May 19, 2005

Phone Call Idyll

by Henry Allen

THURSDAY, 19 MAY, 2005
Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "Phone Call Idyll" by Henry Allen from The Museum of Lost Air © Dryad Press. Reprinted with permission.

Phone Call Idyll

I want to live in a town where the women wrinkle their eyes
      and say "Mmmmmmm," a little sexy.
Like, a small town where it's a morning in early spring,
      and things smell sweet and dead like cold sand
or a chewed-on pencil, and the wind twists the STOP signs,
      and you don't have to go to work or school,
just drive around all morning, drive past the drugstore,
      where the windows shake in terrific sunshine,
drive past sidelong dogs and startled birdbaths, drive
      till all that stands between you and the horizon
is the drive-in movie where the sign says
      SEE YOU IN THE SPRING! But it is spring.
You park in the gravel by a phone booth
      that trembles in the wind. Inside, it smells
like canvas, or wet matches trying to burn in the glare
      of smeary glass like a dog went crazy in here.
There's an old Christmas card on the metal floor.
      There's your own breath planting fast clouds
on the black mouthpiece and things smell like teeth,
and things smell like a drawer full of firecrackers,
and the woman on the other end of the line
wrinkles her eyes a little sexy and says "Mmmmmmm."

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of journalist and screenwriter Nora Ephron, born in New York City (1941). She was the daughter of screenwriters, grew up in Beverly Hills, and had her first taste of fame when her parents based a play on her letters home from Wellesley College. She went on the write for Vogue, Esquire, Harper's Bazaar, and other magazines, and to publish several collections of her magazine articles. Her first screenplay was for the movie Silkwood (1983), in collaboration with Alice Arlen. This was followed by When Harry Met Sally... (1989), This Is My Life (1992) and Sleepless in Seattle (1993).

It's the birthday of Malcolm X, born Malcolm Little, in Omaha, Nebraska (1925). When he was five, his home was firebombed, and a year later his father was kidnapped, beaten, and left on a trolley track to be run over and killed. His mother was later committed to a state mental asylum, and young Malcolm ended up being sent to a juvenile detention home for delinquency. After he got out, he made his way to Boston, where he got mixed up with a burglary ring, and was sentenced to ten years in prison. While he was in prison, he became a follower of Elijah Muhammad, the leader of the Nation of Islam. His Autobiography, as told to Alex Haley, was published in 1964. Shortly before his assassination, he said: "I am a Muslim, and my religion makes me be against all forms of racism. It keeps me from judging any man by the color of his skin. It teaches me to judge him by his deeds and his conscious behavior. And it teaches me to be for the rights of all human beings."

On this day in 1780, an unexplained, near-total darkness fell over much of New England, at midday. The more superstitious believed that doomsday had come. In New Haven, Connecticut, Colonel Abraham Davenport spoke out against adjourning the town council on account of the darkness. He said: "I am against adjournment. The day of judgment is either approaching or it is not. If it is not, there is no cause for adjournment. If it is, I choose to be found doing my duty. I wish, therefore, that candles may be brought."

On this day in 1588, the Spanish Armada set sail from Lisbon. Its mission was to gain control of the English Channel and launch an invasion of Britain. Stormy weather delayed the fleet's arrival, which gave England's navy time to prepare. When the Armada reached the southern coast of England in July, the British were able to fight them off with superior long-range guns.

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