Sunday

Aug. 2, 2009

Fireflies

by Cecilia Woloch

And these are my vices:
impatience, bad temper, wine,
the more than occasional cigarette,
an almost unquenchable thirst to be kissed,
a hunger that isn't hunger
but something like fear, a staunching of dread
and a taste for bitter gossip
of those who've wronged me—for bitterness—
and flirting with strangers and saying sweetheart
to children whose names I don't even know
and driving too fast and not being Buddhist
enough to let insects live in my house
or those cute little toylike mice
whose soft grey bodies in sticky traps
I carry, lifeless, out to the trash
and that I sometimes prefer the company of a book
to a human being, and humming
and living inside my head
and how as a girl I trailed a slow-hipped aunt
at twilight across the lawn
and learned to catch fireflies in my hands,
to smear their sticky, still-pulsing flickering
onto my fingers and earlobes like jewels.

"Fireflies" by Cecilia Woloch, from Carpathia. © BOA Editions, Ltd., 2009. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of the Chilean novelist Isabel Allende, (books by this author) born in Lima, Peru (1942), the author of 17 books including Eva Luna (1987) and Portrait in Sepia (2000). She grew up in a family of diplomats, and she spent her childhood in Peru and Lebanon, but as a teenager, she moved in with her grandparents in Santiago. Her grandfather told her stories about the history and legends of Chile, and it was because of him that she finally fell in love with the country. She became a journalist, and she says: "I was a lousy journalist. I had no problem exaggerating or making up quotes. My colleagues thought they were being objective, but I never thought they were and I didn't even pretend." She worked for a while translating romance novels from English to Spanish, but she got fired because she would adjust the dialogue of the heroines to make them sound more intelligent, and even change the endings if she thought the women weren't independent enough.

Then her father's cousin, Salvador Allende, became Chile's first elected socialist president. During his presidency, Isabel was a popular TV host for two shows. But on September 11, 1973, a military coup led by General Pinochet overthrew the government and assassinated Salvador Allende. Isabel and all her family were put on a wanted list and received death threats, so they fled to Venezuela. She thought she would be there for a couple of months, and instead, she remained in exile for 17 years, and she said that living in exile shaped the kind of characters she chose to write about once she became a writer. She said: "Even if they're not exiles in the sense that they have to leave the country, they are exiled from the big umbrella of the establishment. I like people who stand on the edge and therefore are not sheltered."

While she was in Venezuela, Isabel Allende found out that her beloved grandfather was dying in Chile, and she couldn't go back to see him. So she started to write him a letter, to reassure him that she wouldn't forget all his stories and memories.

She said: "I wrote the first sentence in trance: Barrabas came to us by sea. Who was Barrabas, why did he come by sea? I didn't have the foggiest idea, but I continued writing like a maniac until dawn, when exhaustion defeated me and I crawled to my bed. What were you doing? my husband mumbled. Magic, I answered. And indeed, magic it was. The following evening after dinner, again I locked myself in the kitchen to write. I wrote every night, oblivious to the fact that my grandfather had died. The text grew like a gigantic organism with many tentacles and by the end of the year I had 500 pages on the kitchen counter. It didn't look like a letter anymore."

It wasn't a letter … it was her first novel, The House of the Spirits (1985), a novel of magical realism that tells the story of four generations of the Trueba family and their lives in Chile from the turn of the century through the coup.

The House of the Spirits begins: "Barrabas came to us by sea, the child Clara wrote in her delicate calligraphy. She was already in the habit of writing down important matters, and afterward, when she was mute, she also recorded trivialities, never suspecting that fifty years later I would use her notebooks to reclaim the past and overcome terrors of my own."

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 »