Oct. 1, 2002

Bali Hai Calls Mama

by Marilyn Nelson

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Poem: "Bali Hai Calls Mama," by Marilyn Nelson from The Fields of Praise (Louisiana State University Press).

Bali Hai Calls Mama

As I was putting away the groceries
I'd spent the morning buying
for the week's meals I'd planned
around things the baby could eat,
things my husband would eat,
and things I should eat
because they aren't too fattening,
late on a Saturday afternoon
after flinging my coat on a chair
and wiping the baby's nose
while asking my husband
what he'd fed it for lunch
and whether
the medicine I'd brought for him
had made his cough improve,
wiping the baby's nose again,
checking its diaper,
stepping over the baby
who was reeling to and from
the bottom kitchen drawer
with pots, pans, and plastic cups,
occasionally clutching the hem of my skirt
and whining to be held,
I was half listening for the phone
which never rings for me
to ring for me
and someone's voice to say that
I could forget about handing back
my students' exams which I'd had for a week,
that I was right about The Waste Land,
that I'd been given a raise,
all the time wondering
how my sister was doing,
whatever happened to my old lover(s),
and why my husband wanted
a certain brand of toilet paper;
and wished I hadn't, but I'd bought
another fashion magazine that promised
to make me beautiful by Christmas,
and there wasn't room for the creamed corn
and every time I opened the refrigerator door
the baby rushed to grab whatever was on the bottom shelf
which meant I constantly had to wrestle
jars of its mushy food out of its sticky hands
and I stepped on the baby's hand and the baby was screaming
and I dropped the bag of cake flour I'd bought to make cookies with
and my husband rushed in to find out what was wrong because the baby
was drowning out the sound of the touchdown although I had scooped
it up and was holding it in my arms so its crying was inside
my head like an echo in a barrel and I was running cold water
on its hand while somewhere in the back of my mind wondering what
to say about The Waste Land and whether I could get away with putting
broccoli in a meatloaf when

suddenly through the window
came the wild cry of geese

It's the birthday of novelist and short story writer Judith Freeman, born in Ogden, Utah (1946), author of the short story collection Family Attraction (1988) and the novel, The Chinchilla Farm (1989).

It's the birthday of novelist Tim O'Brien, born in Austin, Minnesota (1946), author of If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home (1973), and Tomcat in Love (1998).

It's the birthday of historian Daniel Joseph Boorstin, born in Atlanta, Georgia (1914), author of the 1974 Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Americans: The Democratic Experience.

It's the birthday of romance novelist Faith Baldwin, born in New Rochelle, New York (1893), who wrote more than eighty-five popular novels including Those Difficult Years (1925) and Adam's Eden (1977).

It's the birthday of author and former President of the United States James Earl (Jimmy) Carter, born in Plains, Georgia (1924). He wrote Keeping Faith: Memoirs of a President (1983), Talking Peace (1993), The Virtues of Aging (1998), and An Hour Before Daylight: Memories of a Rural Boyhood (2001).

It's the birthday of journalist and novelist Fletcher Knebel, born in Dayton, Ohio (1911). Knebel turned to fiction only after a number of years as a top-level political correspondent in Washington, D.C. In late 1950, he joined Cowles Publications and became a syndicated political columnist, creating a short daily feature, "Potomac Fever," that satirized the day's news. Cowles Publications also owned Look magazine, and Knebel soon began to cover important politicians--especially John F. Kennedy--in Look features and profiles. He persuaded a colleague, Charles W. Bailey, to collaborate with him on a nonfiction account of the bombing of Hiroshima. The collaboration produced No High Ground, a well-received short history of the politics, military production, crew training, and execution of mission in the first deadly nuclear explosion.

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