Jan. 16, 2009

Peaches or Plums

by Alan Michael Parker

Oh, how I hate my mind,
all those memories
that have invented their own memories.

Take my first love, for instance,
how after Mass we'd kneel
underneath the back stairs

and kiss and kiss and kiss and.
Were her lips like peaches or plums?
She was Catholic and she wanted

to be bad, and I loved her
more than baseball,
but all the other days

divided us, carry the one,
nothing left over. So strange,
only to kiss on a Sunday,

to hold my own breath again
for a week, another 10,022
minutes of wretched puberty,

until she moved to Iowa
or Ohio or the moon.
Oh, I can still remember

nothing about her,
only kissing, and the impossible
geometry of the descending stairs

that rose to the church kitchen,
her breath like hot nutmeg
and a little like the ocean;

and once, oh my god, she bit me,
a first taste of my body,
blood in her smile.

"Peaches or Plums" by Alan Michael Parker, from Elephants and Butterflies. © BOA Editions, 2008. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of William Kennedy, (books by this author) born in Albany (1928). His first novel, The Ink Truck, came out in 1969, and didn't sell very well. He began writing a series of novels about a big, down-at-heel Irish family full of storytellers and brawlers. One of these novels, Ironweed (1984), is about a derelict on the run from his past. Thirteen publishers rejected it because they thought no one would want to read about bums. But it was published, and it won the Pulitzer, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and a Pen/Faulkner award, all in the same year.

William Kennedy said, "The more serious you are as a writer, the more you feel yourself an outsider — that you'll never be someone who is going to organize the world and transform it in a logical way; you're never going to think in any kind of politically logical way, and you're never going to really have any power."

It's the birthday of Dian Fossey, born in San Francisco (1932). She lived alone for 18 years, studying mountain gorillas in the cold, rainy mountains of Rwanda. She was the first person ever approached by gorillas in the wild, and she would sit with them for hours while they swatted her gently with leaves and played with her hair. She wrote a book about her experience called Gorillas in the Mist (1983).

It's the birthday of poet Laura Riding, (books by this author) born in New York City (1901). She went to Cornell, started writing poetry, and tried to make it as a writer in New York, but she was unsuccessful. She got married and then divorced. She was invited to go to Europe by the poet Robert Graves and his wife, Nancy, and so Laura Riding spent the next 13 years abroad, living in England, Majorca, France, and Egypt, where she claimed she "wrote hard all that time, trying to use words with new exactness."

While living with Robert Graves and his wife at their home in London, she became romantically involved with Robert. When Robert Graves took on another lover, Laura Riding was distraught, and tried to commit suicide by jumping out the window. She survived, but ended up with a broken spine.

Robert Graves and his wife split up, and he and Laura Riding moved to Majorca together. They were both very productive during that period, producing several volumes of poetry, and each came out with a separate Collected Poems. Riding was a great muse to Graves, appearing in many of his poems. But after they split up in 1939, she got married, moved to Florida, raised citrus trees with her husband, and renounced poetry.

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 »