Mar. 31, 2007


by Marge Piercy

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Poem: "Tracks" by Marge Piercy, from The Crooked Inheritance. © Alfred A. Knopf. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)


The small birds leave cuneiform
messages on the snow: I have
been here, I am hungry, I
must eat. Where I dropped
seeds they scrape down
to pine needles and frozen sand.

Sometimes when snow flickers
past the windows, muffles trees
and bushes, buries the path,
the jays come knocking with their beaks
on my bedroom window:
to them I am made of seeds.

To the cats I am mother and lover,
lap and toy, cook and cleaner.
To the coyotes I am chaser and shouter.
To the crows, watcher, protector.
To the possums, the foxes, the skunks,
a shadow passing, a moment's wind.

I was bad watchful mommy to one man.
To another I was forgiving sister
whose hand poured out honey and aloe;
to that woman I was a gale whose lashing
waves threatened her foundation; to this
one, an oak to her flowering vine.

I have worn the faces, the masks
of hieroglyphs, gods and demons
bat-faced ghosts, sibyls and thieves,
lover, loser, red rose and ragweed,
these are the tracks I have left
on the white crust of time.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of poet Andrew Marvell, (books by this author) born in Winestead, England (1621). He wrote the famous poem "To His Coy Mistress" (1650), which begins,

"Had we but world enough, and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime ...
But at my back I always hear
Time's winged chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity."

It's the birthday of writer and translator Edward FitzGerald, (books by this author) born in Woodbridge, England (1809). He's known for his translation of the Rubáiyát, a poem by an obscure Persian poet named Omar Khayyám, and the translation became one of the most popular and widely quoted poems in English.

It's the birthday of poet and novelist Marge Piercy, (books by this author) born in Detroit, Michigan (1936). She grew up poor, one of the only white girls in a black neighborhood, but she started writing when she was 15 and became the first member of her family to go to college. She moved to a poor section of Chicago and supported herself with a series of dreary jobs. She started reading Beat poets like Allen Ginsberg and got involved in countercultural groups like Students for a Democratic Society. After writing six novels that were all rejected by publishers, she published her first book, a collection of poems called Breaking Camp, in 1968. Then, in 1976, she published her novel Woman on the Edge of Time, about a woman imprisoned in a mental hospital who has a vision of a utopian future.

She has since published many more novels and books of poetry, including Braided Lives (1982) and Available Light (1988). Her collection of poems Crooked Inheritance came out last year (2006).

It's the birthday of the man who wrote, "I think, therefore I am," René Descartes, (books by this author) born in Touraine, France (1596). Though he's often been called the father of modern philosophy, he considered himself more of a mathematician and a scientist than a philosopher. He conducted all kinds of experiments. He studied refraction and the properties of rainbows. He dissected animals and wrote about how they were constructed like machines. He invented analytic geometry, a precursor to calculus. And he worked for a long time on a theory of science that was similar to what became the scientific method.

Descartes only got into philosophy after he learned that Galileo had been persecuted by the church. He worried that some of his scientific ideas could be similarly controversial, so he decided to write a book to prove that skepticism about the laws of nature was a necessary step in understanding nature. And that book became his Discourse on Method (1637), in which he described his own experience of coming to doubt everything, even his own existence, until he realized that the one thing he could not doubt was the existence of his own thoughts. He decided that if he was able to think then he must exist, and he so he wrote the famous line, "I think, therefore I am."

René Descartes said, "If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things.

It's the birthday of novelist John Fowles, (books by this author) born in Essex, England (1926). His first novel was The Collector (1963), about a man who collects butterflies and then one day kidnaps a young woman and keeps her in his basement, hoping to win her love.

John Fowles said, "Passion destroys passion; we want what puts an end to wanting what we want."

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