Sep. 30, 2009

Walking at Night

by Louise Gluck

Now that she is old,
the young men don't approach her
so the nights are free,
the streets at dusk that were so dangerous
have become as safe as the meadow.

By midnight, the town's quiet.
Moonlight reflects off the stone walls;
on the pavement, you can hear the nervous sounds
of the men rushing home to their wives and mothers; this late,
the doors are locked, the windows darkened.

When they pass, they don't notice her.
She's like a dry blade of grass in a field of grasses.
So her eyes that used never to leave the ground
are free now to go where they like.

When she's tired of the streets, in good weather she walks
in the fields where the town ends.
Sometimes, in summer, she goes as far as the river.

The young people used to gather not far from here
but now the river's grown shallow from lack of rain, so
the bank's deserted—

There were picnics then.
The boys and girls eventually paired off;
after a while, they made their way into the woods
where it's always twilight—

The woods would be empty now—
the naked bodies have found other places to hide.

In the river, there's just enough water for the night sky
to make patterns against the gray stones. The moon's bright,
one stone among many others. And the wind rises;
it blows the small trees that grow at the river's edge.

When you look at a body you see a history.
Once that body isn't seen anymore,
the story it tried to tell gets lost—

On nights like this, she'll walk as far as the bridge
before she turns back.
Everything still smells of summer.
And her body begins to seem again the body she had as a young woman,
glistening under the light summer clothing.

"Walking at Night" by Louise Glück from A Village Life. © Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 2009. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of writer and concentration camp survivor Elie Wiesel, (books by this author) born in a small village in Transylvania (1928). He grew up in a Hasidic community and learned to love reading by studying the Pentateuch and other sacred texts. When he was 15, he and his family were taken to the Auschwitz concentration camp. His mother, sister, and father were all killed before World War II was over.

Wiesel survived the camp, but he couldn't write about his experiences for 10 years. Finally, a mentor, François Mauriac, persuaded Wiesel to write about the war. He wrote a 900-page memoir, which he condensed into the 127-page book called Night (1955).

Night has become one of the most widely read books about the Holocaust. In 1986, Wiesel received the Nobel Prize in literature for his writing and teaching.

It's the birthday of poet W.S. Merwin, (books by this author) born in New York City (1927). His father was a Presbyterian minister, and Merwin made up hymns before he could even write. He studied creative writing at Princeton University and often showed his poems to the poet John Berryman, then a graduate student. Merwin asked Berryman how to know if his poems were any good. Berryman replied, “You can’t. You can never be sure. You die without knowing.” Merwin later included the lines in a poem.

He currently lives in Hawaii, in a house built on an old pineapple farm where he preserves many native plants. Merwin’s recent poetry reflects his passion for conservation. His collections include The Vixen (1996), The River Sound (1999), The Pupil (2001), Migration: New and Selected Poems (2005), and The Shadow of Sirius (2008), winner of the Pulitzer Prize.

Today is the 28th birthday of Irish novelist Cecelia Ahern, (books by this author) born in Dublin (1981). She wrote the international best-seller P.S. I Love You (2004)when she was only 21 years old, using pen and paper, writing it in cheap notebooks known as “A4 refill pads” that are found in nearly every UK and Ireland drug store. Then, with a publishing deal and film rights, she became an overnight millionaire at the age of 22.

P.S. I Love You is a novel about a 30-year-old unemployed secretary named Holly whose Irish husband has just died of a brain tumor. As he was dying, he postmarked a series of letters for her with instructions and challenges designed to help her get through her grief and move on with her life. Holly discovers them after he has died.

Cecelia Ahern was 21 when she wrote the book, and she’d never been married or had a loved one die. She’d just graduated from college with a degree in journalism and was unsure what she wanted to do. So she lived at home with her mother. For three months she stayed up all night working on the novel in her pajamas, writing between the hours of 11 p.m. and 7 a.m.

Ahern didn’t do any research for the novel; she said it was “all in [her] head." P.S. I Love You was the best-selling novel in Ireland for 19 weeks in 2004, and reached the #1 spot in the UK and U.S. in 2004 as well. The book is sold in more than 40 countries, and it spent 52 weeks on the best-seller list in Germany. Her second, third, and fourth books, Where Rainbows End (2004) and If You Could See Me Now (2005) and A Place Called Here (2006), were also international bestsellers. P.S. I Love You was made into a movie (2007) starring Hilary Swank, Gerard Butler, and Harry Connick Jr.

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




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