Feb. 5, 2003

This Was Once a Love Poem

by Jane Hirshfield

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Poem: "This Was Once a Love Poem," by Jane Hirshfield from Given Sugar, Given Salt (Harper Collins).

This Was Once a Love Poem

This was once a love poem,
before its haunches thickened, its breath grew short,
before it found itself sitting,
perplexed and a little embarrassed,
on the fender of a parked car,
while many people passed by without turning their heads.

It remembers itself dressing as if for a great engagement.
It remembers choosing these shoes,
this scarf or tie.

Once, it drank beer for breakfast,
drifted its feet
in a river side by side with the feet of another.

Once it pretended shyness, then grew truly shy,
dropping its head so the hair would fall forward,
so the eyes would not be seen.

It spoke with passion of history, of art.
It was lovely then, this poem.
Under its chin, no fold of skin softened.
Behind the knees, no pad of yellow fat.
What it knew in the morning it still believed at nightfall.
An unconjured confidence lifted its eyebrows, its cheeks.

The longing has not diminished.
Still it understands. It is time to consider a cat,
the cultivation of African violets or flowering cactus.

Yes, it decides:
many miniature cacti, in blue and red painted pots.

When it finds itself disquieted
by the pure and unfamiliar silence of its new life,
it will touch them-one, then another-
with a single finger outstretched like a tiny flame.

It's the birthday of the playwright John Guare, born in New York City (1938). He wrote his first successful plays in the early seventies. The House of Blue Leaves (1971) won several awards, and a musical version of Two Gentlemen of Verona (1972) won several more. After a long dry spell, during which he referred to himself as "the oldest promising new playwright in America," he wrote Six Degrees of Separation (1990), and his future was assured.

It's the birthday of Andrew Greeley, born in Oak Park, Illinois (1928). He's a Catholic priest, a professor of sociology, and a novelist whose works have sold about twenty million copies.

On this day in 1861, Samuel Goodale patented the machinery that ran the Mutoscope, the coin-operated peep-show machine. Eight hundred fifty cards, made from fifty feet of film, were attached to a drum. Viewers inserted a penny and cranked the drum, and a small bulb lit up and illuminated the procession of cards. Most of the first films were risqué, with titles like "French Dressing," "X-Ray Gown," and "Ladies Night in a Turkish Bath."

It's the birthday of William Burroughs, born in St. Louis (1914). He was the grandson of the man who invented the Burroughs adding machine. His parents sent him to prep school and Harvard; he read De Quincey and Coleridge, but the book he liked best was one he'd found at thirteen, a book called You Can't Win, the autobiography of a drifter and a drug addict named Jack Black. He went on to hang out with Beat writers in their early years in New York during the late forties. He is famous to us as the author of Naked Lunch, published in Paris in 1959.

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