Jan. 26, 2007


by Robert Wrigley

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Poem: "Religion" by Robert Wrigley, from Earthly Meditations: New and Selected Poems. © Penguin Poets. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)


The last thing the old dog brought home
from her pilgrimages through the woods
was a man's dress shoe, a black, still-shiny wing-tip.

I feared at first a foot might be in it.
But no, it was just an ordinary shoe.
And while it was clear it had been worn,

and because the mouth of the dog —
a retriever, skilled at returning ducks and geese —
was soft, the shoe remained a good shoe

and I might have given it
to a one-legged friend
but all of them dressed their prostheses too,

so there it was. A rescued
or a stolen odd shoe. Though in the last months
of the dog's life, I noticed

how the shoe became her friend, almost,
something she slept on or near
and nosed whenever she passed,

as though checking it to see if,
in her absence, that mysterious, familiar,
missing foot, might not have come again.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of cartoonist, novelist and playwright Jules Feiffer, (books by this author) born in the Bronx (1929).

It's the birthday of playwright Christopher Hampton, born on Fayal Island, one of the Azores (1946). He's best known in this country for his stage adaptation of Dangerous Liaisons (1982), which was made into a movie in 1987.

It's the birthday of the short-story writer Thom Jones, (books by this author) born in Aurora, Illinois (1945). His father was a professional boxer who once fought an exhibition match with Joe Louis. Jones's parents separated when he was little, but his father would occasionally show up and take Jones to a boxing gym. Jones was boxing by the time he was seven years old, and boxing would later indirectly save his life. When he joined the Marines after high school, he became a member of the Marine boxing team, and in one of his first fights, he took such a beating that he had to be discharged before he'd even seen combat in Vietnam. He later learned that all but one of the men in his unit had died in the war. One of the men from the unit who died was Jones's best friend.

Jones went on to get a degree in English from the University of Washington and then studied at the Iowa Writer's Workshop. He worked for a while as an advertising copy writer in Chicago, and for a long time he didn't write anything he was satisfied with. Then, in the early 1990s, the Gulf War began to bring back memories of Jones's experience as a Marine. When the anniversary of his best friend's death was coming around, Jones decided to write a short story based on what he knew of how his best friend had died. He started writing at 2:00 in the afternoon and by the middle of the night he'd finished the first draft. That story was called "The Pugilist at Rest." He sent it off to The New Yorker magazine, unsolicited, and somehow it got picked out of the slush pile and it was published. That story went on to win the O. Henry Award for short story of the year, and it became the title story of Jones's first collection, which came out in 1993, when Jones was 48 years old.

Thom Jones has written several more books since then, including Cold Snap (1995) and Sonny Liston Was a Friend of Mine (1999).

It's the birthday of children's book author and editor Mary Mapes Dodge, (books by this author) born Mary Mapes in New York City (1831). She was born into a prestigious New York family. Her grandfather was a personal friend of the Marquis de Lafayette. Her father was an inventor and an entrepreneur who planned to revolutionize the farming industry with new chemical fertilizers. One of the investors in his fertilizer idea was a man named William Dodge, who later married young Mary Mapes.

Mary Mapes Dodge lived with her husband in New York City for five years, and had two sons. Then one night in 1858, her husband left the house and never came back. It turned out that he had drowned, possibly a suicide. She was devastated and took her sons to live on her father's farm. She moved into a room in the attic, and began writing to try to make money for the family.

She had long been interested in writing something about Holland, although she'd never been there. She had some Dutch friends who had emigrated from Amsterdam, and she asked them to tell her everything they knew about their home country — what things looked like and smelled like, and the things people did and the food they ate and the stories they told their children at night. She used all of these details to write a children's book called Hans Brinker; or, The Silver Skates (1865), which became a best-seller.

She went on to edit the children's magazine St. Nicholas, one of the most successful children's publications of all time. It included work by writers such as Louisa May Alcott, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, John Greenleaf Whittier, Alfred Tennyson, Rudyard Kipling, and Mark Twain. The magazine also encouraged young people to submit stories and poems for publication. Among the writers who first published their work in St. Nicholas were Ring Lardner, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Eudora Welty, Edmund Wilson, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

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