Dec. 20, 2002

What We Have

by Ruth Stone

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Poem: "What We Have," by Ruth Stone from In the Next Galaxy (Copper Canyon Press).

What We Have

On the mountain
the neighbor's dog, put out in the cold,
comes to my house for the night.
He quivers with gratitude.
His short-haired small stout body
settles near the stove.
He snores.
Out there in the dark, snow falls.
The birch trees are wrapped in their white bandages.
Recently in the surgical theater,
I looked in the mirror at the doctor's hands
as he repaired my ancient frescos.
When I was ten
we lived in a bungalow in Indianapolis.
My sister and brother, my mother and father,
all living then.
We were like rabbits
in the breast fur of a soft lined nest.
I know now we were desperately poor.
But it was spring:
the field, a botanist's mirage of wild flowers.
The house centered between two railroad tracks.
The tracks split at the orchard end of the street
and spread in a dangerous angle down either side.
Long lines of freight for half an hour clicking by;
or a passenger train,
with a small balcony at the end of the last car
where someone always stood and waved to us.
At night the wrenching scream and Doppler whistle
of the two AM express.
From my window I could see a fireman stoking
the open fire, the red glow reflected in the black smoke
belching from the boiler.
Once I got up and went outside.
The trees-of-heaven along the track swam in white mist.
The sky arched with sickle pears.
Lilacs had just opened.
I pulled the heavy clusters to my face
and breathed them in,
suffused with a strange excitement
that I think, when looking back, was happiness.

It's the birthday of David Levine, born in New York City (1926), whose caricatures of writers and politicians appear in The New York Review of Books and The Nation.

It's the birthday of Hortense Calisher, born in New York City (1911). She wrote Sunday Jews (2002), and twenty other novels and collections of essays. She said, "I get up and I have coffee and I speak to no man and I go to my desk." She also said, "The words! I collected them in all shapes and sizes and hung them like bangles in my mind."

It's the birthday of Clarence Cason born in Ragland, Alabama (1896). He returned to the University of Alabama to become a professor of journalism while he was still a young man, and wrote a book of essays about the South called Ninety Degrees in the Shade. A few days before it was published, he shot himself in his office at the University. He didn't leave a note, but his friends thought he might have worried that his colleagues would take offense at some of the critical things he said about the South in the book. They didn't, though; the reviewers loved it.

It's the birthday of Susanne Langer, born in New York City (1895), the author of Philosophy in a New Key (1942), which sold half a million copies, almost unheard of for a philosophical text.

It's the birthday of the Irish nationalist Maud Gonne, born near Aldershot, England (1865), with whom the poet W.B. Yeats was deeply in love.

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




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