Sep. 6, 2007

For My Daughter in Reply to a Question

by David Ignatow

Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "For My Daughter" by David Ignatow, from Against the Evidence: Selected Poems 1934-1994. © Wesleyan University Press, 1994. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

For My Daughter

When I die choose a star
and name it after me
that you may know
I have not abandoned
or forgotten you.
You were such a star to me,
following you through birth
and childhood, my hand
in your hand.

When I die
choose a star and name it
after me so that I may shine
down on you, until you join
me in darkness and silence

Literary and Historical Notes:

On this day in 1522, the ship Vittoria reached port in Spain, completing the first successful circumnavigation of the globe. The trip was originally undertaken by Ferdinand Magellan in 1519, and the purpose was to claim the valuable Spice Islands for Spain. Magellan set sail with 237 men on five ships. He had no idea how far he would have to travel. A Spanish historian at the time had written that the Spice Islands were no great distance from Panama. In fact, they were thousands of miles away.

They managed to sail around South America and when they reached the ocean on the other side, Magellan is said to have declared, "We are about to sail into an ocean where no ship has ever sailed before. May the ocean be always as calm and benevolent as it is today. In this hope I name it the Pacific Ocean."

Magellan estimated that they would reach the Spice Islands in a few days. The weather was perfect for sailing, and everyone was hopeful. But days turned into weeks, the weeks into months, and the ships began to run out of food. Somehow, Magellan managed to sail past nearly every single island in the South Pacific, so there was no way to get more supplies. The men were reduced to eating ox hides and llama skins, and many died of starvation. They finally reached their destination in March, three and a half months after rounding the tip of South America.

Magellan himself died on one of the islands, trying to convert the local people to Christianity by force. Of the five original ships, only one made the entire journey back to Spain, carrying 17 men, the only survivors of the original 237.

It's the birthday of writer Robert M. Pirsig, (books by this author) born in Minneapolis, Minnesota (1928). In 1968, he decided to take a trip by motorcycle from Minneapolis to California with his twelve-year-old son. He thought he'd write a travel essay about the journey, but the travel essay turned into a book about using Eastern philosophy to come to terms with his life. He called the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974). It was rejected by 121 publishers before one publisher finally took a chance on it. It went on to become the best-selling non-fiction book of the 1970s, selling more than 4 million copies.

Robert Pirsig said: "I think metaphysics is good if it improves everyday life; otherwise forget it."

It's the birthday of the novelist Alice Sebold, (books by this author) born in Madison, Wisconsin (1963). She was a freshman in college when one night she was attacked while she was walking home, dragged into an underground tunnel, and raped. She thought that she was going to be murdered throughout the experience. When she later talked to the police, they said that a girl had recently been murdered in that same tunnel, and so she should consider herself lucky for having survived. A few weeks later, Sebold spotted the rapist on the street, and she went to the police. He was arrested, and Sebold testified against him at the trial. The rapist was convicted and received the maximum sentence, and Sebold thought that the end of the trial would put the experience behind her.

But for the next 15 years she struggled to have relationships with other people, and she struggled to write. She moved to New York and started drinking a lot and dabbling in drugs. She wrote numerous stories and two novels, but she couldn't get anything published. In the back of her mind, Sebold had always thought about that other girl who had been murdered in the tunnel where she'd been raped. Sebold wanted to give that girl a voice, so one day she sat down at her desk and in one sitting Sebold wrote the entire opening of what would become her novel The Lovely Bones, about a murdered 14-year-old girl looking down from heaven as her family tries to recover from the grief of her death. It begins, "My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973."

The Lovely Bones was published by Little, Brown, and it became a word-of-mouth sensation among booksellers and critics before it was even published. It came out in June of 2002, a few months before Sebold's 39th birthday, and sold more than 2 million copies, becoming the best-selling book in 2002.

Alice Sebold said, "It's very weird to succeed at 39 years old and realize that in the midst of your failure, you were slowly building the life that you wanted."

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 »