May 13, 2002

Learning to Float

by April Lindner

MONDAY, 13 MAY 2002
Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "Learning to Float," by April Lindner from Skin (Texas Tech University Press).

Learning to Float

Relax. It's like love. Keep your lips
moist and parted, let your upturned hands
unfold like water lilies, palms exposed.

Breathe deeply, slowly. Forget chlorine
and how the cement bottom was stained
blue so the water looks clear

and Caribbean. Ignore the drowned mosquitoes,
the twigs that gather in the net
of your hair. The sun is your ticket,

your narcotic, blessing your chin,
the floating islands of your knees.
Shut your eyes and give yourself

to the pulsating starfish, purple and red,
that flicker on your inner lids.
Hallucination is part of the process,

like amnesia. Forget how you learned
to swim, forget being told
Don't panic. Don't worry. Let go

of my neck. It's only water. Don't think
unless you're picturing Chagall,
his watercolors of doves and rooftops,

lovers weightless as tissue,
gravity banished, the dissolving voices
of violins and panpipes. The man's hand

circles the woman's wrist so loosely,
what moors her permits her to float,
and she rises past the water's skin,

above verandas and the tossing heads
of willows. Her one link to earth,
his light-almost reluctant-touch, is a rope

unfurling, slipping her past the horizon,
into the cloud-stirring current. This far up,
what can she do but trust he won't let her go?

It's the birthday of American writer Armistead Maupin, born Armistead Jones, in Washington, D.C. (1944). After he graduated from college in 1966, he worked for a while at a North Carolina television station managed by the future Senator Jesse Helms. From there, he joined the Navy, served in Vietnam, then returned to the United States to launch a career in journalism. In 1975, he moved from South Carolina to San Francisco, where he landed a job as a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle. It was in the pages of the Chronicle that he ran his popular serial "Tales of the City." The stories were later published as a series of six books, beginning with Tales of the City in 1978. The tales follow the adventures and relationships of a group of gay and straight characters living in a boarding house at 28 Barbary Lane. He said: "When you're a gay person, it's much easier to observe the gulf between truth and illusion, because you're often a part of creating it. You learn at a very early age to wear disguises. My work is about taking off those disguises."

It's the birthday of novelist and travel writer Bruce Chatwin, born in Sheffield, England (1940). He started out as an art dealer at Sotheby and Company in London, and by the age of twenty-five was a director of the company. Not long afterwards, he developed a serious vision problem, a psychosomatic ailment which his doctor said was the result of looking too closely at works of art. He decided the best cure for his eyes would be to travel somewhere where he could look out to a distant horizon. He went to Saharan Africa, then to southern Argentina, where he gathered material for his first book, In Patagonia (1977). He followed the success of that travel book with three novels, including On the Black Hill (1982) and The Songlines (1987), about Aboriginal culture in Australia.

It's the birthday of English novelist Daphne du Maurier, born in London, England (1907). Her first major success came with Jamaica Inn (1936), an exciting story about smugglers on the coast of Cornwall. The novel was made into a film by Alfred Hitchcock, who also also made films of her short story "The Birds" and of her most famous suspense novel, Rebecca (1938). She said: "What is a suspense novel? People in doubt, people mystified, people groping on their way from one situation to another…"

It's the birthday of the painter Georges Braque, born at Argenteuil-sur-Seine, France. His father was a house painter, and the young artist started out as his father's assistant. His early paintings were bright landscapes, but he gradually began painting in darker colors, mostly browns. The turning point in his career came in 1907, when he met Pablo Picasso. Between the two of them, they created the painting style known as cubism.

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




  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
  • “I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.” —Anne Tyler
  • “Writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig” —Stephen Greenblatt
  • “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • “Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” —John Edgar Wideman
  • “In certain ways writing is a form of prayer.” —Denise Levertov
  • “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Let's face it, writing is hell.” —William Styron
  • “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann
  • “Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials.” —Paul Rudnick
  • “Writing is a failure. Writing is not only useless, it's spoiled paper.” —Padget Powell
  • “Writing is very hard work and knowing what you're doing the whole time.” —Shelby Foote
  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
  • “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.” —Iris Murdoch
  • “The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is…that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
  • “Writing is a combination of intangible creative fantasy and appallingly hard work.” —Anthony Powell
  • “I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act.” —Michael Cunningham
Current Faves - Learn more about poets featured frequently on the show