Aug. 20, 2009

Back Yard

by Elizabeth Spires

The Beautiful Lawn Sprinkler

by Howard Nemerov

Back Yard

It didn't rain.
And it didn't rain.
And it didn't rain
Returning, after a month away,
from a place up north.
we saw the parched and dying yard,
the hose coiled like a snake.

As if the present were past,
I walk from this thing to that,
touching dry leaves.
Here is my daughter's herb garden
where we buried the snail.
Here is the dogwood
that bloomed when T. was dying.
Here is the sunflower, ravaged by July,
and here is the rose of Sharon
coming, in August, into its own.
Here. Here. And here.
The arbor. The wisteria.
The bamboo, tenacious as ever.
The empty swing, motionless in the heat.
I unwind the coiled hose
and turn the water on,
watching it stream into the ground.
Everything is a mouth,
thirsty and unappeasable.

With each step, I move farther
into the future wondering,
How will I ever leave all this?
How? How does one ever leave?
I am the water-bearer.
I cannot die!

The Beautiful Lawn Sprinkler

What gives it power makes it change its mind
At each extreme, and lean its rising rain
Down low, first one and then the other way;
In which exchange humility and pride
Reverse, forgive, arise, and die again,
Wherefore it holds at both ends of the day
The rainbow in its scattering grains of spray.

"Back Yard" by Elizabeth Spires, from The Wave-Maker. © W.W. Norton & Company, 2008. Reprinted with permission. (buy now) and "The Beautiful Lawn Sprinkler" by Howard Nemerov, from The Selected Poems of Howard Nemerov. © Ohio University Press, 2003. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It was on this day in 1977 that the Voyager 2 spacecraft was launched. Voyager 2 and its twin, Voyager 1, set out to explore the giant gaseous planets — Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. They did that, and they are still in space, releasing new data constantly. Voyager 2's newest discovery concerns the bubble around our solar system where the solar wind (a thin gas of charged particles, which come from the sun) meets the space beyond our solar system. Voyager 2 has shown that that bubble is irregular, or squashed, not round.

Just in case the Voyagers make it into another solar system with alien life forms, each Voyager has a record that is three-quarters music and one-quarter greetings in 55 languages and various sounds from nature. The music includes Beethoven, Chuck Berry, Louis Armstrong, and traditional songs from all over the world.

It's the birthday of science fiction writer H.P. Lovecraft, (books by this author) born in Providence, Rhode Island (1890). He had a nervous breakdown and never graduated from high school, and many people today have never heard of him, but he was famous in his day, and he went on to influence a whole generation of science fiction and horror writers, including Stephen King.

He is most famous for creating the Cthulhu Mythos, an alternate universe. It was taken up by other writers, and there are now thousands of stories written in the Cthulhu Mythos, although H.P. Lovecraft never expected anything of the sort — to him, it was only a setting for his fiction.

H.P. Lovecraft developed a philosophy called "cosmicism," which says, more or less, that there is no divine being, no divine purpose, and that the human race is totally insignificant in the larger scheme of things. There is only the great horror of the cosmos.

It's the birthday of Jacqueline Susann, (books by this author) born in Philadelphia in 1918. She was a party girl in high school, and even though she was smart and a good writer, she thought it would be easier to be an actress, so she went to New York instead of college. She wasn't much of an actress, but she did marry a press agent who got her spots in commercials, sitcoms, and plays.

In 1963, she published her first book, Every Night, Josephine!, about her experiences with her pet poodle, and then she published her huge best seller, Valley of the Dolls (1966), about sex, drugs, and life in show business. The book turned Jacqueline Susann into a celebrity author — she was one of the first novelists to really use publicity and marketing to her advantage. She and her husband, the press agent, promoted Valley of the Dolls through book tours and talk shows, and she made a point of signing every book in bookstores.

Valley of the Dolls begins: "The temperature hit ninety degrees the day she arrived. New York was steaming — an angry concrete animal caught unawares in an unseasonable hot spell. But she didn't mind the heat or the littered midway called Times Square. She thought New York was the most exciting city in the world."

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 »