Sep. 18, 2009

Eight. Doing the Dishes

by Jeanne Lohmann

We lived in so many houses, Gloria: Indiana Avenue,
Summit and Fourth, the double on Hudson Street.
And that upstairs apartment on North High we rented
from Armbruster's. Mother thought it Elizabethan,
romantic, with its leaded glass windows and wood-beamed
ceilings. Our entrance was at the side, at the top of stairs
that creaked late at night when we came home from our dates.
You had more of these than I did, even if I was older.
It was 1943, and our brother Harry was in the Navy.
I'd had a year away at college, and you were
still in high school. On this particular night
in the kitchen, doing the supper dishes, you
drying while I washed, you told me that your friend
Monabelle had a premature baby, and you'd been there,
helped to find a shoebox to put the baby in. I tried
to imagine this, kept seeing the cardboard box
with the baby, Monabelle bleeding and crying.
You didn't want our parents to hear, so we talked
softly while we put the dishes in the drainer
on the sink and hung the towels to dry.
The pilot light on the range burned purple blue
and I saw both of us new in that light, you
with so much to teach me, my self-absorbed
studious life, so intent on saving the world.

"Eight. Doing the Dishes" by Jeanne Lohmann, from Calls from a Lighted House. © Fithian Press, 2007. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of playwright and actress Anna Deavere Smith, (books by this author) born in Baltimore, Maryland (1950). She came from a middle-class African-American family; her dad ran a coffee and tea business, and her mom was a public school teacher.

After college, she headed out to San Francisco with a suitcase and $85, and she decided to take acting classes. Anna Deavere Smith has devoted most of her career to one-woman shows in which she chooses a particular experience in contemporary America, does extensive interviews with people about the experience, and then embodies each of her characters exactly as they speak, taking on their language, voices, and mannerisms. Her plays include Fires in the Mirror (1992), about the riots in Crown Heights between Jewish and African-American people there in 1991, and Twilight: Los Angeles 1992 (1994), about the aftermath of the Rodney King verdict. She's working on a new play, called The Americans, about political change in Washington. She is currently serving as the artist-in-residence at the Center for American Progress, a Democratic think tank.

It's the birthday of poet Alberto Álvaro Ríos, (books by this author) born in Nogales, Arizona, on the Mexican border in 1952. His first language was Spanish, but he learned English in school, where he got in trouble if he spoke Spanish, and eventually he forgot it completely. Years later, in high school and college, he decided to relearn Spanish, and he said, "In having to pay double and triple attention to language — first to forget, and then to relearn — I began to see earnestly how everything, every object, every idea, had at least two names." And paying so much attention to language inspired him to become a writer. He has written many books of poetry, including The Smallest Muscle in the Human Body (2002), The Theater of Night (2005), and most recently, The Dangerous Shirt, which came out this year.

He said: "The worst thing a writer can do is to think. The best thing to do is to react, which includes thinking but doesn't let it act as an impediment or a censor. When you read something, you think something — write that down. That's what I'm always trying to do."

It's the birthday of poet Paul Zimmer, (books by this author) born in Canton, Ohio (1934). He was drafted into the Army and went to Nevada, where he helped observe atomic explosions. He was so bored during his days in camp that he picked up The Pocket Book of Modern Verse and decided to try writing poetry himself. After he was discharged, he went to college on the GI Bill, and from there he wrote many books of poetry, including The Zimmer Poems (1976), The Great Bird of Love (1989), and Crossing to Sunlight Revisited: New and Selected Poems (2007).

It was on this day in 1837 that Charles Lewis Tiffany and Teddy Young opened "a stationery and fancy goods emporium" at 259 Broadway in New York City, the store that became Tiffany & Co.

In 1958, Truman Capote (books by this author) published a novella called Breakfast at Tiffany's. The main character, Holly Golightly, says that when she's feeling down, feeling what she calls the "mean reds," then "What I've found does the most good is just to get into a taxi and go to Tiffany's. It calms me down right away, the quietness and the proud look of it; nothing very bad could happen to you there, not with those kind men in their nice suits, and that lovely smell of silver and alligator wallets. If I could find a real-life place that made me feel like Tiffany's, then I'd buy some furniture and give the cat a name." Breakfast at Tiffany's was made into a film in 1961, starring Audrey Hepburn.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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