Tuesday

Oct. 26, 2010

Your Punishment in Hell

by Gary Leising

Someone will douse a cobra in gasoline,
light the sucker, and shove it headfirst
down your throat. It'll speed straight
through your esophagus, unfurl
its hood to fill your stomach
then begin to strike and strike and strike
and strike and strike: fangs pierce
your stomach, venom pours in,
the little burn of incipient ulcers
grows quick, paralysis sets in.
Your lungs stop before your brain,
before your hand, which lifts
to your mouth the plastic-lidded
paper cup holding the caramel
macchiato cappuccino with a double
shot of espresso and frothed soy milk
topped with two shakes of cinnamon
and no, NO (yes, you said no twice)
sugar that was made for you
slowly, while I, already running late,
waited behind you for a simple,
already-made black coffee.
You will lose all motion before
that drink reaches your mouth,
but you recover and the drink,
strangely, has vanished, and barrista
and cobra-douser-slash-lighter do it all again
and again. I know this because,
for my angry impatience,
I am behind you in line in hell
forever, the pot of black coffee
behind the counter steaming,
turning, I know, bitter.

"Your Punishment in Hell" by Gary Leising from Fastened to a Dying Animal. © Pudding House Press, 2010. Reprinted with permission.

It's the birthday of poet Andrew Motion, (books by this author) born in London (1952), whose collections include The Pleasure Steamers (1977), Secret Narratives (1983), Dangerous Play (1984), Natural Causes (1987), Love in a Life (1991), Salt Water (1997), A Long Story (2001), and Public Property (2002). From 1999 until last year, he was Britain's poet laureate.

While a student at Oxford, he studied poetry in one-on-one tutorials with W.H. Auden, which he said was "like spending an hour each week in the presence of God." He published his own first volume of poetry at the age of 24, and he got a job teaching English at the University of Hull, where the librarian was poet Philip Larkin. They became good friends. After Larkin's death in 1985, Motion wrote an award-winning biography of Larkin.

He gets up early and says that he writes each morning from six o'clock until nine or ten, and that he considers this "sacred time." He said, "If I can carry without spilling whatever it is that drips into my head in the night to my desk, then that's valuable."

He said: "My poems are the product of a relationship between a side of my mind which is conscious, alert, educated and manipulative, and a side which is as murky as a primeval swamp [...] I want my writing to be as clear as water. No ornate language; very few obvious tricks. I want readers to be able to see all the way down through its surfaces into the swamp. I want them to feel they're in a world they thought they knew, but which turns out to be stranger, more charged, more disturbed than they realized."

He's the author of a novel The Invention of Dr. Cake (2003), inspired by the life of John Keats, and a memoir, In the Blood (2006). His most recent book of poems came out last year; it's called The Cinder Path (2009).

It's the birthday of president of Bolivia, Evo Morales, born on this day in 1959 in Orinoca, Bolivia. He's the leader of Movement for Socialism, a political party devoted to closing the gap between rich and poor by passing land reform laws — and also laws that redistribute profits made from drilling in Bolivia's natural gas reserves. He was elected president in December of 2005 and re-elected in December 2009.

He spent his childhood as a migrant laborer, harvesting sugar and herding llamas, and was leader of the Coca Growers Union when he was elected. He's not married, and his older sister acts as first lady. He doesn't wear suits and ties, instead showing up to meetings with world leaders in a striped sweater. On his 100th day in office, which was May Day 2005, he nationalized all of the natural gas fields, including fields owned by BP and ExxonMobil.

There's a documentary out about him; it's called On the Road with Evo (2006).

Archives:

It's the anniversary of the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825. It was built to connect the Atlantic Ocean with the Great Lakes. The canal was 360 miles long, 40 feet wide, and four feet deep — just deep enough to float barges carrying 30 tons of freight.

It was on this day in 1900 that Henry James wrote his first letter to the budding novelist Edith Wharton, beginning a long friendship. Wharton (books by this author) was an admirer of James's (books by this author) work, and she sent him one of the first short stories she ever wrote, about a young woman in Europe. He wrote back to say that he liked the story but he also said, "Be tethered in native pastures, even if it reduces [you] to a back-yard in New York." His advice inspired her to write about the New York society she'd grown up in, and the result was The House of Mirth (1905), which became her first big success.

It's the birthday of the novelist Pat Conroy, (books by this author) born in Atlanta (1945), whose mother read him Gone with the Wind and told him stories about her aristocratic ancestors, even though she never had any. He said, "She was poor white trash who spent her whole life denying it as bitterly and vehemently as she could ... [she] was really the first fiction writer in the family." Conroy went on to write a series of best-selling novels about dysfunctional Southern families, including The Great Santini (1976) and The Prince of Tides (1986).

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
  • “Writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig” —Stephen Greenblatt
  • “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • “Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” —John Edgar Wideman
  • “In certain ways writing is a form of prayer.” —Denise Levertov
  • “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Let's face it, writing is hell.” —William Styron
  • “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann
  • “Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials.” —Paul Rudnick
  • “Writing is a failure. Writing is not only useless, it's spoiled paper.” —Padget Powell
  • “Writing is very hard work and knowing what you're doing the whole time.” —Shelby Foote
  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
  • “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.” —Iris Murdoch
  • “The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is…that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
  • “Writing is a combination of intangible creative fantasy and appallingly hard work.” —Anthony Powell
  • “I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act.” —Michael Cunningham
The Writer's Almanac on Facebook


The Writer's Almanac on Twitter

Subscribe to our daily newsletter for poems, prose and literary history every morning
An interview with Jeffrey Harrison at The Writer's Almanac Bookshelf
Current Faves - Learn more about poets featured frequently on the show
O, What a Luxury

Although he has edited several anthologies of his favorite poems, O, What a Luxury: Verses Lyrical, Vulgar, Pathetic & Profound forges a new path for Garrison Keillor, as a poet of light verse. Purchase O, What a Luxury »