Nov. 4, 2004

Let Me Please Look Into My Window

by Gerald Stern

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Poem: "Let Me Please Look Into My Window" by Gerald Stern from This Time: New and Selected Poems © W.W. Norton & Co., 1998. Reprinted with permission.

Let Me Please Look Into My Window

Let me please look into my window on 103rd Street one more time—
without crying, without tearing the satin, without touching
the white face, without straightening the tie or crumpling the flower.

Let me walk up Broadway past Zak's, past the Melody Fruit Store,
past Stein's Eyes, past the New Moon Inn, past the Olympia.

Let me leave quietly by Gate 29

and fall asleep as we pull away from the ramp
into the tunnel.

Let me wake up happy, let me know where I am, let me lie still,
as we turn left, as we cross the water, as we leave the light.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of humorist Will Rogers, born near Claremore, Oklahoma (1879). He was the last of eight children, the son of a successful rancher. He never graduated from high school, and at an early age began performing in rodeo shows, specializing in roping tricks. His father tried to settle him down by enrolling him in a military academy, but he ran away and hopped a boat to South America. From there he took off to Africa, where he began performing in something called "Texas Jack's Wild West Show." He toured with various circuses in New Zealand and Australia until he finally found his way back to the United States, where he performed in vaudeville shows in New York City.

Originally, he was just performed rope tricks for the audience, but he realized that he had a talent for humor when he made the audience laugh between tricks. He didn't want his jokes to grow stale, so his wife suggested that he read the newspaper everyday before performing, and make jokes about whatever was happening in the world. That was the beginning of his career as a so-called "Cowboy Philosopher."

One of his early topics for humor was prohibition. He said, "Here is just how it started... Right in the start of Genesis... it says, 'And Noah became a husbandman and planted a vineyard.' The minute he became a husband he started in raising the ingredients that goes with married life. So you can trace all drink to marriage, see. What we got to prohibit is marriage."

Rogers went on to become the original king of all media. In his lifetime he was a Broadway showman, Hollywood actor, traveling public speaker, radio commentator, and newspaper columnist.

His career as a newspaper columnist only lasted for thirteen years, but in that time he managed to publish more than two million words. His column was syndicated in almost 400 papers; it was the most widely read column of its day.

His topics ranged widely. One day he would write about international affairs, the next about a circus stranded in Arkansas with no food for the animals, then about a relative in Oklahoma or an old bird dog in South Carolina that was named for him.

He often turned in his columns without capitalizing the first letters of sentences, and when one of his editors complained, he started writing with all capital letters. When the author Homer Croy asked him how he could write his columns so quickly, Rogers said, "It don't take long to write my kind of stuff. I save time on the punctuation. If you hadn't went to college, Homer, you'd be a lot faster writer."

Will Rogers said, "There is no credit to being a comedian, when you have the whole government working for you. All you have to do is report the facts. I don't even have to exaggerate."

It was on this day in 1918 that British war poet Wilfred Owen was killed in World War I, at the age of 25. In the days before his death, Owen had been excited because he knew the war was almost over. The Germans were retreating and the French had joyfully welcomed the British troops. In his last letter to his mother Owens wrote, "It is a great life. I am more oblivious than yourself, dear Mother, of the ghastly glimmering of the guns outside, and the hollow crashing of the shells. Of this I am certain: you could not be visited by a band of friends half so fine as surround me here." A few days later, he was trying to get his men across a canal in the early morning hours when they were attacked by enemy fire, and Owen was fatally wounded. The war ended the following week.

It was on this day in 1922 that a British man named Howard Carter made one of the greatest archeological discoveries of all time by discovering the tomb of King Tutankhamen. It was the first fully intact pharaoh's tomb ever found by an archaeologist.

King Tut's tomb was located in the Valley of the Kings. Egyptians had hoped that by hiding the tombs in among the rocky hills of the valley, they would prevent robbers from stealing the valuable contents of the burial chambers. The robbers were persistent, though, and by the time Howard Carter first joined the archaeological survey of Egypt, as a seventeen year old in 1893, most of the tombs had been emptied of anything of value.

Carter was an amateur artist, and he got a job copying ancient Egyptian paintings and inscriptions so that they could be studied by scholars around the world. He worked his way up to supervising excavations. Most archaeologists at the time believed that there wasn't much left to be discovered in the Valley of the Kings, but Carter had found references to a little known pharaoh whose tomb had never been found. He got the wealthy investor Lord Carnarvon to fund a series of exploratory excavations, but he turned up almost nothing. Carnarvon finally told him that he couldn't spend any more money on the search, but Carter persuaded him to fund one more excavation.

The dig began on the first of November. Three days later, on this day in 1922, one of the site workers needed to set down his water jar, so he kicked some rocks off a flat spot on the ground and noticed that it looked like part of a staircase. By the end of the day, Carter had uncovered a series of steps that led to a sealed door. Carter sent a telegram to Lord Carnarvon, and a few weeks later they entered the tomb together.

A long corridor led to wall of stones that blocked the entrance to the antechamber. Carter carefully removed enough stones to make a hole in the door, and then extended his candle through the hole. Carnarvon asked if he could see anything, and Carter replied, "Yes...Wonderful things!"

Carter later said, "At first I could see nothing, the hot air escaping from the chamber causing the candle flame to flicker, but presently, as my eyes grew accustomed to the light, details of the room within emerged slowly from the mist, strange animals, statues and gold...everywhere the glint of gold."

Egyptians believed that they should be buried with all the objects they would need in the afterlife, and Carter found more than five thousand such objects in the tomb, including boomerangs, shields, eye makeup, and 116 baskets of food. It took him ten years to extract and catalogue everything.

It turned out to be the tomb of a pharaoh who had come to the throne as a young boy and died when he was only a teenager. The tomb probably wasn't ever found by robbers because it was a smaller than average chamber. And Carter was surprised to find how hastily the tomb had been decorated. The objects were all jumbled together, and the wall paintings were sloppy, with splashes of paint in the corners that no one had cleaned up.

Many people have speculated that King Tut's hasty burial is evidence that he was murdered. In 1968, a researcher from Liverpool X-rayed the mummy and discovered that there was evidence King Tut had died from a blow to the head.

There has long been speculation about King Tut's curse. Lord Carnarvon died of an unknown illness a few months after exploring King Tut's tomb. That same day, the electricity went out in the city of Cairo, and back in England, Carnarvon's dog, Susie, suddenly howled and died. Some scientists believe that Carnarvon might have inhaled an ancient fungus or microbe that overwhelmed his immune system. As for the electricity, it was pretty unreliable in Cairo at the time. Nobody has any theories about the dog.

It's the birthday of the poet C[harles] K[enneth] Williams, born in Newark, New Jersey (1936). He's the author of many collections of poetry, including Lies (1969) and Flesh and Blood (1987), and Repair (2000), which won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. As a young man he became obsessed with writing poetry, but he couldn't figure out what to write about. He took a job as a census taker with hopes of gathering material, but that didn't work. He went to the local art museum and tried to write poetry about the works of art there, but nothing came of it. He wrote a sequence of fifty sonnets about a visit to a prostitute, each with a different rhyme scheme, but he threw them all away.

He began to work on a poem about Anne Frank, and at first it was just as difficult as all the other poems he'd ever tried to write, just as bad. Then one day, he was writing a letter to the editor of a magazine about racism, when suddenly the Anne Frank poem just took shape in his mind, and he wrote it in the next two hours. He's never had any trouble writing since.

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




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