Dec. 27, 2005

Empty Cradle Songs

by Chase Twichell

Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "Empty Cradle Songs" by Chase Twichell from Dog Language. © Copper Canyon Press. Reprinted with permission.

Empty Cradle Songs

I think about the rooms
in which my parents slept
as children, what hung
on the walls. In my Mom's room,
angels with watering cans
sprinkled the green and blooming
earth and all its creatures,
still there at night
under the see-in-the-dark stars.
Angel rain fell on her infant fear
of the furnace-clank,
her breath pumped from small
moist bellows into the night
air of the room in which she slept
right up to the wedding,
the getaway.

Dad's room was erased when he
went off to school at fourteen.
By Christmas it was a guest room.
New wax, new blinds.
He remembers the gray-green
lawns of the interior,
many clocks ticking,
but not his room.
Not a trace of it,
though he remembers his toys.
There's a picture of him
with a little wheelbarrow,
probably two years old,
wailing, making baby fists,
yet picked up by no one,
not even whoever's standing
ten feet away from him
snapping the shot.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1831 that Charles Darwin set sail from England on the HMS Beagle beginning the journey that would take him to the Galapagos Islands and inspire his theory of evolution. Darwin had terrible seasickness, so as soon as they reached South America, he spent as much time on land as he could, traveling through unexplored regions. He was amazed at the variety of shapes and colors in the plants and animals he found. He wrote in his diary, "It creates a feeling of wonder that so much beauty should be apparently created for such little purpose."

He returned to England in the fall of 1836 and never traveled beyond Great Britain again. He spent years thinking about what he'd seen during his voyage on the Beagle and eventually developed the theory of evolution in the mid-1840s.

Charles Darwin wrote, "Probably all organic beings which have ever lived on this earth have descended from some one primordial form, into which life was first breathed. There is grandeur in this view of life that... from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved."

It's the birthday of author Louis Bromfield, born in Mansfield, Ohio (1896). He studied agriculture in college and, though he eventually switched to journalism, he would spend much of the rest of his life writing about farming.

After serving in World War I he wrote his first novel The Green Bay Tree (1924) about a small farming town that's slowly becoming an industrial center. The following year Bromfield and his family took a vacation to France and wound up staying there for thirteen years. He became part of the expatriate society in Paris and some of his best friends were Edith Wharton and Gertrude Stein.

And it was while he was living away from America that he wrote some of his best novels about American life, including The Farm (1933), which many consider his masterpiece. It's a novel about a boy growing up on a farm that his family has owned for generations which slowly becomes corrupted by greed and industrialization.

It's the birthday of avant-garde poet Charles Olson, born in Worcester, Massachusetts (1910). He wrote a manifesto about the kind of poetry he believed poets should be writing, called Projective Verse (1959). He advocated for a kind of poetry that was completely free of meter or rhyme and concerned more with the sounds of words than the sense they made. He lectured on this style of poetry at Black Mountain College in North Carolina, and influenced many younger poets including Robert Duncan and Robert Creeley.

He spent most of the rest of his life writing an epic series of poems called The Maximus Poems about the history of Gloucester, Massachusetts, the coastal town of where he spend his summers as a child. The first volume of The Maximus Poems was published in 1960.

It's the birthday of novelist and essayist Wilfrid Sheed, born in London, England (1930). His parents ran a publishing house that mainly published Catholic literature. He moved with his family to Pennsylvania when he was a boy and grew up in a tiny village where there were almost no other children and he spent most of his free time playing baseball by himself. He said, "I became perhaps the outstanding solitary baseball player of my generation."

He has written several satirical novels about the business of journalism, including The Hack (1963) about a miserable man who writes uplifting poems and stories for a Catholic magazine, and Max Jamison (1970) about a theater critic who can't help criticizing everything in his own life. Most recently he has written several memoirs including My Life as a Fan (1993), about his love of baseball, and In Love with Daylight: A Memoir of Recovery (1995).

Wilfrid Sheed said, "One reason the human race has such a low opinion of itself is that it gets so much of its wisdom from writers."

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