Apr. 5, 2005

How It Is with Family

by William Stafford

In Second Grade Miss Lee I Promised Never To Forget You And I Never Did

by Alberto Rios

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Poems: "In Second Grade Miss Lee I Promised Never To Forget You And I Never Did," by Alberto Rios from The Smallest Muscle in The Human Body (Copper Canyon Press), and "How It Is with Family," by William Stafford from The Way It Is (Graywolf Press).

In Second Grade Miss Lee I Promised Never To Forget You And I Never Did

In a letting-go moment
Miss Lee the Teacher
Who was not married
And who the next year was not at school,
Said to us, her second grade,
French lovers in the morning
Keep an apple next to the bed,
Each taking a bite
On first waking, to take away
The blackish breath of the night,
You know the kind
A bite and then kissing,
And kissing like that was better.

I saw her once more
When she came to sell encyclopedias.
I was always her favorite -
The erasers, and the way she looked at me.
I promised, but not to her face,
Never to forget
The story of the apples.
Miss Lee all blond and thin,
Like a real movie star
If she would have just combed herself more.
Miss Lee, I promised,
I would keep apples
For you.

How It Is with Family

Let's assume you have neglected to write
a brother or a sister. The closeness you had for years
is gone. But now there's a need-let's assume
it's about money or something. You still know
them so well you feel right about it. You begin,
and even if they don't respond, your words and the whole
idea go along as part of the world: you don't have to
be correct. You say, "It's Bob," "It's Peg," "I'm just
writing them." Let's assume someone blames
you-the reaching out as if no time had passed.
You're surprised: there's a part of the way things are
that calculating people can't know. You don't
waste much time following out that strangeness, you
just write, "Bob," or "Peg," "It's me-send the money."

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of Joseph Rykwert, born in Warsaw (1926). He was trained as an architect and wrote mostly about architecture, but he also published several biographies and a couple of volumes of poetry. One of his books, The Seduction of Place, is a study of modern cities.

It's the birthday of Ernestine Gilbreth Carey, born in New York City (1908). Together with her brother Frank, she wrote Cheaper by the Dozen, a memoir of life with her eccentric, time-obsessed father.

On this day in 1887, teacher Annie Sullivan taught her blind and deaf student Helen Keller that the spelled-out letters "W-A-T-E-R" meant the liquid that flowed out of the pump.

It's the birthday of the poet Charles Algernon Swinburne, born in London (1837). He wrote finely crafted poetry about daring subjects; his collection Poems and Ballads, published in 1866, contained poems about sadism and vampires. Two weeks after the first printing, when outraged reviews began to appear, the publisher withdrew all copies from sale and said they intended to sell them as scrap paper. Swinburne found another publisher, who gathered up all the scrapped copies, pasted in his own title page, and kept the book in print for another seven years.

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