Jul. 14, 2006
Poem: "After" by Lucille Broderson from Beware. © Spout Press. Reprinted with permission.
The eaves sag on the house,
the dog grays,
its eyes film over,
there are lumps on its legs.
It doesn't get you up in the morning.
Even your daughter's love
for you, her Daddy, goes.
You die and she looks at her mother
for the first time.
You leave and your clothes
hang untouched for a year.
On a hanger, a suitcoat with a shirt under it,
a tie folded in at the neck.
Your wife leans against it, crying.
Now your son wears it,
feels comfortable, he says.
He's seen your bankbook, knows
how much money you left.
Your wife raises her face
to another man, wants more from him
than he can ever give.
There's no end to her yearning.
Touching, touching, that's all she wants.
Literary and Historical Notes:
It's the birthday of novelist Owen Wister, (books by this author) born in Germantown, Pennsylvania (1860). He attended Harvard, went to study music in Paris, came back to be a lawyer in Philadelphia, but he became very ill and decided to rest for the summer out in Wyoming. He learned all about the ways of the Old West, keeping diaries on his many trips west of Wyoming. He used his knowledge of life on the frontier to write The Virginian (1902), which became a major success. It made the cowboy into an American folk hero. It also made famous the line, "When you call me that, smile."
It's the birthday of the singer-songwriter Woody Guthrie, born in Okemah, Oklahoma (1913). He wrote "This Land Is Your Land," "Pretty Boy Floyd," "Vigilante Man," "Hobo's Lullaby," "Hard, Ain't it Hard," "Pastures of Plenty," "This Train is Bound for Glory," "I Got No Home in the World Anymore," "Billy the Kid."
It's the birthday of short-story writer Isaac Bashevis Singer, (books by this author) born in Leoncin, Poland (1904). His father failed to finish rabbinical school but worked as an unofficial rabbi anyway, counseling the people in his neighborhood in the front room of the family's tiny three-room apartment. Singer described his father's living room as "a kind of court of law, synagogue, house of study, and a psychoanalyst's office where people of troubled spirit would come to unburden themselves." Singer spent much of his childhood eavesdropping on the people who sought his father's advice.
His older brother was a free thinker who gave Singer a kind of parallel education to the religious education he got from his father. His father forbid him to read anything other than religious writings, but when he was ten years old, his older brother gave him a copy of Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment (1866) translated into Yiddish. His brother also gave him books on forbidden subjects like astronomy and evolution, and he never forgot the night his brother declared at the dinner table that there was no God.
After Hitler came to power, Singer decided to move to the United States. He settled in New York City in 1935, and immediately felt terribly homesick. He got a job writing reviews for the Yiddish newspaper the Jewish Daily Forward, but for ten years he wrote almost no fiction at all. When Hitler invaded Poland, he fell into a deep depression, worried sick about his mother and younger brother. He later learned that they had frozen to death in a forest with other Jewish prisoners.
He also felt as though he was living in the shadow of his brother, who had also moved to New York City and had already become a successful writer. Then, in 1944, his older brother died of a heart attack. Singer later called his brother's death the greatest misfortune of his entire life, but it cured his writer's block. The first result was his book The Family Moskat (1950), which told the story of a Jewish family in Warsaw at the turn of the century. It was a description of a culture that had been almost completely wiped out by the Holocaust.
Singer wrote in Yiddish and belonged to the Yiddish community in New York City, but he knew that his work would never reach a wide audience unless it was translated into English. So he arranged for translations of all his work to be published in conjunction with the Yiddish versions simultaneously. The result was that he became more widely read in English translation than he was in Yiddish.
Singer went on to become one of the most popular Jewish writers of the 20th century, and he won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1978.
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