Mar. 2, 2007

The Shipfitter's Wife

by Dorianne Laux

Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "The Shipfitter's Wife" by Dorianne Laux, from Smoke. © BOA Editions. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

The Shipfitter's Wife

I loved him most
when he came home from work,
his fingers still curled from fitting pipe,
his denim shirt ringed with sweat
and smelling of salt, the drying weeds
of the ocean. I'd go to where he sat
on the edge of the bed, his forehead
anointed with grease, his cracked hands
jammed between his thighs, and unlace
the steel-toed boots, stroke his ankles
and calves, the pads and bones of his feet.
Then I'd open his clothes and take
the whole day inside me — the ship's
gray sides, the miles of copper pipe,
the voice of the foreman clanging
off the hull's silver ribs. Spark of lead
kissing metal. The clamp, the winch,
the white fire of the torch, the whistle,
and the long drive home.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of Tom Wolfe, (books by this author) born in Richmond, Virginia (1931). His father was an agricultural scientist who also edited an agricultural magazine called The Southern Planter. Wolfe wrote, "As far as I was concerned, my father was a man who sat at his desk writing with a pencil on a yellow legal pad. Two weeks later his not terribly legible handwriting would reappear as smartly turned out regiments of black type on graphically beautiful pages for thousands of people to read. To me that was magic, and my father was a writer."

Wolfe went on to write about as many aspects of American life as he could — stock car racing, the drug culture, architecture, surfing, and the space program. He published his reportage in books such as The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby (1965) and The Pump House Gang (1968). Then, in the 1980s, Wolfe decided to try to write a novel. He had been doing research on the criminal justice system in New York City, and he got the idea for a story about a court case that could involve as many different aspects of New York society as possible: the rich, the poor, the lawyers, the media, the activists, the politicians, and all the bystanders.

He spent months going to trials at the Manhattan Criminal Court Building and the Bronx County Courthouse, and he took notes on all the stories he heard, the clothes people wore, the way everyone talked, and whatever else he could absorb, and he put it all in his novel The Bonfire of the Vanities, which became a huge best-seller in 1987.

Wolfe's most recent book is I Am Charlotte Simmons (2004) about the lives of contemporary college students.

Tom Wolfe said, "[I want to explore] the lurid carnival of contemporary life and [bring] it alive on the page brilliantly enough to light up the sky."

It's the birthday of novelist John Irving, (books by this author) born in Exeter, New Hampshire (1942). His parents divorced by the time Irving was two years old. He never met his father, and never learned anything about the man.

He made his name with his novel The World According to Garp (1978), about the fatherless son of a radical feminist. It was Irving's fourth novel, and it went on to sell more than 3 million copies in six months. He said, "The first thing I thought of when that novel made me famous was, 'Now [my father] will come find me. Now he'll identify himself.'"

Irving finally learned the identity of his father in 1981, when his mother gave him a collection of letters she'd been hiding since World War II. Irving learned that his father had been a fighter pilot who was shot down over Burma, who walked to China, and who was only rescued after being missing for 40 days. Irving used his father's letters in his novel The Cider House Rules (1985). He hoped that somehow his father might read the book and see the letters. But he later learned that his father had died in 1996.

Irving went on to write a novel about a man searching for his father, called Until I Find You, which came out in 2005.

It's the birthday of the children's book author who wrote under the name Dr. Seuss, (books by this author) born Theodor Geisel, in Springfield, Massachusetts (1904). Seuss made a living selling cartoons to magazines, and he also drew cartoons for advertisements. He published his first book for children, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, in 1937. His next few children's books were moderately successful. Then, in 1955, an educational specialist asked him if he would write a book to help children learn how to read. Seuss was given a list of 300 words that most first-graders would know, and he used those words to write The Cat in the Hat (1957).

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 »