Mar. 19, 2009

Anniversary: One Fine Day

by Walter McDonald

Who would sit through a plot as preposterous as ours,
married after years apart? Chance meetings may work
early in stories, but at operas, darling, in Texas?
A bachelor pilot, I fled Laredo for the weekend,
stopping at the opera from boredom, music I least expected.
Of all the zoos and honky-tonks south of Dallas,
who would believe I would find you there on the stairs,

Madame Butterfly about to start? When you moved
four years before, I lost all hope of dying happy,
dogfighting my way through pilot training, reckless,
in terror only when I saw the man beside you.
I had pictured him rich and splendid in my mind
a thousand times, thinking you married with babies
somewhere in Tahiti, Spain, the south of France.

When I saw the lucky devil I hated—only your date,
but I didn't know—he stopped gloating, watching you wave,
turned old and bitter like the crone in Shangri La.
Destiny happens only in plays and cheap movies—
but here, here on my desk is your photo, decades later,
and I hear sounds from another room of our house,
and when I rise amazed and follow, you are there.

"Anniversary: One Fine Day" by Walt McDonald, from Blessings the Body Gave. © Ohio State University Press, 1998. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of novelist Philip Roth, (books by this author) born in Newark, New Jersey (1933). He grew up in a crowded neighborhood, and he loved listening to his neighbors' conversations. He said: "In warm weather, people sat on the stoops and on beach chairs in the driveways. ... You'd be sweating, trying to sleep, and you'd hear them, you'd hear their conversation all the time, and it would be very comforting."

He went to college in Pennsylvania, and then studied English literature at the University of Chicago, where he began to write short stories. His first book, Goodbye Columbus (1959), got good reviews. He made his name with Portnoy's Complaint (1969), about Alexander Portnoy, who has an obsession with sex. It was one of the best-selling books of the decade.

He went on to write many novels, most of them narrated by a fictional writer named Nathan Zuckerman, including American Pastoral (1997), I Married a Communist (1998), The Human Stain (2000), and Everyman (2006).

Philip Roth said: "I cannot and do not live in the world of discretion, not as a writer, anyway. I would prefer to, I assure you — it would make life easier. But discretion is, unfortunately, not for novelists."

It's the birthday of the 14th chief justice of the United States, Earl Warren, born in Los Angeles (1891). He grew up in Bakersfield, California, where his father worked for the railroad company. His father was a Norwegian immigrant who was murdered during an armed robbery, and the identity of the assailant was never discovered.

Warren went to college at Berkeley, and then to law school there. He became a district attorney, and in 1942, he ran for governor of California as a Republican and defeated the incumbent Democrat. He was extremely popular. For the 1946 election, he won the primaries for the Republican, Democrat, and Progressive parties, so he basically ran unopposed. He was elected again in 1950.

In 1953, President Eisenhower appointed Earl Warren as chief justice. He led the Supreme Court to many landmark decisions, including Brown v. Board of Education (1954), which banned segregation in public schools; Gideon v. Wainwright (1963), which ruled that poor people are entitled to a free lawyer in all criminal cases; Miranda v. Arizona (1966), which required that a person being arrested be read his or her rights; and Loving v. Virginia (1967), which made interracial marriage legal across the country.

Warren retired from the Supreme Court in 1969. He said, "Everything I did in my life that was worthwhile I caught hell for."

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 »