Sep. 30, 2007


by W. S. Merwin

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Poem: "Yesterday" by W.S. Merwin. Used with permission of the author.


My friend says I was not a good son
you understand
I say yes I understand

he says I did not go
to see my parents very often you know
and I say yes I know

even when I was living in the same city he says
maybe I would go there once
a month or maybe even less
I say oh yes

he says the last time I went to see my father
I say the last time I saw my father

he says the last time I saw my father
he was asking me about my life
how I was making out and he
went into the next room
to get something to give me

oh I say
feeling again the cold
of my father's hand the last time

he says and my father turned
in the doorway and saw me
look at my wristwatch and he
said you know I would like you to stay
and talk with me

oh yes I say

but if you are busy he said
I don't want you to feel that you
have to
just because I'm here

I say nothing

he says my father
said maybe
you have important work you are doing
or maybe you should be seeing
somebody I don't want to keep you

I look out the window
my friend is older than I am
he says and I told my father it was so
and I got up and left him then
you know

though there was nowhere I had to go
and nothing I had to do

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of poet W.S. Merwin, (books by this author) born in New York City (1927). He is the author of many collections of poetry, including Travels (1993), The River Sound (1999), and Migration: New and Selected Poems (2005). He said, "I think there's a kind of desperate hope built into poetry. ... One is trying to say everything that can be said for the things that one loves while there's still time."

It's the birthday of American writer Truman Capote, (books by this author) born Truman Persons in New Orleans (1924), who dropped out of school when he was 17 and got a job as an errand boy in the art department at The New Yorker. He published his first novel, Other Voices, Other Rooms (1948), when he was just 24 years old, but after writing a few more novels, Capote said that he worried about being too imaginative. So he decided to try writing journalism, which he'd never really done before.

Then, in November of 1959, Capote read a brief article in The New York Times about the murder of an entire family in Holcomb, Kansas, and he decided that this was the subject he'd been looking for. He'd never been to Kansas, and so he thought he'd be able to see it with fresh eyes. He arrived in Holcomb just three days after the murders had occurred, and he began to talk to people who had known the victims. He wound up living there for six years, talking to nearly everyone in the town, as well as the detectives involved in the case, and the murderers themselves, who were arrested for the crime a month after it had taken place. He never once tape-recorded or took notes during an interview, but instead went home after each one and wrote down everything he remembered. He gathered 6,000 pages of notes for the book he was writing, 80 percent of which he threw away. The result was his book In Cold Blood (1966).

It's the birthday of writer Elie Wiesel, (books by this author) born in a small village in northern Transylvania near the Ukrainian border (1928). He was 15 years old when he was taken with his family to Auschwitz, where his mother and sister were killed upon arrival in the camp. He and his father stayed together for the next year, but after they were forced to move to Buchenwald, his father died of malnutrition and dysentery. Wiesel believes he would have died soon after his father if the camp hadn't been liberated by American soldiers on April 11, 1945.

He refused to return to his homeland and went instead to Paris. He had a tattoo on his arm, A-7713, but he said, "I made a vow: not to speak, not to touch upon the essential for at least ten years." He became a journalist, and one day he was interviewing the French novelist François Mauriac, when suddenly he found himself telling Mauriac about his experiences at Auschwitz. It was the first time he'd ever told anyone what had happened to him, and Mauriac told him to write down everything he remembered.

So Wiesel sat down and wrote a 900-page memoir in Yiddish called And the World Has Remained Silent (1956). But while translating the book into French, he found himself editing it ruthlessly until he had cut the 900 pages down to just 127. He said, "I was inspired by the marvelous example of Giacometti, the great sculptor. He always said that his dream was to do a bust so small that it could enter a matchbook, but so heavy that no one could lift it. That's what a good book should be." Wiesel called the edited version of his memoir Night. Dozens of publishers turned it down because they said nobody wanted to read such a sad book. But when it came out in 1958, it went on to become the first widely read book written by a Holocaust survivor.

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