Tuesday

Feb. 10, 2009

Time + Distance

by Leslie Monsour

The tea you pour is black and strong.
It doesn't taste like tea to me;
I must have been away too long.

It isn't jasmine, spice, oolong;
It tastes like an apology—
This tea you pour, so black and strong.

Where's that old fork with the bent prong?
What happened to the hemlock tree?
Have I really been gone that long?

I think I hear the saddest song;
It has no words, no tune, no key.
The tea you pour is black and strong.

You're careful to say nothing wrong,
You seem too eager to agree...
Yes, I've been travelling far and long,

And now it's clear, I don't belong.
I watch you sash your robe, as we
sit, sipping tea that's black and strong.
I went away too far, too long.

"Time + Distance" by Leslie Monsour, from The Alarming Beauty of the Sky. © Red Hen Press, 2005. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the week of Valentine's Day, a week to think about great love stories.

And today is the birthday of a man who wrote a great love story: Boris Pasternak, (books by this author) born in Moscow (1890), the author of Doctor Zhivago (1957). When he finished the book, he smuggled the manuscript out of the Soviet Union to a publisher in Italy. It was banned in the Soviet Union, but it became an international best-seller.

Doctor Zhivago is the story of Yuri Zhivago, a doctor and a poet, and his love affair with Lara. The novel takes place around the political events of the Russian Revolution of 1917. Yuri studies medicine, meets a woman named Tonya, and they get married and have a son, Sasha. When WWI begins, Yuri signs up as an army doctor, and he is stationed in a small town.

At the same time as Yuri and Tonya are beginning their life together, Lara is involved with a powerful man, Viktor Komarovsky. She decides to marry her childhood sweetheart, Pasha. But she needs money, and she tracks down Komarovsky at a Christmas party, where she attempts to shoot him — but she misses. Yuri is also at the party, and he wonders about the fiery young woman. Lara's husband, Pasha, disappears behind enemy lines, and she becomes an army nurse in order to look for him. She ends up in the same hospital as Yuri Zhivago.

The two fall in love, but Yuri goes back home to Tonya and Sasha, and to his old job in the hospital. His co-workers there distrust him — he doesn't seem like a good Bolshevik. So Yuri and his family escape to the Ural Mountains, to a piece of farmland owned by Tonya's grandfather. A few months later, Yuri goes to the neighboring town to visit the library, and there he meets Lara. They begin a passionate love affair. But when Tonya becomes pregnant, Yuri decides that he has to break things off with Lara. He is ready to tell his wife everything and ask forgiveness, but on the way back to the farmhouse, he is kidnapped by the Reds and forced to work as their doctor for years. His family is deported to France.

Finally, Yuri escapes and walks all the way to the town where Lara still lives. They are reunited, and they go into hiding in the farmhouse. They live there happily for a while, and Yuri writes poetry. But then Komarovsky, Lara's old lover, appears to warn them that the revolutionaries are coming to kill them. He promises to take them to safety, so Lara goes with Komarovsky, to save the life of her daughter. Yuri goes to Moscow, where he dies of a heart attack. Lara returns to Moscow on the day of his funeral.

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 »