Jul. 11, 2010
The Shipfitter's Wife
I loved him most
when he came home from work,
his fingers still curled from fitting pipe,
his denim shirt ringed with sweat,
smelling of salt, the drying weeds
of the ocean. I'd go to where he sat
on the edge of the bed, his forehead
anointed with grease, his cracked hands
jammed between his thighs, and unlace
the steel-toed boots, stroke his ankles
and calves, the pads and bones of his feet.
Then I'd open his clothes and take
the whole day inside me – the ship's
gray sides, the miles of copper pipe,
the voice of the foreman clanging
off the hull's silver ribs. Spark of lead
kissing metal. The clamp, the winch,
the white fire of the torch, the whistle,
and the long drive home.
It's the birthday of Thomas Bowdler, (books by this author) born in Ashley, Somerset, England (1754). He wrote a censored version of Shakespeare's plays, called The Family Shakespeare (1807), because he thought that the Bard's sexual humor was inappropriate for women and children. And we remember him today in the verb bowdlerize,which means to revise for a censorious purpose.
It's the birthday of the literary critic Harold Bloom, (books by this author) born in New York City (1930). His parents were Jewish immigrants, and his first language was Yiddish, but he fell in love with English poetry and read it before he had ever heard English spoken aloud. He started reading Walt Whitman and Hart Crane when he was eight years old. And he went on to become one of the most influential literary critics in the country. He is one of the last critics who argues that great literature is a product of genius, and that we shouldn't read it to understand history or politics or culture, but to understand the human condition.
It's the birthday of the essayist and children's writer E.B. White, (books by this author) born Elwin Brooks White in Mount Vernon, New York (1899). After a young pig he was raising got sick and he failed to save its life, he wrote one of his most famous essays, "Death of a Pig." Then he wrote a children's novel in which the pig doesn't have to die: Charlotte's Web (1952). It's the story of a runt pig named Wilbur who is saved the first time by a little girl and the second time by a wise spider. It is one of the best-selling children's books of all time.
E.B. White said: "I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day."
It was on this day 151 years ago that Charles Dickens' (books by this author) novel A Tale of Two Cities (1859) was published. It begins:
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair ..."
Fifty years ago today, Harper Lee's (books by this author) only novel, To Kill a Mockingbird,was published, the story narrated by six-year-old Scout Finch in the fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama. It was an immediate best-seller, a Pulitzer Prize winner, and an instant American classic. It continues to sell incredibly well, with 30 million copies still in print.
The book's title appears in a scene in chapter 10, where Scout remembers something her dad, Atticus, has said and asks her neighbor Miss Maudie about it.
"I'd rather you shot at tin cans in the back yard, but I know you'll go after birds. Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit 'em, but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird." That was the only time I ever heard Atticus say it was a sin to do something, and I asked Miss Maudie about it.
"Your father's right," she said. "Mockingbirds don't do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don't eat up people's gardens, don't nest in corncribs, they don't do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That's why it's a sin to kill a mockingbird."
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®