Oct. 27, 2005

Nursery, 11:00 p.m.

by Robyn Sarah

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Poem: "Nursery, 11:00 p.m." by Robyn Sarah, from Questions About the Stars. © Brick Books. Reprinted with permission.

Nursery, 11:00 p.m.

Asleep, the two of you,
daughter and son, in separate cribs,
what does it matter to you
that I stand watching you now,
I, the mother who did not smile all day,
who yelled, Go away, get out, leave me alone
when the soup-pot tipped over on the stove,
the mother who burned the muffins
and hustled bedtime, tight-lipped.
You are far away,
beyond reach of whispered
amends. Yet your calm
breathing seems to forgive,
into the air to mesh
like lace, knitting together
the holes in the dark.
It makes of this dark
one whole covering
to shawl around me.
How warm it is, I think,
how much softer
than my deserving.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1904 that the first rapid transit subway opened in New York City. It's still the largest subway system in North America, with 699 miles of main line track. Average weekday ridership on the subway is 4.5 million. A total of 1.4 billion people ride the subway every year. Times Square is the busiest station, with 600,000 passing through each day.

It's the birthday of Dylan Thomas born in Swansea, Wales (1914). The name Dylan was an extremely rare name at the time of his birth. His father found the name in a collection of old Welsh folk tales. Today, Dylan is one of the top 20 most popular names for boys in the United States.

Thomas kept a notebook for his poems as a teenager, and he continued to borrow lines and even whole poems from that notebook for his entire career. Almost every poem he wrote as an adult had an early version in that original notebook, written when he was 18 years old.

He made his name among general readers with the poems he wrote about the bombing raids on London During World War II, including "Ceremony After a Fire Raid," "Among Those Killed in the Dawn Raid Was a Man Aged a Hundred" and "A Refusal to Mourn the Death, by Fire, of a Child in London."

Once he'd become famous, he spent most of his time going on reading tours, especially in the United States, where he could make the money he needed to support his family. He had an extraordinarily deep, sonorous reading voice, and people came in droves to listen to him read his own poetry as well as the poetry of others. In the last eight years of his life, Thomas wrote only eight poems. He died on his last reading tour of the United States in 1953.

It's the birthday of Sylvia Plath, born in Boston, Massachusetts (1932). She was a straight-A student, got into Smith on a scholarship and won all the prizes for writing contests. She was beautiful and outgoing, and she wrote cheerful letters home to her mother about all her successes. But while she was in college, she began to suffer from bipolar disorder, and she started keeping a journal about her growing mood swings. She wrote, "It is as if my life were magically run by two electric currents: joyous positive and despairing negative—whichever is running at the moment dominates my life, floods it."

She had little success as a poet in her lifetime, but after her suicide, a collection of her late poems, including "Daddy" and "Lady Lazarus," was published as Ariel in 1965, and it became the model for a new kind of confessional poetry. When her Collected Poems was published in 1981, it won the Pulitzer Prize.

It's the birthday of the novelist Zadie Smith, born in London (1975). She grew up in a working-class London suburb where she was one of the few black kids in the neighborhood. She said, "If you're black... everyone turns and looks at you. So my instinct... was always to overcompensate by trying to behave three times as well as every other child in the area." Her good behavior and good grades got her into Cambridge University.

As a young girl, she had wanted to become a tap dancer, but she said, "I got fat." So she started writing. She published a short story in her undergraduate literary journal that attracted a lot of attention, and people said she should try to get a book contract for a novel. So while she was cramming for her final exams, she banged out 100 pages of a potential novel and sent it off to an agent. Those hundred pages started a bidding war among London publishers, and when all was said and done, Zadie Smith had a very lucrative two-book contract before she'd even graduated from college. Her novel White Teeth came out two years later, in 2000, and it was an international bestseller.

Her latest novel, On Beauty, came out this year (2005).

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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