May 27, 2012
When I Think
When I think of where I've come from
or even try to measure as any kind of
distance these places, all the various
people, and all the ways in which I re-
member them, so that even the skin I
touched or was myself fact of, inside,
could see through like a hole in the wall
or listen to, it must have been, to what
was going on in there, even if I was still
too dumb to know anything—When I think
of the miles and miles of roads, or meals,
of telephone wires even, or even of water
poured out in endless streams down streaks
of black sky or the dirt roads washed clean,
or myriad, salty tears and suddenly it's spring
again, or it was—Even when I think about
all those I treated so poorly, names, places,
their waiting uselessly for me in the rain and
I never came, was never really there at all,
was moving so confusedly, so fast, so driven
like a car along some empty highway passing,
passing other cars—When I try to think of
things, of what's happened, of what a life is
and was, my life, when I wonder what it meant,
the sad days passing, the continuing, echoing deaths,
all the painful, belligerent news, and the dog still
waiting to be fed, the closeness of you sleeping, voices,
presences, of children, of our own grown children,
the shining, bright sun, the smell of the air just now,
each physical moment, passing, passing, it's what
it always is or ever was, just then, just there.
It's the birthday of novelist and short-story writer who said, "Literature has been the salvation of the damned, literature has inspired and guided lovers, routed despair and can perhaps in this case save the world." John Cheever (books by this author), born in Quincy, Massachusetts (1912). He was known as the "Ovid of Ossining" for his stories of suburban life — he lived in Ossining, a suburb in Westchester County. He was a funny man — as his son said, "He'd break a leg to get a laugh." In 1978, he published a collection, The Stories of John Cheever, and it won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the National Book Award. But he died just four years later, in 1982. Almost 10 years later, his journals were published, which contained revelations of his affairs with men, his depression, and alcoholism.
He said, "For me, a page of good prose is where one hears the rain and the noise of battle. It has the power to give grief or universality that lends it a youthful beauty."
It's the birthday of detective novelist Tony Hillerman (books by this author), born in Sacred Heart, Oklahoma (1925). His parents were farmers and owned a general store. He grew up around Pottawatomie Indians, and he and some of the other farm boys went to St. Mary's Academy, a boarding school for Indian girls.
He worked as a journalist, covering crime and politics around the Southwest, and dreamed about writing a novel. One day, he was interviewing an inmate on death row, and he said: "A notion implanted in my brain. It was the thought that fiction can sometimes tell the truth better than facts." He wrote his first novel, The Blessing Way (1970), featuring Navajo detective Joe Leaphorn. Hillerman went on to write 17 more books featuring Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn, and they were all best-sellers.
It's the birthday of writer Rachel Carson (books by this author), born in Springdale, Pennsylvania (1907). She started off her career as a successful marine biologist working for the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries; she was the second woman ever hired for a full-time position there. Her boss, Elmer Higgins, headed up a radio show on marine biology, which the staff called "seven-minute fish tales." The show was a total flop — no one knew how to make it interesting to the general public. Higgins asked Carson to write some scripts for the show, and she did such a good job that he asked her to write part of a Bureau of Fisheries brochure. She wrote an essay called "The World of Waters." After he read it, Higgins sat her down and told her that her essay was too good for the brochure. He suggested she write a new one for him, and send "The World of Waters" to The Atlantic Monthly. The essay, retitled "Undersea," was published in 1937. It begins: "Who has known the ocean? Neither you nor I, with our earth-bound senses, know the foam and surge of the tide that beats over the crab hiding under the seaweed of his tide pool home; or the lilt of the long, slow swells of mid-ocean, where shoals of wandering fish prey and are preyed upon, and the dolphin breaks the waves to breathe the upper atmosphere. Nor can we know the vicissitudes of life on the ocean floor [...] where swarms of diminutive fish twinkle through the dusk like a silver rain of meteors, and eels lie in wait among the rocks. Even less is it given to man to descend those six incomprehensible miles into the recesses of the abyss, where reign utter silence and unvarying cold and eternal night."
An editor at Simon & Schuster read Carson's piece and asked her to write a book. She went on to write many best-sellers, including The Sea Around Us (1951), The Edge of the Sea (1955), and Silent Spring (1962), which helped launch the environmental movement.
She said, "If there is poetry in my book about the sea, it is not because I deliberately put it there, but because no one could write truthfully about the sea and leave out the poetry."
And, "Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts."
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®