Sep. 21, 2007

Family Reunion

by Maxine Kumin

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Poem: "Family Reunion" by Maxine Kumin from Our Ground Time Here will Be Brief. © Viking Press, 1989. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Family Reunion

The week in August you come home,
adult, professional, aloof,
we roast and carve the fatted calf
—in our case home-grown pig, the chine
garlicked and crisped, the applesauce
hand-pressed. Hand-pressed the greengage wine.

Nothing is cost-effective here.
The peas, the beets, the lettuces,
hand sown, are raised to stand apart.
The electric fence ticks like the slow heart
of something we fed and bedded for a year,
then killed with kindness's one bullet
and paid Jake Mott to do the butchering.

In winter we lure the birds with suet,
thaw lungs and kidneys for the cat.
Darlings, it's all a circle from the ring
of wire that keeps the raccoons from the corn
to the gouged pine table that we lounge around,
distressed before any of you was born.

Benign and dozy from our gluttonies,
the candles down to stubs, defenses down,
love leaking out unguarded the way
juice dribbles from the fence when grounded
by grass stalks or a forgotten hoe,
how eloquent, how beautiful you seem!

Wearing our gestures, how wise you grow,
ballooning to overfill our space,
the almost-parents of your parents now.
So briefly having you back to measure us
is harder than having let you go.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1937 that J.R.R. Tolkien published his first novel, The Hobbit. He was a professor at Oxford, and in the summer of 1928, he was in the middle of grading a stack of student papers when he wrote the sentence, "In a hole in the ground lived a hobbit." He had no idea where the word "hobbit" came from. It had just popped into his head. He later wrote: "[Hobbits] are (or were) a little people ... inclined to be fat in the stomach; they dress in bright colours (chiefly green and yellow); wear no shoes, because their feet grow naturally leathery soles and thick warm brown hair like the stuff on their heads (which is curly); have long clever brown fingers, good-natured faces, and laugh deep fruity laughs (especially after dinner, which they have twice a day when they can get it)."

The novelist H.G. (Herbert George) Wells (books by this author) was born on this day in Bromley, England (1866). In his late 20s, he got a respiratory disease and thought he was going to die. So he left his wife, ran away with another woman, and began writing furiously. In about five years, he'd written all of the novels for which he is remembered: The Time Machine (1895), The Island of Dr. Moreau (1896), The Invisible Man (1897), and The War of the Worlds (1898). And then he went on living and writing more science fiction and also a history of the world.

H.G. Wells said, "Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race."

The novelist Stephen King (books by this author) was born on this day in Portland, Maine (1947). He's the author of The Shining (1977), Pet Sematary 1983), and From a Buick 8 (2002). He decided early on that it was more fun to write about giant man-eating rats than to write about the life of a gas station attendant or a high school English teacher, which was what he did before his stuff started to sell. As a teacher, King had witnessed the cruelty of teenagers, so he wrote about a weird, miserable, high school girl with psychic powers named Carrie White, who takes revenge on all her classmates.

Carrie was published in 1973 and King got $400,000 for the paperback rights and went on to become one of the most popular novelists of all time. It was King's contribution to the genre to take horror novels out of deserted castles and put them into small towns and fast food restaurants and libraries.

King says he draws on his own fears to write his books, and he claims to be afraid of spiders, closed-in places, the dark, flying, sewers, funerals, cancer, heart attacks, and being buried alive, among other things.

Stephen King said, "I'll try to terrify you first, and if that doesn't work, I'll try to horrify you, and if I can't make it there, I'll try to gross you out. I'm not proud."

It's the birthday of Allen Lane, born in Bristol, England (1902), one of the first people to publish high-quality literature at low prices when he founded Penguin Books. Other publishers at the time thought that the public wanted the classics in beautifully bound editions, and Lane thought more people might read good books if they were cheaper. He designed Penguin books to fit in a pocket, and they were a big success. He retired in 1969 after publishing the three thousandth Penguin title, an edition of James Joyce's Ulysses (1922).

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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