Jul. 9, 2013

Lobsters in the Window

by W.D. Snodgrass

First, you think they are dead.
Then you are almost sure
One is beginning to stir.
Out of the crushed ice, slow
As the hands of a schoolroom clock,
He lifts his one great claw
And holds it over his head;
Now, he is trying to walk.

But like a run-down toy;
Like the backward crabs we boys
Splashed after in the creek,
Trapped in jars or a net,
And then took home to keep.
Overgrown, retarded, weak,
He is fumbling yet
From the deep chill of his sleep

As if, in a glacial thaw,
Some ancient thing might wake
Sore and cold and stiff
Struggling to raise one claw
Like a defiant fist;
Yet wavering, as if
Starting to swell and ache
With that thick peg in the wrist.

I should wave back, I guess.
But still in his permanent clench
He's fallen back with the mass
Heaped in their common trench
Who stir, but do not look out
Through the rainstreaming glass,
Hear what the newsboys shout,
Or see the raincoats pass.

"Lobsters in the Window" by W.D. Snodgrass, from After Experience. © Harper Collins, 1968. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of the "Queen of Romance," a woman who wrote more than 700 books: Barbara Cartland (books by this author), born in Birmingham, England (1901). She started working as a gossip columnist, became a society belle, and then started publishing romance novels. She always wore pink dresses, and she even launched a home decorating line, complete with pink, frilly home items.

She was famous for following the same formula for every novel. She said: "The story is always going to be very much the same, because the girl is pure and the man is not. The man will go to bed with any woman who takes his fancy, so I have got to keep him from going to bed with the heroine until page two hundred, when she has a wedding ring on her finger. I tried writing modern books, but I found it very difficult to create convincing virgins in modern dress, so my stories are always set between approximately 1790 and 1890."

She dictated all her novels. She claimed that this was one of the secrets to her success. She would dictate from a chaise longue, with a rug at her feet and her pet Pekinese curled up next to her. It took her an average of one week to complete a novel. By the time she died in 2000 at the age of 98, she had sold more than 1 billion books.

It's the birthday of the man called "the poet laureate of medicine," neurologist and writer Oliver Sacks (books by this author), born in London in 1933. He has devoted his career to studying people with unusual neurological disorders, and writing about them so that they seem like real people and not just case studies. His first book was Migraine (1970), about migraine headaches, and it got good reviews. In the 1960s, he started working with survivors of the sleeping sickness epidemic that occurred between 1916 and 1927. These people had been in institutions ever since, still alive but in unresponsive bodies. Sacks noticed that many people had similar reactions as people suffering from Parkinson's disease, so he decided to treat them with the drug levodopa. Many of them woke up and were cognizant for the first time in 40 years. But it was extremely stressful for many of them to have lost so much time like that, and most of them went back to sleep. Sacks wrote a book about it, Awakenings (1973), which was made into a movie starring Robert De Niro and Robin Williams.

Oliver Sacks said: "Classical fables have archetypal figures — heroes, victims, martyrs, warriors. Neurological patients are all of these. ... They are travelers to unimaginable lands — lands of which otherwise we should have no idea or conception."

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




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