Aug. 18, 2004

this poem is haunted

by T. Cole Rachel

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Poem: "this poem is haunted" by T. Cole Rachel from Surviving the Moments of Impact © Soft Skull Press, 2002. Reprinted with permission.

this poem is haunted

we spend most of our lives this way, governed
by the rules of avoidance, narrowly scraping past
unavoidable pains, folding up the quilts
we can't sleep under any more, listening
for the rattling of chains, waiting for the things we break
to come back to us—the underwater sounds
of those we have drowned, whose faces
it might have been better to never have loved.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of science fiction writer Brian Aldiss, born in Norfolk, England (1925). He's the author of many science fiction novels and collections of short stories, including Supertoys Last All Summer Long (2001), which was the basis for the Steven Spielberg movie A.I. His most recent novel is Super-State: A Novel of a Future Europe (2002)

It's the birthday of filmmaker Roman Polanski, born in Paris (1933). He has directed many films, including Rosemary's Baby (1968) and Chinatown (1974). He was a child in Crakow when Nazis invaded, and his parents were sent to a concentration camp, where his mother died. Nine years old, he escaped alone from the Krakow ghetto just before it was destroyed by Nazi tanks.

His most recent movie The Pianist (2002) won him an Academy Award for Best Director.

It's the birthday of explorer Meriwether Lewis, born just outside of Charlottesville, Virginia, (1774). He was the man that Thomas Jefferson chose to explore the new Louisiana Territory in 1804, and he in turn asked William Clark to be his partner on the journey.

Lewis was the younger man of the two. Clark was easy-going and friendly, where Lewis was quiet and intellectual. He spent a month before the expedition began studying with some of the most renowned scientists in the States. Mathematicians taught him navigational techniques, physicians taught him medical skills, and paleontologists told him to look for mastodons and giant sloths, which they believed might still exist.

On Lewis' birthday in 1804, Clark wrote in his diary, "Captain Lewis' birthday: the evening was closed with an extra gill of whiskey and a Dance until 11 o'clock." On his birthday the following year, Lewis wrote in his own diary: "This day I completed my thirty-first year, and ... I viewed with regret the many hours I have spent in indolence, but since they are past and cannot be recalled, I dash from me the gloomy thought, and resolved in future to redouble my exertions to ... live for mankind, as I have heretofore lived for myself."

Lewis did, in fact, work very hard throughout the expedition, and even survived getting shot in the backside. When the account of the expedition was collected and published, most of the words were Lewis'.

It was on this day in 1955 that Vladimir Nabokov's novel Lolita was first published. It's the story of Humbert Humbert, a European who falls in love with a twelve-year-old American girl.

Nabokov started thinking about the novel when he was still a new immigrant to the United States, struggling to support his wife and son as a professor of Russian and English literature. He began working seriously in the summer of 1951, while he and his wife drove to Colorado in their Oldsmobile station wagon. He said he loved writing in the car because it was the quietest place in America. The following winter, he began doing research on young girls, traveling on city buses to learn current slang, writing down popular song titles and phrases from teen magazines and Girl Scout manuals. As he grew more and more excited about the book, he was miserable that he had to do anything else. He wrote to his friend, Edmund Wilson, "I am sick of teaching, I am sick of teaching, I am sick of teaching."

He finished the novel in 1953, but when he sent the draft to friends, most of them were horrified, and told him that he could never publish it. It was rejected by all the major publishing houses in the United States, so he finally had it brought out anonymously in France by a publisher who specialized in pornography. He played around with different titles, including "The Kingdom by the Sea," but in the end the novel was called Lolita (1955). He later said that the novel was, in part, about his love affair with the English language.

After a few years of controversy, it was published in the United States in 1958, and went on to become a bestseller and a movie. Nabokov had put off writing it for so many years partly because he was afraid that it wouldn't make any money, but in the end it was the success of Lolita that allowed him to retire from teaching. He moved with his wife to Switzerland and spent the rest of his life writing novels in the top floor of a luxurious hotel.

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




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