Dec. 20, 2009

Things I Know

by Joyce Sutphen

I know how the cow's head turns
to gaze at the child in the hay aisle;

I know the way the straw shines
under the one bare light in the barn.

How a chicken pecks gravel into silt
and how the warm egg rests beneath

the feathers—I know that too, and
what to say, watching the rain slide

in silver chains over the machine
shed's roof. I know how one pail

of water calls to another and how
it sloshes and spills when I walk

from the milk-house to the barn.
I know how the barn fills and

then empties, how I scatter lime
on the walk, how I sweep it up.

In the silo, I know the rung under
my foot; on the tractor, I know

the clutch and the throttle; I slip
through the fence and into the woods,

where I know everything: trunk
by branch by leaf into sky.

"Things I Know" by Joyce Sutphen. Used with permission of the author. (buy now)

It's the birthday of Sandra Cisneros, (books by this author) born in Chicago (1954), the only daughter in a family of seven children, and best known as the author of The House on Mango Street (1984),a novel of vignettes based on her adolescence in a run-down Latino neighborhood Chicago. The book got hardly any attention when it was published 25 years ago, but has since sold more than 2 million copies, been translated into more than a dozen languages, and become required reading at middle schools, high schools, and colleges across the U.S.

Her father hadn't wanted her to be a writer; he thought that in order to make it as a successful Latina, she should aim to be a television news weather girl. But her mom encouraged her to read and write, took her to the library, didn't make her learn how to cook, and didn't interrupt her studying or reading to make her do chores.

Cisneros majored in English at Loyola in Chicago and got accepted at the Iowa Writers' Workshop, a place where she felt totally out of place. She said, "My classmates were from the best schools in the country. They had been bred as fine hothouse flowers. I was a yellow weed among the city's cracks." One Iowa instructor gave them an exercise in which they were to describe their childhood homes. She said, "It was not until this moment when I separated myself, when I considered myself truly distinct, that my writing acquired a voice. … That's when I decided I would write about something my classmates couldn't write about."

Her 2002 novel, Caramelo, won a number of awards. She's currently a writer-in-residence at Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio, Texas, and working on a children's book called Bravo, Bruno and a book about writing titled Writing in My Pajamas.

It's the birthday of the Irish revolutionary Maud Gonne, the lifelong muse of poet W.B. Yeats, (books by this author) born in Aldershot, England 1865. She and Yeats were the same age, born only a few months apart, and they first met when they were 25 years old. He was introduced to her by a friend, the Irish nationalist John O'Leary, and later referred to the day when he met her as "when the troubling of my life began."

She was tall and exquisitely beautiful. In his Memoirs, Yeats wrote: "I had never thought to see in a living woman so great beauty. It belonged to famous pictures, to poetry, to some legendary past. A complexion like the blossom of apples, and yet face and body had the beauty of lineaments which Blake calls the highest beauty because it changes least from youth to age, and a stature so great that she seemed of a divine race."

Yeats immediately fell in love with Maud Gonne, and he asked her to marry him in 1891, but she refused. It was the first of many proposals of marriage that he made and that she rejected. They remained close to each other throughout their lives, though, and agreed at one point that they had a "spiritual union" to each other.

In response to one of Yeats' many marriage proposals, Maud Gonne told him: "You would not be happy with me. ... You make beautiful poetry out of what you call your unhappiness and you are happy in that. Marriage would be such a dull affair. Poets should never marry."

In a letter to him in 1911, she wrote, "Our children were your poems of which I was the father sowing the unrest & storm which made them possible & you the mother who brought them forth in suffering & in the highest beauty."

Maud Gonne is the person to whom Yeats addressed this poem, "He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven":

Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

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
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