Dec. 26, 2007

I needed to talk to my sister...

by Grace Paley

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Poem: "I needed to talk to my sister..." by Grace Paley, from Fidelity. © Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008. Reprinted with permission.(buy now)

I needed to talk to my sister...


I needed to talk to my sister
talk to her on the telephone I mean
just as I used to every morning
in the evening too whenever the
grandchildren said a sentence that
clasped both our hearts

I called her phone rang four times
you can imagine my breath stopped then
there was a terrible telephonic noise
a voice said this number is no
longer in use how wonderful I
thought I can
call again they have not yet assigned
her number to another person despite
two years of absence due to death

Literary and Historical Notes:

Today is the first day of Kwanzaa, an African-American and Pan-African cultural holiday. The name Kwanzaa comes from a Swahili phrase meaning "first fruits."

In 1933, Edwin Armstrong was granted a patent for FM radio.

It was on this day in 1825 that the Erie Canal opened. The canal cut through 363 miles of river bed, rock, and forest to connect Lake Erie to the Hudson River.

On this day in 1913, the author of The Devil's Dictionary, Ambrose Bierce, (books by this author) disappeared into Mexico while traveling with the army of rebel Pancho Villa. In one of his final letters, the 71-year-old Bierce wrote to his niece, Lora, "Good-bye — if you hear of my being stood up against a Mexican stone wall and shot to rags please know that I think that a pretty good way to depart this life."

It's the birthday of novelist Jean Toomer, (books by this author) born Nathan Pinchback Toomer in Washington, D.C. (1894). He is best known for his novel Cane, which sold less than 1,000 copies when it first came out in 1923, but it marked the beginning of the literary renaissance in Harlem and influenced other African-American writers like Zora Neale Hurston, Alice Walker, and Gloria Naylor. The inspiration for Cane, a mixture of prose and poetry, came from Toomer's observations while living in the rural segregated South, watching the African-American laborers bring in the sugar cane harvest.

It's the birthday of author Henry Miller (books by this author) born in New York City (1891), who wrote about poverty, sex, and squalor in his books Tropic of Cancer and Black Spring after living on the streets in Paris, where he stayed with friends and begged on the street just to get enough money for food. Miller wrote in Tropic of Cancer, "It may be that we are doomed, that there is no hope for us, any of us, but if that is so then let us set up a last agonizing, bloodcurdling howl, a screech of defiance, a war whoop! Away with lamentation! Away with elegies and dirges! Away with biographies and histories, and libraries and museums! Let the dead eat the dead. Let us living ones dance about the rim of the crater, a last expiring dance. But a dance!"

It's the birthday of poet Thomas Gray, (books by this author)born in London (1716). He wrote Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard (1751), which is considered to be one of the greatest poems in the English language. The poem begins,

The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
The lowing herd wind slowly o'er the lea,
The plowman homeward plods his weary way,
And leaves the world to darkness and to me.

It's the birthday of columnist Doris Lilly, (books by this author) born in South Pasadena, California (1926). She wrote society columns for the New York Post and the New York Daily Mirror, writing mostly about celebrities. Her first book was How to Marry a Millionaire (1951), which was made into a movie starring Marilyn Monroe. Lilly is believed to be the inspiration for Holly Golighty, the character in Truman Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's.

It is the birthday of humorist David Sedaris, (books by this author) born near Binghamton, New York (1956). He is best known for his collections of personal essays, Naked (1997) and Me Talk Pretty One Day (2000) and Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim (2004). Of using a computer, he said, "I'll admit it does make things a lot easier. When I was working on a typewriter and I whited out a line, often I would choose a word to go in the space just because it fit. Now I don't have to do that."

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




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