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Poem: "A Christmas Poem" by Robert Bly from Morning Poems. © Harper Collins. Reprinted with permission.

A Christmas Poem

Christmas is a place, like Jackson Hole, where we all
To meet once a year. It has water, and grass for
All the fur traders can come in. We visited the place
As children, but we never heard the good stories.

Those stories only get told in the big tents, late
At night, when a trapper who has been caught
In his own trap, held down in icy water, talks; and a
With a ponytail and a limp comes in from the edge of
     the fire.

As children, we knew there was more to it—
Why some men got drunk on Christmas Eve
Wasn't explained, nor why we were so often
Near tears nor why the stars came down so close,

Why so much was lost. Those men and women
Who had died in wars started by others,
Did they come that night? Is that why the Christmas
Trembled just before we opened the presents?

There was something about angels. Angels we
Have heard on high Sweetly singing o'er
The plain
. The angels were certain. But we could not
Be certain whether our family was worthy tonight.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of poet and scholar Thomas Gray, born in London (1716). He wrote most of his early poems in Latin, and he's remembered for one of the few poems he wrote in English called "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" (1751), which is considered one of the greatest poems of the English language.

"Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" begins,
"The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
     The lowing herd wind slowly o'er the lea,
   The plowman homeward plods his weary way,
     And leaves the world to darkness and to me."

It's the birthday of columnist Doris Lilly, born in South Pasadena, California (1926). She wrote society columns for the New York Post and the New York Daily Mirror, writing mostly about celebrities. She wrote the book was How to Marry a Millionaire (1951).

Lilly is believed to be the one of the women who served as inspiration for Holly Golighty, the character in Truman Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's.

It's the birthday of author Henry Miller, born in New York City (1891). He wanted to be a writer from a very young age, but didn't commit himself to writing as a career until he was 32 years old. He married a taxi-dancer named June Mansfield Smith who read Dostoyevsky and Proust, and who encouraged Miller to quit his job and devote himself to writing. He wrote dozens of stories and articles, but when none was accepted for publication he took to printing them himself and selling them door to door and in restaurants and night clubs.

He ended up in Paris in the 1930s. He moved from hotel to hotel, stayed with friends, and begged on the street to get money for food. At one point he was eating oatmeal three times a day so he could survive on as little money as possible. In 1931, he wrote in a letter, "I have no money, no resources, no hopes. I am the happiest man alive." Finally, a friend took him in and allowed him to write in his apartment all day in return for cooking dinner and keeping the fire stoked.

Miller was forty years old when he began writing Tropic of Cancer, which was basically a fictional memoir of his own life at the time. He filled the book with scenes of poverty, sex and squalor. Tropic of Cancer was published in Paris in 1934 and it was praised by important literary figures like T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound. But it was banned in the United States along with Tropic of Capricorn and Black Spring. Grove Press finally published Tropic of Cancer in the U.S. in 1961, but the book was charged with obscenity and it went through more than sixty court cases. In 1964 the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the book's publication. The case effectively ended censorship on the basis of obscenity in the U.S.

It is the birthday of humorist David Sedaris, born near Binghamton, New York (1956). He is best known for his collections of personal essays Naked (1997) and Me Talk Pretty One Day (2000). Sedaris is one of six children and he spent most of his childhood in Raleigh, North Carolina. His father, Lou, worked for IBM and his mother, Sharon, was a homemaker. Sedaris had Tourette's syndrome as a child but it was never formally diagnosed.

Sedaris worked many odd jobs, including a dishwasher, an apple-picker, and a writing instructor. While living in Chicago he made a living by painting apartments and squirrel-proofing houses. The job he liked most was being a housekeeper because it allowed him to keep up with his favorite soap operas.

For most of his life Sedaris had kept a diary in which he documented at least one incident from every day of his life. When he moved to Chicago to attend the Art Institute, he began reading from his diary in front of audiences. His readings became so popular that he caught the attention of National Public Radio, and in 1991 he gave his first reading on the air, "The Santaland Diaries," a true story about his job as an elf at a Macy's department store one Christmas season.

Sedaris soon signed a contract with a major publisher and his collections of essays Barrel Fever (1994) and Me Talk Pretty One Day (2000) became best-sellers. But even after he had become a successful writer Sedaris kept his job cleaning apartments for a long time. He said, "I can only write when it's dark, so basically, my whole day is spent waiting for it to get dark. Cleaning apartments gives me something to do when I get up. Otherwise, I'd feel like a bum."

His most recent book is Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim (2004).

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Poem: "Empty Cradle Songs" by Chase Twichell from Dog Language. © Copper Canyon Press. Reprinted with permission.

Empty Cradle Songs

I think about the rooms
in which my parents slept
as children, what hung
on the walls. In my Mom's room,
angels with watering cans
sprinkled the green and blooming
earth and all its creatures,
still there at night
under the see-in-the-dark stars.
Angel rain fell on her infant fear
of the furnace-clank,
her breath pumped from small
moist bellows into the night
air of the room in which she slept
right up to the wedding,
the getaway.

Dad's room was erased when he
went off to school at fourteen.
By Christmas it was a guest room.
New wax, new blinds.
He remembers the gray-green
lawns of the interior,
many clocks ticking,
but not his room.
Not a trace of it,
though he remembers his toys.
There's a picture of him
with a little wheelbarrow,
probably two years old,
wailing, making baby fists,
yet picked up by no one,
not even whoever's standing
ten feet away from him
snapping the shot.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1831 that Charles Darwin set sail from England on the HMS Beagle beginning the journey that would take him to the Galapagos Islands and inspire his theory of evolution. Darwin had terrible seasickness, so as soon as they reached South America, he spent as much time on land as he could, traveling through unexplored regions. He was amazed at the variety of shapes and colors in the plants and animals he found. He wrote in his diary, "It creates a feeling of wonder that so much beauty should be apparently created for such little purpose."

He returned to England in the fall of 1836 and never traveled beyond Great Britain again. He spent years thinking about what he'd seen during his voyage on the Beagle and eventually developed the theory of evolution in the mid-1840s.

Charles Darwin wrote, "Probably all organic beings which have ever lived on this earth have descended from some one primordial form, into which life was first breathed. There is grandeur in this view of life that... from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved."

It's the birthday of author Louis Bromfield, born in Mansfield, Ohio (1896). He studied agriculture in college and, though he eventually switched to journalism, he would spend much of the rest of his life writing about farming.

After serving in World War I he wrote his first novel The Green Bay Tree (1924) about a small farming town that's slowly becoming an industrial center. The following year Bromfield and his family took a vacation to France and wound up staying there for thirteen years. He became part of the expatriate society in Paris and some of his best friends were Edith Wharton and Gertrude Stein.

And it was while he was living away from America that he wrote some of his best novels about American life, including The Farm (1933), which many consider his masterpiece. It's a novel about a boy growing up on a farm that his family has owned for generations which slowly becomes corrupted by greed and industrialization.

It's the birthday of avant-garde poet Charles Olson, born in Worcester, Massachusetts (1910). He wrote a manifesto about the kind of poetry he believed poets should be writing, called Projective Verse (1959). He advocated for a kind of poetry that was completely free of meter or rhyme and concerned more with the sounds of words than the sense they made. He lectured on this style of poetry at Black Mountain College in North Carolina, and influenced many younger poets including Robert Duncan and Robert Creeley.

He spent most of the rest of his life writing an epic series of poems called The Maximus Poems about the history of Gloucester, Massachusetts, the coastal town of where he spend his summers as a child. The first volume of The Maximus Poems was published in 1960.

It's the birthday of novelist and essayist Wilfrid Sheed, born in London, England (1930). His parents ran a publishing house that mainly published Catholic literature. He moved with his family to Pennsylvania when he was a boy and grew up in a tiny village where there were almost no other children and he spent most of his free time playing baseball by himself. He said, "I became perhaps the outstanding solitary baseball player of my generation."

He has written several satirical novels about the business of journalism, including The Hack (1963) about a miserable man who writes uplifting poems and stories for a Catholic magazine, and Max Jamison (1970) about a theater critic who can't help criticizing everything in his own life. Most recently he has written several memoirs including My Life as a Fan (1993), about his love of baseball, and In Love with Daylight: A Memoir of Recovery (1995).

Wilfrid Sheed said, "One reason the human race has such a low opinion of itself is that it gets so much of its wisdom from writers."

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Poems: "Poems No. 1, 56 and 80" by Philip Schultz from Living in the Past. © Harcourt, Inc. Reprinted with permission.


The Ukrainians hate the Romanians while the Poles hate the Germans
but especially the Italians who hate the blacks who haven't even
moved into the neighborhood yet, while Grandma hates mostly
the Russians who are Cossacks who piss on everyone's tomatoes
and wag their tongues at everyone's wives. She even hates her Lithuanian
blue eyes and turnip Russian nose and fat Polish tongue; sometimes
she forgets what she hates most and ends up hating everything about herself.
This is Rochester, N.Y., in the fifties, when all the Displaced Persons
move in and suddenly even the elms look defeated. Grandma believes
they came here so we all could suffer, that soon we'll all dress
like undertakers and march around whispering to the dead.


Why? This is everyone's favorite question. No one ever says:
Because our bags are always packed and we hear footsteps
on the stairs. Because the dark feels unwashed and incomplete
and Maimonides said, "When the Messiah comes war will end,
God's blessings will be on all men." Because we have a God
who never dies and never comes and it's three in the morning
and I'm walking a crying baby around, singing lullabies Grandma
sang to me. Because I expect nothing and what I expect defines me.
Because the world exists without us but without us it is nothing.
Because all my life I've been afraid of the next page. Because
nothing is explained and my old bedroom shadows are thriving
and the floor tilts west toward Lake Ontario where all the snow
comes from. Because it's getting late and I'm in bed, waiting
for Mother to come kiss me good night, like she promised.


The Old Stone Cemetary isn't right on Ridge Road,
where I remember, but a side street near Lake Ontario.
It'd be better to bury everyone together but this is
a Jewish cemetery so everyone's scattered. Mother
is next to Father but Grandma is three strangers apart
from her husband, who probably planned it this way.
No one can find Uncle's grave, Mother's revenge, a flat
stone planted somewhere north of her, in uncut grass.
A few Schultzes but a shtetl-full of Bernsteins, Kreigers ...
it doesn't matter, no one ever called anyone by their name.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1895 that Auguste and Louis Lumiere opened the first movie theater at the Grand Café in Paris. Other inventors, including Thomas Edison, were working on various moving picture devices at the time. But most of those other devices could only be viewed by one person at a time. The Lumieres were the first to project moving pictures on a screen, so that they could be viewed by a large audience.

The first film they showed to a paying audience was called Workers Leaving the Lumiere Factory. It was a short, single shot with an immobile camera and it showed a concierge opening the factory gates from which dozens of workers walked and bicycled into the street. It ended with the concierge closing the gates again.

It wasn't a movie in the modern sense. It had no characters, no storyline. It was just an animated photograph. The Lumiere brothers went on to make more than 2,000 films like this, each one less than a minute long depicting various scenes of human activity with titles like The Arrival of a Train, Boat Leaving the Harbor, and Baby's First Steps. They didn't call these "movies" or "films," they called them "views."

It took other filmmakers to turn movies into a medium for storytelling. The Lumieres were primarily documentary filmmakers. But in their film Demolition of a Wall they added a reverse loop to the film so that after the wall falls to the ground it miraculously picks itself back up. It was the first special effect ever uses in the history of motion pictures.

The Lumieres' movie house was a big success. Within a few months of its opening, more than 2,000 people lined up every night to buy tickets. But the Lumieres themselves thought that movies would be a passing fad. They told their cinematographers not to expect work for more than six months. Auguste went on to become a medical scientist and Louis went back to working on still photographs.

It's the birthday of comic book writer Stan Lee, born Stanley Martin Lieber in New York City (1922). He created The Fantastic Four, the Incredible Hulk, the X-Men, Thor, Daredevil, and Dr. Strange. But his most successful character of all was The Amazing Spiderman, an awkward teenager named Peter Parker who develops superpowers after being bitten by a radioactive spider. He was the first superhero to be filled with self-doubt, the first superhero to struggle with whether he wanted to be a superhero. Stan Lee's boss hated the idea but the first issue featuring Spiderman sold every copy that was printed and Spiderman went on to become one of the most popular superheroes ever invented.

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Poem: "The Wraggle Taggle Gipsies" by Anonymous from Marriage Poems. © Alfred A. knopf. Reprinted with permission.

The Wraggle Taggle Gipsies

There were three gipsies a-come to my door,
And downstairs ran this a-lady, O!
One sang high and another sang low
And the other sang bonny, bonny Biscay, O!

Then she pull'd off her silk finish'd gown
And put on hose of leather, O!
The ragged, ragged rags about our door
She's gone with the wraggle taggle gipsies, O!

It was late last night, when my lord came home,
Enquiring for his a-lady, O!
The servants said, on every hand:
She's gone with the wraggle taggle gipsies, O!

O, saddle to me my milk-white steed,
Go and fetch me my pony, O!
That I may ride and seek my bride,
Who is gone with the wraggle taggle gipsies, O!

O he rode high and he rode low,
He rode through woods and copses too,
Until he came to an open field,
And there he espied his a-lady, O!

What makes you leave your house and land?
What makes you leave your money, O?
What makes you leave your new wedded lord,
To go with the wraggle taggle gipsies, O?

What care I for my house and my land?
What care I for my money, O?
What care I for my new-wedded lord?
I'm off with the wraggle taggle gipsies, O!

Last night you slept on a goose-feather bed,
With the sheet turned down so bravely, O!
And tonight you'll sleep in a cold open field,
Along with the wraggle taggle gipsies, O!

Literary and Historical Notes:

Today is the anniversary of the massacre at Wounded Knee which took place on this day in 1890.

Twenty-two years before that, the tribes in what became South Dakota had signed a treaty with the United States of America which guaranteed them, "absolute and undisturbed use of the Great Sioux Reservation (that part of South Dakota west of the Missouri River)... No persons... shall ever be permitted to pass over, settle upon, or reside in territory described in this article, or without consent of the Indians pass through the same."

The treaty gave the Indians control over the Black Hills which they considered a sacred place. But when gold was discovered in the Black Hills that treaty was broken. In December of 1875, the Federal Indian Bureau ordered all Indians to report to their agencies by January 31, 1876. Many could not comply with such an order in winter. Some never received it. Only one band came in. All the others were classified as "hostile" and therefore subject to attack.

That summer, General Custer led an attacking force on Little Big Horn but his entire company of soldiers was surrounded and decimated by the Indian warriors. The federal government responded by sending in more troops, taking the Black Hills by force.

One band of Indians chose to flee the arrival of new troops. For four days and nights they marched through the cold trying to reach a rendezvous point with another tribe. But they were surprised by federal soldiers and ordered into the army camp at Wounded Knee. The next morning, federal soldiers went through the camp to confiscate weapons. A scuffle broke out between a soldier and an Indian warrior and a rifle was discharged. Suddenly, the federal soldiers opened fire on all the Indians in the camp. The gunfire was so haphazard that more than twenty-five federal soldiers were killed in the crossfire. About 90 Indian warriors and 200 women and children were killed.

It was on this day in 1916 that James Joyce published his first novel Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. It started out as a long autobiographical novel called Stephen Hero. He estimated that the book would have fifty chapters and be about 1,000 pages long. He had written about 900 pages of Stephen Hero before he decided that it was too conventional, too Victorian. In a fit of disgust he destroyed most of the manuscript. Only a short fragment was ever found. He started over again and in the new version of the novel he concentrated less on the events of the main character's life and more on his developing consciousness. When he finally published it the book established his reputation as a writer.

It's the birthday of novelist William Gaddis, born in New York (1922). He wrote The Recognitions (1955), J.R. (1975), and A Frolic of His Own (1994). But even though he's been called one of the most important writers of the 20th century his books have never sold very well. He once received a royalty check for four dollars and thirty-five cents.

He died in 1998. His last novel Agape Agape was published after his death in 2002.

William Gaddis said, "There have never in history been so many opportunities to do so many things that aren't worth doing."

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Poem: "Desire" by Gail Mazur from Zeppo's First Wife: New and Selected Poems. © University of Chicago Press. Reprinted with permission.


It was a kind of torture—waiting
to be kissed. A dark car parked away
from the street lamp, away from our house
where my tall father would wait, his face
visible at a pane high in the front door.
Was my mother always asleep? A boy
reached for me, I leaned eagerly into him,
soon the windshield was steaming.

Midnight. A neighbor's bedroom light
goes on, then off. The street is quiet...

Until I married, I didn't have my own key,
that wasn't how it worked, not at our house.
You had to wake someone with the bell,
or he was there, waiting. Someone let you in.
Those pleasures on the front seat of a boy's
father's car were "guilty," yet my body knew
they were the only right thing to do,

my body hated the cage it had become.

One of those boys died in a car crash;
one is a mechanic; one's a musician.
They were young and soft, and, mostly, dumb.
I loved their lips, their eyebrows, the bones
of their cheeks, cheeks that scraped mine raw,
so I'd turn away from the parent who let me
angrily in. And always, the next day,

no one at home could penetrate the fog
around me. I'd relive the precious night
as if it were a bridge to my new state
from the old world I'd been imprisoned by,
and I've been allowed to walk on it, to cross
a border—there's an invisible line
in the middle of the bridge, in the fog,
where I'm released, where I think I'm free.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of short-story writer, poet, and novelist (Joseph) Rudyard Kipling, born in Bombay, India (1865). His father was a British artist who got an appointment to run an art school in Bombay, India, and it was there in Bombay that Kipling grew up surrounded by Hindu servants. He loved his home with its huge garden full of flowering trees. Since he was below the age of caste he was allowed to explore the city freely and meet all kinds of people who told him ghost stories and taught him songs that would have scandalized his parents had they understood the language as well as he did.

But after a series of typhoid and cholera outbreaks Kipling's parents decided to send him back to England for his own safety. They arranged for him to live at the house of a couple they'd contacted through an ad in a newspaper. The woman who ran the house turned out to be much stricter than Kipling's parents. He was constantly being thrown in the basement for various offenses and he was once sent to school with a sign on his back that said, "Liar." He later said, "That made me pay attention to the lies I soon found it necessary to tell: and this, I presume, is the foundation of literary effort." One of his frequent punishments was to be sent to his room to read the Bible which he loved.

He went to an army school for lower middle class boys and spent all his time reading and telling jokes. His father was terrified that after graduation Kipling would move to London to become a bohemian; so instead, he was sent off to the Northwest corner of India where the British were fighting a war with Afghanistan. Kipling got a job there as one of only two staff members on the Civil and Military Gazette, a daily newspaper for British soldiers.

Living in such dangerous country, Kipling developed insomnia that he suffered from for the rest of his life. And so on top of the fifteen hours a day he spent writing newspaper articles about the war, he stayed up late at night writing fiction and poetry for local newspapers. After six years of publishing his work, he sold everything he'd written for 250 pounds to a company that began selling paperback editions of his collected works in railway stations around India.

Those paperback editions became more successful than anyone had ever expected, and suddenly magazines and newspapers were begging Kipling to write for them. Though he'd never fought in a battle himself, his poems about the lives of soldiers became classics among British soldiers around the world. He moved back to London where he'd become a literary celebrity but he found the life of a celebrity did not agree with him.

So he traveled the world for a few years and finally settled in Vermont. And it was there, in a rented cottage surrounded by snow, that he began to re-imagine the India of his childhood and he wrote the book for which he's best known today, The Jungle Book (1894), about a boy raised by wolves who grows up with the other jungle animals.

It's the birthday of novelist Paul Bowles, born in New York City, New York (1910). In 1931 Bowles met Gertrude Stein. She told him he was definitely not a poet and suggested he go to Tangier, Morocco. He did, and Morocco inspired his first and most famous novel was The Sheltering Sky (1949).

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Poem: "Why You Travel" by Gail Mazur from Zeppo's First Wife: New and Selected Poems. © University of Chicago Press. Reprinted with permission.

Why You Travel

You don't want the children to know how afraid
you are. You want to be sure their hold on life

is steady, sturdy. Were mothers and fathers
always this anxious, holding the ringing

receiver close to the ear: Why don't they answer;
where could they be? There's a conspiracy

to protect the young, so they'll be fearless,
it's why you travel—it's a way of trying

to let go, of lying. You don't sit
in a stiff chair and worry, you keep moving.

Postcards from the Alamo, the Alhambra.
Photos of you in Barcelona, Gaudi's park

Swirling behind you. There you are in the Garden
of the master of the Fishing Nets, one red

tree against a white wall, koi swarming
over each other in the thick demoralized pond.

You, fainting at the Buddhist caves.
Climbing with thousands on the Great Wall,

Wearing a straw cap, a backpack, a year
before the students at Tiananmen Square.

Having the time of your life, blistered and smiling.
The acid of your fear could eat the world.

Literary and Historical Notes:

Today is New Year's Eve. Tonight there will be parties all across the country in celebration of the coming new year, and at the stroke of midnight, millions of people will sing "Auld Lang Syne." The lyrics to the song were first written down by the poet Robert Burns, but the song actually comes from Scottish oral tradition. The Scottish title can be translated to mean "old long ago" or "time long past" or simply "the good old days."

Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote, "The year is going, let him go; ring out the false, ring in the true."

It's the birthday of the painter Henri Matisse, born in Le Cateau, France (1869). He and Picasso are generally considered the two greatest painters of the twentieth century. But as far as historians can tell, there was absolutely no sign in Matisse's early life that he would go on to become an artist. He started out studying law, and though his law school was in Paris, Matisse never once attended an art museum while he was living there, not even the Louvre.

He returned home after law school to take a clerical job in a lawyer's office when he was struck by a case of appendicitis. He was bedridden for weeks, and a neighbor suggested that he try passing the time by painting. His mother bought him a box of paints, and he read a how-to-paint book. He later described those first experiences painting as almost like a religious conversion. He said, "For the first time in my life I felt free, quiet, and alone... carried along by a power alien to my life as a normal man."

When Matisse finally recovered from his appendicitis, he took his job at the law office, but he also enrolled secretly in a local drawing class, which he attended every morning for an hour before going to his job. Then, after several months of this, he told his father that he was going to quit the law practice and devote himself to art. He spent hours at the Louvre copying the techniques of the old masters.

Matisse was not very successful when he first began exhibiting his work and his wife had to run a dress shop to support the family. Then in 1905, Matisse submitted a portrait of his wife called "Woman with the Hat" to an exhibition of paintings by a group of his friends, all of whom were using radically bright, primary colors.

Critics were particularly shocked by Matisse's painting, and so Matisse was surprised to learn at the end of the exhibition that his painting had sold to a couple of American expatriates known for their eccentric taste, Leo and Gertrude Stein. Leo Stein described Matisse's painting as, "A thing brilliant and powerful, but the nastiest smear of paint I had ever seen."

Matisse continued to be one of the most controversial artists in the world for the next decade. When his paintings were shown in America in 1913 students at the Art Institute in Chicago burned him in effigy. But when people met Matisse they were always shocked to find how conservative and mild mannered he was. Though he hadn't become a lawyer he continued to dress like one for most of his life wearing a suit even while he painted.

Henri Matisse said, "I overdid everything as a matter of course."

It's the birthday of the novelist Nicholas Sparks, born in Omaha, Nebraska (1965). He's one of the few successful male romance novelists starting with his first novel The Notebook which he wrote as an homage to his wife's grandparents. They had been married for sixty-two years when he met them and he realized while talking to them for the first time that they were still flirting with each other.

Nicholas Sparks said, "Writing the last page of the first draft is the most enjoyable moment in writing. It's one of the most enjoyable moments in life, period."

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Poem: "Meeting My Son at the Airport" by Lou Lipsitz from Seeking the Hook: New and Selected Poems. © Signal Books, Chapel Hill, NC. Reprinted with permission.

Meeting My Son at the Airport

I'm there before and I wait.
When he comes through the passageway
I remember his being born,
dark-haired infant pushed out
with his mother's blood.
Now he carries the colorful
valise on his shoulder and
doesn't see me. I'm standing
right in front of him and he
doesn't see me. He doesn't
let on that he sees me.

This is the moment it is all
said. You walked out on me, dad.
I won't ever get angry. I won't
even feel the betrayal. You
walked out on us and I was
six years old. Now you come
to the airport and I don't
see you.

For a moment I imagine him
flying at me and knocking me down;
or the two of us, out of breath,
bewildered, on our knees, weeping.
But he walks on, a prince
in gorgeous athletic robes who
stops for no one. And then, as I
reach out for him, he seems
like a blind boy too proud
to ask for help.

I take one of his bags
and hug him. It's done.
Damage of twenty years ago.
If I live long enough and
he returns one day to
the small, locked, forgotten
door and I am allowed to
return from this unacknowledged
exile, maybe we will meet again.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of English novelist E. M. Forster, born in London (1879). He grew up the son of an affluent family in an old house the English countryside. After he inherited some money that made it unnecessary to earn a living, Forster began traveling around Europe and writing novels about the English social classes. In just five years he published four novels, including Where Angels Fear to Tread (1905), A Room with a View (1908) and Howard's End (1910). Then he wrote nothing for fourteen years while he worked for the Red Cross in Egypt during World War I and then traveled to India.

When he got back from India, Forster published A Passage to India (1924) which many consider his masterpiece, about a young British woman named Adela Quested, traveling in India, who falsely accuses an Indian man of attempted rape and then later retracts her accusation.

A Passage to India was Forster's most successful novel to date. He was at the height of his career. And so it was a surprise to everyone that, though he lived for almost fifty more years, he never published another novel.

It's the birthday of American writer J.D. Salinger (1919). He's one of the most famous living authors in America—even though he hasn't published anything since 1965—and he's been living as a recluse since then. He's best known for his novel The Catcher in the Rye, about a boy named Holden Caulfield who gets expelled from his boarding school and spends the next few days wandering around New York City, trying to figure out why people have to grow older, why everyone is so phony, and where the ducks go when the pond in central park freezes over.

The Catcher in the Rye started out as a short story called "Slight Rebellion Off Madison," and it was the first story that Salinger managed to sell to the New Yorker. It was the story of Holden's date with a girl named Sally Hayes. He complains to her that that he hates everything about New York, including buses and taxi cabs and movies, but at the end of the story he promises Sally that he will come to her house and help her trim the Christmas tree. the New Yorker bought the story in November of 1941, and planned to run it in their Christmas issue.

That month Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and Salinger's story was put on hold. It was considered too trivial in a time of war. Salinger kept submitting stories to the New Yorker for the next few years even as he was drafted into the army, but his stories kept getting rejected.

Then, in June of 1943, Salinger learned that he would be deployed in the ground force invasion of Normandy on D-Day. His division hit the beach in the fifth hour of the invasion, and for the next several Decembers Salinger saw some of the bloodiest fighting of the war, including the Battle of the Bulge. Between 50 and 200 soldiers in his division were killed or wounded every day. At the end of the war Salinger checked into an Army general hospital in Nuremberg suffering from shell shock.

In 1946, the New Yorker finally published "Slight Rebellion Off Madison," which they had been holding onto since before the war began. When The Catcher in the Rye came out in 1951 The New York Times ran a review titled "Aw, the World's a Crumby Place" that poked fun at Salinger's style. The New Yorker refused to run any excerpts of the novel because they said that the children in it were unbelievably intelligent, and the style of the novel was too "showoffy." But despite the mixed reviews, and the fact that Salinger refused to help with publicity, The Catcher in the Rye reached the best-seller list after being in print just two weeks, and it stayed there for more than six months. It made Salinger a literary celebrity.

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