Jun. 23, 2013
Do You Love Me?
She's twelve and she's asking the dog,
who does, but who speaks
in tongues, whose feints and gyrations
are themselves parts of speech.
They're on the back porch
and I don't really mean to be taking this in
but once I've heard I can't stop listening. Again
and again she asks, and the good dog
sits and wiggles, leaps and licks.
Imagine never asking. Imagine why:
so sure you wouldn't dare, or couldn't care
less. I wonder if the dog's guileless brown eyes
can lie, if the perfect canine lack of abstractions
might not be a bit like the picture books
she "read" as a child, before her parents' lips
shaped the daily miracle of speech
and kisses, and the words were not lead
and weighed only air, and did not mean
so meanly. "Do you love me?" she says
and says, until the dog, sensing perhaps
its own awful speechlessness, tries to bolt,
but she holds it by the collar and will not
let go, until, having come closer,
I hear the rest of it. I hear it all.
She's got the dog's furry jowls in her hands,
she's speaking precisely
into its laid-back, quivering ears:
"Say it," she hisses, "say it to me."
It was on this day in 1868 that the typewriter was patented, by Christopher Sholes in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In 1873, he sold the patent to the Remington Arms Co., a famous gun maker, for $12,000. There had been typewriters before, but they weren't very practical — it took longer to type a letter than to write it by hand. The first commercial typewriter based on Sholes' design went on the market in 1874.
There are a handful of contemporary authors who prefer using a typewriter during their writing process. John Updike used his 76-year-old black lacquered Olivetti MP1 until he died. David Sedaris took his typewriter with him everywhere until surrendering a few years ago to the inconvenience of trying to get it through the airport. Larry McMurtry honored his Swiss Hermes 3000 typewriter in his acceptance speech for Best Screenplay at the Golden Globes in 2006, calling it "a noble instrument of European genius." Paul Auster wrote an homage to his manual Olympia called The Story of My Typewriter (2002).
It's the birthday of the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova (books by this author), born in a suburb of Odessa in 1889. She was a beautiful, fashionable, 22-year-old woman when she published her first collection of poetry in 1912. The book was filled with love poems inspired by her affair with the then-unknown Italian painter Amedeo Modigliani, and no Russian woman had ever written so frankly about love. Akhmatova became a celebrity overnight.
But within a few years, life in Russia became much more complicated, and Akhmatova had a lot more to write about than love affairs. In her poem "In Memoriam July 19, 1914" — about the start of World War I — she wrote, "We grew a hundred years older in a single hour." After the Bolshevik Revolution, most writers and intellectuals tried to flee the country, but Akhmatova and her husband decided to stay. Her husband was shot in 1921 for allegedly participating in an anti-Bolshevik plot, and the following year, the government informed Akhmatova that she would no longer be able to publish her poetry.
She began working on translations and more or less stopped writing her own poems.
Then Akhmatova's son was arrested by the government. For 17 months, she went to the prison in Leningrad every day to try to get news about her son's well-being. There were crowds of other women there, doing the same thing, and one day a woman recognized Akhmatova as the formerly famous poet. Akhmatova later described the incident, writing, "A woman with bluish lips standing behind me … woke up from the stupor to which everyone had succumbed and whispered in my ear, 'Can you describe this?'"
That woman's question helped inspire Akhmatova to begin writing her 10-poem cycle "Requiem," which many Russians consider the greatest piece of literature written about Stalinist Russia.
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®