Friday

Jan. 26, 2007

Religion

by Robert Wrigley

FRIDAY, 26 JANUARY, 2007
Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

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

Religion

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.


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 »