Dec. 26, 2009

The Blessing of the Old Woman, the Tulip, and the Dog

by Alicia Suskin Ostriker

To be blessed
said the old woman
is to live and work
so hard
God's love
washes right through you
like milk through a cow

To be blessed
said the dark red tulip
is to knock their eyes out
with the slug of lust
implied by
your up-ended

To be blessed
said the dog
is to have a pinch
of God
inside you
and all the other dogs
can smell it

"The Blessing of the Old Woman, the Tulip, and the Dog" by Alicia Suskin Ostriker, from The Book of Seventy. © University of Pittsburgh Press, 2009. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Today is Boxing Day, celebrated the day after Christmas in Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and other Commonwealth countries.

Boxing Day was the setting for the short story "Reginald's Christmas Revel," by British writer Saki. (books by this author) Saki is the pen name for Hector Hugh Munro, a writer best known for his witty and delightfully absurd satirical short stories.

The sardonic narrator of Saki's story sits through a boring holiday meal, in which a dull sportsman dominates the dinner table conversation with descriptions of wild game he's caught. Finally, the ennui is relieved when they move into the drawing room for parlor games. Says the narrator: "It was in the evening that we cast aside the cares and distractions of the day and really lived."

He sits through the inanity as decently as he can, and then, he reports, "in a lapse of good-nature, I consented to masquerade as a book, only I warned them that it would take some time to carry out." He's gone for 40 minutes; during that whole time, the guests are eagerly expecting him to appear any moment masquerading as a book. They're mad he doesn't come back to the parlor, and he reports, not "a bit pacified when I told them afterwards that I was At the end of the passage."

That game's over, and the evening entertainment continues with storytelling and mind-reading, which the narrator doesn't want to participate in, so he invents a headache and retires from the scene. But first he walks by the room of one of the other dinner guests, who'd retired even earlier in the evening than he, a "rather formidable lady" who had put a signed note up on her bedroom door asking that she be awakened early in the morning. The sardonic narrator sees the sign and observes: "Such an opportunity does not come twice in a lifetime." He replaces her wake-up request with a suicide note, and keeps her signature from the original note prominently showing. He goes out into the hall and pops a bag filled with air to make a huge explosive sound, and he gives a loud stage moan which can be heard all through out the house. And then, he narrates, "I pursued my original intention and went to bed. The noise those people made in forcing open the good lady's door was positively indecorous; she resisted gallantly, but I believe they searched her for bullets for about a quarter of an hour, as if she had been a historic battlefield."

The narrator concludes, "I hate travelling on Boxing Day, but one must occasionally do things that one dislikes."

"Reginald's Christmas Revel" by Saki (H.H. Munro) can be found in a volume entitled Christmas Stories, edited by Diana Secker Tesdell, part of the Everyman's Pocket Classics series published by Alfred A. Knopf (2007).

It's the birthday of poet Juan Felipe Herrera, (books by this author) born in Fowler, California (1948). The son of migratory farm workers, he spent his childhood on the move, living in a series of farm camps in California. He said: "I grew up as a gypsy child. You're under the sky. You're always moving. You don't really worry about having too many things. You just hang out, stay light ... in nature. It was beautiful."

Herrera has written many collections of poetry, including Exiles of Desire (1983) and Border-Crosser with a Lamborghini Dream (1999), and he has published several bilingual books for children, including Calling the Doves (1995) and The Upside Down Boy (2000).

It's the birthday of novelist Jean Toomer, (books by this author) born Nathan Pinchback Toomer in Washington, D.C. (1894). He is best known for his novel Cane, which sold less than 1,000 copies when it first came out in 1923, but it marked the beginning of the literary renaissance in Harlem.

It's the birthday of poet Thomas Gray, (books by this author) born in London (1716). He wrote Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard (1751), which is considered to be one of the greatest poems in the English language.
The poem begins:
The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
The lowing herd wind slowly o'er the lea,
The plowman homeward plods his weary way,
And leaves the world to darkness and to me.

It's the birthday of columnist Doris Lilly, (books by this author) born in South Pasadena, California (1926). She wrote society columns for the New York Post and the New York Daily Mirror, writing mostly about celebrities. Her first book was How to Marry a Millionaire (1951), which was made into a movie starring Marilyn Monroe. Lilly is believed to be the inspiration for Holly Golighty, the character in Truman Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's.

It's the birthday of David Sedaris, (books by this author) born near Binghamton, New York (1956). He grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina. He moved to Chicago, and he made a living painting apartments, squirrel-proofing houses, and working as a house cleaner. Then, in 1992, he read his essay "The SantaLand Diaries" on NPR's Morning Edition. It was extremely popular. He signed a contract with a publisher, and his books of essays were huge best-sellers — Barrel Fever (1994), Naked (1997), and Me Talk Pretty One Day (2000). But even after he became a successful writer, Sedaris kept his job cleaning apartments for a long time. He said: "I can only write when it's dark, so basically, my whole day is spent waiting for it to get dark. Cleaning apartments gives me something to do when I get up. Otherwise, I'd feel like a bum." His most recent book, When You Are Engulfed in Flames, came out in 2008.

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