Apr. 7, 2003

Scene from a Novel

by Lawrence Raab

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Poem: "Scene from a Novel," by Lawrence Raab from Visible Signs (Penguin Books).

Scene from a Novel

In this scene from the novel
you just started, a father
tiptoes into his daughter's room
to watch her sleeping. All he wants
is to look at her for a moment.
He brushes the damp hair from her eyes,
touches her unfolded hand so that
she murmurs and turns against the pillows.
The room is streaked with yellow
from the night-light. Careful stacks
of books beside the bed, favorite animals
pushed up against the wall,
and the sheets all ruffled and apart.
You know what he's thinking-the apparent
safety of the house, the inevitable damages.
Turning the page, you grow more apprehensive.
Suspecting what will happen
chapters later, you can't help but resent
this cruel preparation. Yet each night
fathers step into such rooms
long after it's time to say goodnight
and feel implicated and afraid.

Literary Notes:

It's the birthday of author Marjory Stoneham Douglas, born in Minneapolis, Minnesota (1890). She was a lifelong crusader for the preservation of the Florida Everglades and wrote Everglades: Rivers of Grass (1947).

On this day in 1891 P.T. Barnum died in Bridgeport, Connecticut. He had requested that a New York paper run his obituary before he died so he could enjoy reading it, and the paper obliged.

It's the birthday of jazz singer Billie Holiday, born Eleanora Fagan in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (1915). As a child she ran errands for women at a local brothel near her home, and in return the women let her listen to Louis Armstrong and Bessie Smith records.

It's the birthday of novelist and short story writer Donald Barthelme, born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (1931). He grew up in Texas with his family. His father was an architect and designed their family home as an exotic work of modern architecture. Barthelme said, "It was wonderful to live in but strange to see on the Texas prairie. On Sundays people used to park their cars out on the street and stare. We had a routine, the family, on Sundays. We used to get up from Sunday dinner, if enough cars had parked, and run out in front of the house in a sort of chorus line, doing high kicks." He worked as a cultural reporter for the Houston Post, covering everything from piano recitals to acrobat performances. When he was thirty he became the director of the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston. A year later, he moved to New York and began regularly publishing short stories, satires, and movie reviews in the New Yorker magazine. His fiction is known for its absurdity and humor. He said in one story, "The death of God left the angels in a strange position."

It's the birthday of the English Romantic poet William Wordsworth, born in Cocker-mouth, England (1770). He spent his childhood surrounded by nature. He loved to walk around the countryside, and while on vacation from college at Cambridge, he and a friend sailed to France for a twelve-week walking tour of the Alps. He wrote about the landscapes he saw in his poem The Prelude (1799). He went back to France after he graduated from college because he was excited by the French Revolution, which had taken place a few years before. He made friends in France and fell in love with a local girl, named Annette Vallon. Just as he was running out of money, he found out she was pregnant with his child. He went back to England hoping to raise enough money to return and marry her, but that winter France declared war on England and he couldn't return. Annette wrote Wordsworth a letter that said, "Come, my love, my husband, accept the kisses of your wife, of your daughter. She is so pretty, this poor little thing, so pretty that if she weren't always in my arms I would go out of my mind." The letter was confiscated by French authorities and Wordsworth never saw it.

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