Jul. 31, 2013
Taking Out the Trash
I remember as a child
watching my father take out the trash
at the frozen crack of dawn, cursing
as he dragged the stinking cans to the curb,
and thinking, that's not something
I'm ever going to do.
In other ways I was a model son,
standing at the mirror as he shaved,
dabbing the warm cream on my cheek,
dreaming of a razor
and whiskers of my very own.
Watching him light up
as he read the Sunday paper,
one eye squinted against smoke
and bad news, had me reading the funnies
before I could even read, my eye
squinted against nothing.
And the deft, one-handed way
he straightened his fedora's brim,
while at the same time
adjusting the coordinates
of rake and tilt,
makes me regret that the hat,
like my father, has vanished,
along with the strop and razor,
and lathery bowl of curds.
Even smoking, and the Sunday paper
are on their way out.
These are the losses I'm mourning
this morning as I drag the stinking
trash cans to the curb.
It's the birthday of poet and novelist Kim Addonizio (books by this author), born in Washington, D.C. (1954). Her dad was a sportswriter for The Washington Post, and her mom was the tennis champion Pauline Betz. She's the author of Tell Me (2000) and What Is This Thing Called Love (2004) and Lucifer at the Starlite (2011).
On this day in 1944, the writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (books by this author) disappeared while flying reconnaissance for the Allies. He's remembered as the author of children's classic The Little Prince, but all his other books, including Night Flight (1931), were about his life as a pilot. After the Nazi invasion of France, he heard about a company of men using Lockheed P-38s to photograph enemy installations, and he tried to enlist. The age limit for the company was 35, and pilots had to be in top physical condition. Saint-Exupéry was 43 and in constant pain from an old injury, but he pestered, and they finally admitted him. On the morning of his final mission, he took off at quarter to nine, and was supposed to return with an hour's worth of fuel left at 1:30. He didn't return, and by 2:30, the men on the ground knew he was gone. His plane was never found.
It's the birthday of writer J.K. Rowling (books by this author), born Joanne Rowling in Yate, England (1965). Rowling grew up in rural England. She tried writing a couple of novels but never finished them. One day, on a cross-country train trip, the idea of Harry Potter just appeared in her mind. She didn't have a pen to write things down, so she said: "Rather than try to write it, I had to think it. And I think that was a very good thing. I was besieged by a mass of detail, and if it didn't survive that journey, it probably wasn't worth remembering." As soon as she got home, she started writing what she did remember.
It took J.K. Rowling awhile to find a publisher for her novel, but finally it was published: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (published in the U.S. as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone). It started with a print run of 1,000 copies. The last book in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (2007), had a first print run of 12 million copies in the United States, the largest first printing of any book in history. Altogether, the series has sold more than 400 million copies.
She's often asked to give advice to aspiring young writers, and her answer is always the same: "Read as much as you possibly can. Nothing will help you as much as reading and you'll go through a phase where you will imitate your favorite writers and that's fine because that's a learning experience too."
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®