Dec. 11, 2007
I had thought the tumors…
Poem: "I had thought the tumors..." by Grace Paley, from Fidelity. © Etruscan Press, 2008. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)
I had thought the tumors...
I had thought the tumors
on my spine would kill me but
the tumors on my head seem to be
extraordinary competitive this week.
For the past twenty or thirty years
I have eaten the freshest most
organic and colorful fruits and
vegetables I did not drink I
did drink one small glass of red
wine with dinner nearly every day
as suggested by The New York Times
I should have taken longer walks but
obviously I have done something wrong
I don't mean morally or ethically or
geographically I did not live near
a nuclear graveyard or under a coal
stack nor did I allow my children
to do so I lived in a city no worse
than any other great and famous city I
lived one story above a street that led
cabs and ambulances to the local hospital
that didn't seem so bad and was
In any event I am
already old and therefore a little ashamed
to have written this poem full
of complaints against mortality which
biological fact I have been constructed for
to hand on to my children and grand
children as I received it from my
dear mother and father and beloved
grandmother who all
ah if I remember it
were in great pain at leaving
and were furiously saying goodbye
Literary and Historical Notes:
It's the birthday of American short-story writer Grace Paley, (books by this author) born in New York City (1922), who was a politically active poet and mother in Greenwich Village when, one day, she got sick and was forced to arrange for her children to go to an after-school program for several weeks while she stayed home and rested. Without the children to take care of, she sat down at a typewriter and started writing stories that captured the voices of immigrant women in her neighborhood. Her first short story, "Goodbye and Good Luck," begins, "I was popular in certain circles, says Aunt Rose. I wasn't no thinner then, only more stationary in the flesh. In time to come, Lillie, don't be surprised change is a fact of God. From this no one is excused."
Paley's three collections of short stories were published in 1994 as one book, The Collected Stories. She died this past August (2007).
It's the birthday of the novelist Jim Harrison, (books by this author) born in Grayling, Michigan (1937), whose first big success was Legends of the Fall (1979). He's written many more books. His most recent is the collection of poetry Saving Daylight, which came out this September (2007). Jim Harrison said, "I like grit, I like love and death, I'm tired of irony... A lot of good fiction is sentimental... The novelist who refuses sentiment refuses the full spectrum of human behavior, and then he just dries up... I would rather give full vent to all human loves and disappointments, and take a chance on being corny."
It's the birthday of Russian writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, (books by this author) born in Kislovodsk, Russia (1918), who was thrown into the gulag as a young man for saying in one of his personal letters that Stalin wasn't Marxist enough. But the Gulag changed his life, because in a strange way, it was only in the Gulag that Russians spoke freely about their political beliefs. Solzhenitsyn later wrote, "You can have power over people as long as you don't take everything away from them. But when you've robbed a man of everything, he's no longer in your power."
Solzhenitsyn was released from his labor camp on the day of Stalin's death in 1953, and he wrote a novel about a peasant farmer in the gulag called One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. The publisher had to send a copy directly to Khrushchev himself for approval. Khrushchev approved it, and the book was published in 1962. It was the first time a Russian had exposed the extent of Stalin's crimes against his own people, and it made Solzhenitsyn an international hero. He quit his teaching job and expected to become a professional writer.
But then Khrushchev lost power, and all the new freedoms were suddenly taken away. Police arrived at Solzhenitsyn's house and confiscated his manuscripts. He managed to get his next two novels published abroad, and in 1970, he won the Nobel Prize in literature. But the Russian government still refused to let him publish his books in his home country.
In spite of the censorship, Solzhenitsyn set out to interview more than 200 survivors of the Stalin-era labor camps for his seven-volume history, The Gulag Archipelago. The first volume was published in Paris in 1973. After the book came out, Solzhenitsyn was summoned to appear before Russian authorities, but he refused. Two days later, he was deported from the Soviet Union. Despite all the trouble he'd endured in his home country, he had never tried to leave, and he was devastated by exile. He settled in Vermont, where he tried to live as quietly as possible, rarely speaking in public. Then, in 1993, he was finally allowed to return to his homeland. He's been living in Moscow ever since.
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®