Dec. 30, 2005
Poem: "Desire" by Gail Mazur from Zeppo's First Wife: New and Selected Poems. © University of Chicago Press. Reprinted with permission.
It was a kind of torturewaiting
to be kissed. A dark car parked away
from the street lamp, away from our house
where my tall father would wait, his face
visible at a pane high in the front door.
Was my mother always asleep? A boy
reached for me, I leaned eagerly into him,
soon the windshield was steaming.
Midnight. A neighbor's bedroom light
goes on, then off. The street is quiet...
Until I married, I didn't have my own key,
that wasn't how it worked, not at our house.
You had to wake someone with the bell,
or he was there, waiting. Someone let you in.
Those pleasures on the front seat of a boy's
father's car were "guilty," yet my body knew
they were the only right thing to do,
my body hated the cage it had become.
One of those boys died in a car crash;
one is a mechanic; one's a musician.
They were young and soft, and, mostly, dumb.
I loved their lips, their eyebrows, the bones
of their cheeks, cheeks that scraped mine raw,
so I'd turn away from the parent who let me
angrily in. And always, the next day,
no one at home could penetrate the fog
around me. I'd relive the precious night
as if it were a bridge to my new state
from the old world I'd been imprisoned by,
and I've been allowed to walk on it, to cross
a borderthere's an invisible line
in the middle of the bridge, in the fog,
where I'm released, where I think I'm free.
Literary and Historical Notes:
It's the birthday of short-story writer, poet, and novelist (Joseph) Rudyard Kipling, born in Bombay, India (1865). His father was a British artist who got an appointment to run an art school in Bombay, India, and it was there in Bombay that Kipling grew up surrounded by Hindu servants. He loved his home with its huge garden full of flowering trees. Since he was below the age of caste he was allowed to explore the city freely and meet all kinds of people who told him ghost stories and taught him songs that would have scandalized his parents had they understood the language as well as he did.
But after a series of typhoid and cholera outbreaks Kipling's parents decided to send him back to England for his own safety. They arranged for him to live at the house of a couple they'd contacted through an ad in a newspaper. The woman who ran the house turned out to be much stricter than Kipling's parents. He was constantly being thrown in the basement for various offenses and he was once sent to school with a sign on his back that said, "Liar." He later said, "That made me pay attention to the lies I soon found it necessary to tell: and this, I presume, is the foundation of literary effort." One of his frequent punishments was to be sent to his room to read the Bible which he loved.
He went to an army school for lower middle class boys and spent all his time reading and telling jokes. His father was terrified that after graduation Kipling would move to London to become a bohemian; so instead, he was sent off to the Northwest corner of India where the British were fighting a war with Afghanistan. Kipling got a job there as one of only two staff members on the Civil and Military Gazette, a daily newspaper for British soldiers.
Living in such dangerous country, Kipling developed insomnia that he suffered from for the rest of his life. And so on top of the fifteen hours a day he spent writing newspaper articles about the war, he stayed up late at night writing fiction and poetry for local newspapers. After six years of publishing his work, he sold everything he'd written for 250 pounds to a company that began selling paperback editions of his collected works in railway stations around India.
Those paperback editions became more successful than anyone had ever expected, and suddenly magazines and newspapers were begging Kipling to write for them. Though he'd never fought in a battle himself, his poems about the lives of soldiers became classics among British soldiers around the world. He moved back to London where he'd become a literary celebrity but he found the life of a celebrity did not agree with him.
So he traveled the world for a few years and finally settled in Vermont. And it was there, in a rented cottage surrounded by snow, that he began to re-imagine the India of his childhood and he wrote the book for which he's best known today, The Jungle Book (1894), about a boy raised by wolves who grows up with the other jungle animals.
It's the birthday of novelist Paul Bowles, born in New York City, New York (1910). In 1931 Bowles met Gertrude Stein. She told him he was definitely not a poet and suggested he go to Tangier, Morocco. He did, and Morocco inspired his first and most famous novel was The Sheltering Sky (1949).
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®