Jun. 18, 2005

Sleep Positions

by Lola Haskins

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Poem: "Sleep Positions" by Lola Haskins from Desire Lines. © Boa Editions, Ltd. Reprinted with permission.

Sleep Positions

This is how we sleep:
On our backs, with pillows covering our chests, heavy as dirt
On our sides, like wistful spoons
Clenched, knees in-tucked, arms folded
Wide, like sprawling-rooted lotuses
In Iowa on top of pictures of Hawaii, huge white flowers on blue
In New York on black satin
In China on straw.
This is how our dreams arrive:
As hot yellow taxicabs
As sudden blazing steam, we who have been pots on a stove,
looking only at our own lids
As uninvited insects, all at once on our tongues.
O hairdresser, auditor, hard-knuckled puller of crab traps, you who
think poetry was school, you who believe you never had
a flying thought,
lie down.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the novelist Gail Godwin, born in Birmingham, Alabama (1937). She's the author of The Odd Woman, The Finishing School, and The Good Husband.

Her mother was a newspaper reporter who also wrote romance novels on the weekend. Gail Godwin moved to London as a young woman, got a job with a travel service, and wrote a novel in her spare time. She couldn't get it published anywhere. And then one day she wrote the first sentence of a story that began, "'Run away,' he muttered to himself, sitting up and biting his nails." She had been writing fiction about women in their late 20s, and this sentence seemed to point to a different sort of story. She wrote "An Intermediate Stop" about an English vicar who writes a book about seeing God. He becomes famous, only to find that fame makes him miserable.

The story got Gail Godwin accepted into the Iowa Writer's Workshop, where she wrote her first novel, The Perfectionists. Her first big success was the novel A Mother and Two Daughters in 1982.

It was Gail Godwin who said, "I work continuously within the shadow of failure. For every novel that makes it to my publishers' desk, there are at least five or six that died on the way."

It's the birthday of the novelist and short story writer Amy Bloom, born in New York City (1953), who practices psychotherapy, and writes fiction in her spare time. She wrote the novel Love Invents Us and the collection of short stories called, A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You.

It's the birthday of the children's author and illustrator Chris Van Allsburg, born in Grand Rapids, Michigan (1949). He's the author of the children's books Jumanji and The Polar Express.

It's the anniversary of the day in 1815, that Napoleon Bonaparte lost his last major battle at Waterloo in Belgium. It was Napoleon's attempt at a comeback. He had been defeated by the British, and was in exile on the island of Elba. After a year he got bored. He gathered an army, marched north toward Belgium to attack the English and the Prussian armies.

His plan was to split his own army, attack the English and Prussians, separately drive them apart, and then defeat them one at a time. But instead, his two flanks drove the English and the Prussians closer together. The rain slowed him down and gave the Prussians time to come in with reinforcements. Napoleon signed his abdication papers and went to live on the island of St. Helena off the coast of Africa. The word "Waterloo" came to mean an impossible struggle or a decisive and final defeat.

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