May 11, 2005


by Deborah Slicer

Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "Snowflakes" by Deborah Slicer from the white calf kicks © Autumn House Press. Reprinted with permission.


Snowflakes are fools God sweeps out of his kitchen.
Last night he emptied his dustbin all over western Montana
and we sure got a load of them
on top of everything else.
No wonder snow falls in such a light-headed mizzy,
makes us all silly,
immune, we believe, to all life's unreasonable demands—
our own children
when they become strange to us,
parents when they are frighteningly familiar because we've become
them, lovers
who want us to be their parents and children.

I spent this morning watching the border collie on Highway 200
chasing magpies from a road-killed deer. Entitled,
so spit-snapping-angry
that by noon when a golden eagle blew down
(that pitbull of raptors, known to airlift live lambs)
the dog hadn't yet had her first mouthful.

Had it been me I would have run home hurting for sympathy
and bit off my good husband's right ear,
kicked my own scat at my frightened children,
sung the family dirge: Injustice!
Then spent days as a field post, alone,
arm-wrestling with the winterly west wind.

At dusk the dog came home with one anvil-shaped hoof in her mouth,
    seemed glad to have it.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of Irving Berlin, born Israel Baline, in Russia (1888). He came to this country when he was five years old and settled in New York City on the lower east side.

It's the birthday of the physicist Richard Feynman, born in Queens, New York (1918).

It's the birthday of Stanley Elkin, born in New York City (1930). He was the author of many novels—including The Magic Kingdom, (1985) The Franchiser, The Dick Gibson Show—that didn't sell particularly well, though they were deeply admired by other writers. The Magic Kingdom is about seven terminally-ill children who are taken on a vacation to Disneyworld, escape from their chaperones, and hide out in a hotel room where they are able to come to terms with their mortality.

It's the birthday of Mari Sandoz, born in Hay Springs, Nebraska, (1896) the daughter of Swiss immigrants. She was the oldest of her siblings and spent her childhood working hard around the farm. She fell in love with Shakespeare and Hawthorne and Joseph Conrad, though her father disapproved of reading fiction. So she had to smuggle books into the house underneath her dress. She began to write in secret even though her father referred to writers as "the maggots of society."

Sandoz went to college, got a job as a journalist, but wrote under the name Marie Macumber so her father wouldn't find out what she was up to. When she heard that he was on his death bed, she went back home, and she was surprised when he asked her to write his life story. It was his last request.

Mari Sandoz spent five years researching, writing about her father, writing about his hard work, his love of history, his friendship with the Indians, his bitterness, his anger, and his frequent violence toward his wife and children. She called the book Old Jules and sent it out to 14 different publishers. It was rejected by everybody. She burned the manuscript, but a year later she got word that one of the publishers had reconsidered and decided to publish the book.

It came out in 1935. It was a Book-of-the-Month club selection, it was a best-seller, and it allowed Mari Sandoz to go on to write many more books about frontier life, including Crazy Horse, a biography of the Sioux Indian chief. It came out in 1942. It was one of the first books by a white author that tried to see the Indian Wars from the Indians' point of view.

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