Feb. 19, 2004


by Stephen Dobyns

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Poem: "Waking," by Stephen Dobyns, from Velocities: New and Selected Poems (Penguin).


Waking, I look at you sleeping beside me.
It is early and the baby in her crib
has begun her conversation with the gods
that direct her, cooing and making small hoots.
Watching you, I see how your face bears the signs
of our time together—for each objective
description, there is the romantic; for each
scientific fact, there's the subjective truth—
this line was caused by days at a microscope,
this from when you thought I no longer loved you.
Last night a friend called to say that he intends
to move out; so simple, he and his wife splitting
like a cell into two separate creatures.
What would happen if we divided ourselves?
As two colors blend on a white pad, so we
have become a third color; or better,
as a wire bites into the tree it surrounds,
so we have grown together. Can you believe
how frightening I find this, to know I have
no life except with you? It's almost enough
to make me destroy it just to protest it.
Always we seemed perched on the brink of chaos.
But today there's just sunlight and the baby's
chatter, her wonder at the way light dances
on the wall. How lucky to be ignorant,
to greet joy without a trace of suspicion,
to take that first step without worrying what
comes trailing after, as night trails after day,
or winter summer, or confusion where all
seemed clear and each moment was its own reward.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of poet Stephen Dobyns, born in Orange, New Jersey (1941). He's the author of many collections, including Black Dog, Red Dog (1984) and Body Traffic (1990).

It's the birthday of novelist Jonathan Lethem, born in Brooklyn, New York (1964). He's known for his humorous science fiction novels such as Girl in Landscape (1998) and As She Climbed Across the Table (1994). He lived for ten years in California, but he returned to Brooklyn six years ago to write his most recent novel, The Fortress of Solitude (2003), which was published last year. It's about two kids named Dylan and Mingus, one white and one black, growing up in Brooklyn in the 1970s.

It's the birthday of novelist Amy Tan, born to Chinese parents in Oakland, California (1952). She once said she writes using the four different languages she grew up with: the straightforward English she spoke to her mother, the broken English her mother spoke to her, her simplified translation of her mother's Chinese, and what she imagined to be her mother's translation if her mother could speak in perfect English.

She worked for many years as a freelance business writer. She drafted speeches with names like "Telecommunications and You" for salesmen and executives. She became so successful that she was working ninety-hour weeks to keep up with all her clients. She eventually entered therapy for workaholics, and around the same time she wrote her first short story. She started writing The Joy Luck Club in her mid-thirties, after visiting her half-sisters in China. It consists of sixteen interrelated stories about four Chinese immigrant mothers and their Chinese-American daughters. It was a huge bestseller and was made into a popular movie.

Tan has gone on to write the novels The Kitchen God's Wife (1991) and The Bonesetter's Daughter (2001). Her latest book, The Opposite of Fate: A Book of Musings, came out last October.

It's the birthday of novelist Carson McCullers, born Lula Carson Smith in Columbus, Georgia (1917). She's known for writing about bizarre, twisted characters in novels such as The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (1940), which was published when she was twenty-three years old. It's about four people in a small town in Georgia—an adolescent girl, a socialist agitator, a black physician, a widower who owns a café, and a deaf and mute man who tries unsuccessfully to communicate with the people around him.

McCullers said, "The writer by nature of his profession is a dreamer and a conscious dreamer. He must imagine, and imagination takes humility, love and great courage. How can you create a character without love and the struggle that goes with love?"

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




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