Tuesday

Nov. 29, 2005

Dutch

by Kay Ryan

Survival Skills

by Kay Ryan

TUESDAY, 29 NOVEMBER, 2005
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Poem:"Survival Skills," and "Dutch," by Kay Ryan from Say Uncle (Grove Press).

Survival Skills

Here is the virtue
in not looking up:
you will be the one
who finds the overhang
out of the sun
and something for a cup.
You will rethink meat;
you will know you have
to eat and will eat.
Despair and hope you keep
remote. You will not
think much about the boat
that sank or other boats.
When you can, you sleep.
You can go on nearly forever.
If you ever are delivered
you are not delivered.
You know now, you were
always a survivor.

Dutch

Much of life
is Dutch
one-digit
operations

in which
legions of
big robust
people crouch

behind
badly cracked
dike systems

attached
by the thumbs

their wide
balloon-pantsed rumps
up-ended to the
northern sun

while, back
in town, little
black-suspendered
tulip magnates
stride around.


Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of C. S. (Clive Staples) Lewis, born in Belfast, Ireland, (1898), the author of the children's series about the land of Narnia. He also wrote The Screwtape Letters (1941), in which he wrote, "The safest road to Hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts." He was a confident Oxford philosopher, not at all prepared to find himself a Christian convert. To his friend Owen Barfield he wrote: "Terrible things have happened to me. The 'Spirit' or 'Real I' is showing an alarming tendency to becoming much more personal and is taking the offensive, and behaving just like God. You'd better come on Monday at the latest or I may have entered a monastery." He said, "Talk to me about the truth of religion and I'll listen gladly. Talk to me about the duty of religion and I'll listen submissively. But don't come talking to me about the consolations of religion or I shall suspect that you don't understand."


It's the birthday of Louisa May Alcott, born in Germantown, Pennsylvania (1832), but brought up in Concord, Massachusetts, among the Transcendentalists, of which her father was one. She's remembered now for Little Women, which she didn't care for at all and found the writing of tedious. In her journal she wrote, "I plod away, though I don't enjoy this sort of thing." She much preferred writing lurid, Gothic stories, about women who sold their souls to the devil, and governesses who looked sweet and innocent by daylight but who ruined the souls of little children by night, which she published under several pen names. Her publishers offered her more money if she would agree to publish under her own name, but she could not bring herself to embarrass her father and his colleague, Ralph Waldo Emerson. To a friend, she wrote: "To have had Mr. Emerson for an intellectual god all one's life is to be invested with a chain armor of propriety."


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