May 15, 2003

Public School 168

by Stewart Brisby

(RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "Public School 168," by Stewart Brisby from A Death In America (Wolverine Press).

Public School 168

like some remnant
of time-soaked simplicity

a childless carriage
on the east side of harlem.

a smile dances
when i envision
small hands
pledging allegiance
to manifest destinies
in which they were not included.

from a rooftop you hover
like a gothic ghost
above st. lucy's church
where black robed nuns
carried rulers & bars of soap
like guns strapped to their waists
speaking in tones
of catechism & guilt.

do you remember the eyes of the children?
lunch room smells?
the song of forgotten games?

"red light     green light     one     two     three "

i stand now
before your shattered broken face
kindergarten laughs
echo the schoolyard
& i remember palms of hands
& eyes of children.

before we embraced the city
before we met the man who ate glass
& asked about our dreams.

Literary Notes:

It's the birthday of painter Jasper Johns, born in Augusta, Georgia in 1930, famous for his paintings of flags and maps in the '50s and '60s.

It's the birthday of writer Katherine Anne Porter, born Callie Russell Porter in Indian Creek, Texas in 1890. She wrote many essays and short stories, but she spent twenty years working on her only novel, The Ship of Fools, which made her famous when it was published in 1962. She said, "I finished the thing; but I think I sprained my soul." And, "I shall try to tell the truth, but the result will be fiction."

It's the birthday of the man who wrote The Wizard of Oz, Lyman Frank Baum, born in Chittenango, New York in 1856. His father was a rich oil tycoon, and the family lived at an idyllic country home in upstate New York. He was a shy and studious child. Frank had a heart condition his entire life and was never able to exert himself physically. He had a heart attack at school and returned home, where he turned his creativity toward writing and publishing. When he was fifteen years old his father bought him a small printing press for his birthday, and he and his brother Harry started a newspaper called The Rose Lawn Home Journal. His first book was published in 1886 and was called The Book of Hamburgs, A Brief Treatise upon the Mating, Rearing, and Management of Different Varieties of Hamburgs. He wrote a couple of plays and toured around the country before settling down in Aberdeen, South Dakota. He ran a general store that he called "Baum's Bazaar," where, with a cigar constantly dangling from his mouth, he liked to entertain children by telling them fairy tales and giving them candy as they gathered around on the dusty, wooden sidewalk. In 1897, he published his collection of Mother Goose stories, Mother Goose in Prose. Two years later he met the illustrator William Denslow, and the pair published Father Goose, His Book (1899), a huge success. In 1900, Baum wrote the book that made him famous, The Wizard of Oz, illustrated by Denslow. The book began as a story he told to some neighborhood children; Frank thought it was so good that he stopped in the middle of the story to go start writing it down. The story of Dorothy, her dog Toto, the Scarecrow, the Lion, and the Tin Man, and their journey down the yellow brick road, was an instant classic. Baum was a socialist, and The Emerald City of Oz was his socialist utopia. He wrote, "There were no poor people in the land of Oz, because there was no such thing as money, and all property of every sort belonged to the Ruler. Each person was given freely by his neighbours whatever he required for his use, which is as much as anyone may reasonably desire. Every one worked half the time and played half the time, and the people enjoyed the work as much as they did the play, because it is good to be occupied and to have something to do."

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