Jun. 10, 2013

Losing My Sight

by Lisel Mueller

I never knew that by August
the birds are practically silent,
only a twitter here and there.
Now I notice. Last spring
their noisiness taught me the difference
between screamers and whistlers and cooers
and O, the coloraturas.
I have already mastered
the subtlest pitches in our cat's
elegant Chinese. As the river
turns muddier before my eyes,
its sighs and little smacks
grow louder. Like a spy,
I pick up things indiscriminately:
the long approach of a truck,
car doors slammed in the dark,
the night life of animals—shrieks and hisses,
sex and plunder in the garage.
Tonight the crickets spread static
across the air, a continuous rope
of sound extended to me,
the perfect listener.

"Losing My Sight" by Lisel Mueller, from Alive Together. © Loisiana State University Press, 1996. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of biologist and writer Edward O. Wilson (books by this author), born in Birmingham, Alabama (1929). When he was a boy, his father's job as a government accountant forced the family to move often. He attended 14 different public schools over 11 years, and with each move had to make a new set of friends. In his autobiography, Naturalist (1994), he wrote: "A nomadic existence made Nature my companion of choice, because the outdoors was the one part of my world I perceived to hold rock steady." His research was presented in the books Sociobiology: The New Synthesis (1975) and the Pulitzer Prize-winning On Human Nature (1978). He received a second Pulitzer Prize for The Ants (1990). His most recent book, The Social Conquest of Earth, was published last year.

It's the birthday of novelist Saul Bellow (books by this author), born in Lachine, Quebec (1915). He grew up in Chicago, the city that would become the setting of many of his novels. He was often sick as a child, and spent his time reading the great classics of literature. He said: "I came humbly, hat in hand, to literary America. I didn't ask for much; I had a book or two to publish. I didn't expect to make money at it. I saw myself at the tail end of a great glory."

Bellow was working part time for the Encyclopedia Britannica when his first novel, Dangling Man, (1944), was published. It didn't sell a lot of copies, so he went off and served in the Marines, and published a second novel.

He spent most of 1948 in France with his wife, hoping to gather material for a book. But he grew depressed: His novel was going nowhere and the weather was dreary. He decided to start writing a new novel, about a young man's adventures in Chicago just before the Great Depression. That novel became The Adventures of Augie March, and it was his first big success.

Bellows other novels include Henderson the Rain King (1959), Herzog (1964), Humboldt's Gift (1975), and Ravelstein (2000). He died in 2005, at the age of 89.

It's the birthday of novelist and short-story writer James Salter (books by this author), born James Horowitz, in New York City (1925). He attended West Point and became a pilot in the Air Force. He flew one hundred combat missions during the Korean War, and served as a squadron leader in Europe before retiring in 1957 to become a writer. His first two novels, The Hunters (1957) and The Arm of Flesh (1960), were based on his experiences as a combat pilot. Next came what he called "the first good thing I wrote," A Sport and a Pastime (1967), a novel about the love affair between a Yale dropout living in Paris and a working-class French girl.

James Salter said: "The writer's life exists for only a small number. It can be glorious, especially after death. There are provincial, national, and world writers — one should compete in one's class, despise riches, as Whitman says, and take off your hat to no one."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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