were burned or destroyed. Rioters looted about 7,500 Jewish businesses and vandalized Jewish hospitals, homes, schools, and cemeteries. Many of the attackers were neighbors of the victims.

The event was called Kristallnacht, which means, "Night of Broken Glass." It's generally considered the official beginning of the Holocaust.


It's the birthday of the poet Anne Sexton, born Anne Harvey in Newton, Massachusetts (1928). Most critics consider her best poems to be those in her first two books To Bedlam and Partway Back (1960) and All My Pretty Ones (1962). Her collection Live or Die (1966) won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. She committed suicide in 1974.


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 »