Jun. 20, 2005


by Sandra M. Gilbert

MONDAY, 20 JUNE, 2005
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Poems: "Chocolate" by Sandra M. Gilbert from Belongings. © W.W. Norton & Co. Reprinted with permission.


In the end, in the long-term
wing of the assisted living
home, in the small white chamber

looking out on the patio's locked-in
blooms or in the big plain
"day room" with its blaring

TV and hopeful posters,
they fed my mother
ground-up piles of pallid

stuff in bowls clamped onto
a plastic tray and at first
she smiled, delicious, delicious,

as she sucked the oozing
juices, the last pap,
smiling surrounded by fellow

diners drooping and mumbling
in their places until
after a while she tightened

her lips against the food and
instead began unknotting,
unknotting the flowered

gown, unclothing her wasting
nakedness still white and smooth
and then at the very end,

when dreamy and slim
as a teen she welcomed
old friends and relatives who flickered

on the walls, the curtains
of the tiny room, nodding,
hello, sit down, to the shiny

nothing, she'd eat nothing
but chocolate, only chocolate,
so every day I brought an oblong

Lindt or Hershey
and square by square
she took in mouthfuls,

smiling and nodding, square
by square, delicious, dear,
until she finally

swallowed the whole dense bar.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1893 that the verdict was announced in the trial of Lizzie Borden. She was accused of murdering her father and her stepmother with an ax. It was one of the first murder trials in America that got covered by the national press because of the sensational nature of it.

Her father was the president of a bank. He was one of the richest and stingiest men in the town of Fall River, Massachusetts. He'd come home on a hot August morning, 1892, taken a nap on his couch, and about an hour later Lizzie started calling out to the neighbors that her father had been killed. The police found the stepmother upstairs was also dead. They determined the murder weapon had been some kind of hatchet.

The case against Lizzie Borden was entirely circumstantial. Nobody had seen the murders. No weapon was found. There was no physical evidence linking Lizzie to the crime. All the police could prove was that she had been in the house at the time of the murders. She had a lot of money to gain from it, and she'd recently tried to buy poison at the local pharmacy.

The trial lasted two weeks. Lizzie was found innocent. No one else was ever tried for the murder. After the trial, she bought herself a three-story mansion where she lived for the rest of her life.

It's the birthday of the author Vikram Seth, born in Calcutta, India (1952). He grew up in a wealthy Indian family and was sent to England for school. He came to the United States in 1975 to get a Ph.D. in economics at Stanford, but he also took poetry classes on the side.

He got a grant to travel to China and spent two years there. And in the summer of 1982, he decided to walk and hitchhike from China back to India, traveling through Tibet and Nepal. He carried a journal with him and wrote down his thoughts throughout the journey. That became his first book, From Heaven Lake, published in 1983. It got great reviews.

He moved back to Calcutta to live with his parents in the late '80s, and began working on his novel A Suitable Boy. It took him several years to write. It was 5,000 pages long and got trimmed down to 1,500 pages. It still is one of the longest works of fiction ever published in English. It became a bestseller in India, England, and the United States when it finally came out in 1993.

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