Jun. 9, 2005

Small Pleasures

by Greg Pape

Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "Small Pleasures" by Greg Pape from American Flamingo. © Crab Orchard Review and Southern Illinois University Press. Reprinted with permission.

Small Pleasures
Mojave Desert, California

Noon, one hundred fourteen degrees, no breeze
except the breeze we make
going ten miles an hour in the pickup,
no road, just open flat desert, low brush
and scattered rock, the Mojave
somewhere west of Edwards Air Force base.
We're eating our sandwiches, the boss and I,
drinking cups of cold water from the thermos jug
on the seat between us. We carry
three gallons of water for each man
to get us through to four o'clock,
when we head for cold beer at the bar.
He hasn't said anything for some time,
just chews and drinks, chews and drinks,
stares out at the heat waves
as the pickup bumps along. Covered with dust
and oil, we've been out here since five a.m.
working on the road. Now we're leaving
the road behind. Last night, stopped
at a phone booth on the way to the motel,
I watched moths swarm at the light
while he tried to call home, was it?
Something was wrong, bad connection, something.
He got angry, yanked the phone off the cord
and threw it on the ground. He didn't try
to explain, and I didn't ask.
We went to our rooms and slept.
We've finished our lunch and cigarettes.
I look over thinking to say something
about how a day like this makes me appreciate
small pleasures, a little shade, this cushioned
seat, a cold tomato with salt, but his
fifty-year-old eyes are closed, his head
fallen to one side, mouth open, hands
in his lap, no longer steering.
Out here it doesn't seem to matter.
Even the snakes, tortoises, and horned lizards
are underground. It's a big desert
and we're all alone. I lean back,
close my eyes. This too
is a pleasure, moving off into the open
where the work is never done.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1870, in London, Charles Dickens dropped dead at his chair at the dinner table. He died of a stroke, or apoplexy as it was called then. He was 58 years old. In the months before he died, he must have already suffered a stroke—he spoke in his letters of weakness and deadness on the left side and of not being able to pick up things with his left hand.

It's the birthday of the short story writer and playwright S.N. Behrman, Worcester, Massachusetts (1893). It was S.N. Behrman, who said, "I have had just about all I can take of myself."

It's the birthday of the man famous for writing the song "Home Sweet Home." John Howard Payne was born in New York City (1791). He spent the last years of his life in Tunisia far away from New York City with no place to call home. He wrote, "'Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam, be it ever so humble, there's no place like home."

It's the birthday of the man who wrote so many classic songs: "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home to," (his first big hit, in 1928), and "Let's Do It, Let's Fall in Love," among many others. Cole Porter was born in Peru, Indiana (1893).

It was on this day in 1856, the first group of Mormon handcart pioneers left Iowa to begin the 1,000 mile-long hike to Salt Lake City on foot. They pushed two-wheeled handcarts, each of which was heaped with about 500 pounds of supplies.

The axles had been made with wood instead of iron, and most of them broke down. They wound up discarding most of the freight and carrying their food on their backs. But most of the 500 pioneers made it all the way to Salt Lake in just three months.

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