Apr. 17, 2006

A Lamb By Its Ma

by Chase Twichell

MONDAY, 17 APRIL, 2006
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Poem: "A Lamb By Its Ma" by Chase Twichell, from Dog Language. © Copper Canyon Press. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

A Lamb By Its Ma

Just before it rains, the lilacs
thrash weakly,
storm light heightening
the clusters drooping
at their peak of scent,
wind running
trough them like slow water,
then a splash, mood swing:
leaves spangled with drops
from inside the storm.
Mary made us come inside
if there was lighting,
flapping a white towel
to call us back.
We hung around the kitchen
drinking tea till it cleared.
She brought us tea at bedtime.
A good cup of black tea
and you'll sleep like a lamb by its ma
She told us that our parents
loved us, that their war
was theirs alone.
She said it in the charged air,
in the scent of their absence
from the house,
their clean absence.
If thunder came at night,
she told about the brave
and faithful dogs of Scotland,
how a shepherd knows
where his lamb has gone
by bits of wool in the wire.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of Isak Dinesen, (books by this author) born Karen Dinesen on a rural estate called Rungsted near Copenhagen, Denmark (1885). She came from a wealthy family of landowners and writers. Her grandfather was a friend of Hans Christian Andersen. She started writing at an early age, and one of the first stories she published was about a woman who has a love affair with a ghost.

In college she fell in love with the son of Baron Blixen of Sweden. But when he refused to marry her, she decided to get revenge by marrying his twin brother. She and her husband then moved to Kenya where they started a coffee plantation. She fell in love with Africa, and thought of it as a kind of Eden.

But she and her husband did not get along and they separated in 1925. She was alone and unhappy on the coffee plantation, and said, "I began in the evenings to write stories, fairy-tales and romances, that would take my mind a long way off, to other countries and times." The plantation grew less and less profitable and she struggled to stay in business. After a swarm of locusts and a drought, she finally had to sell the farm to a local developer.

But just as she was leaving Africa for good, Dinesen sent some of her stories to a publisher, and they were published as the collection Seven Gothic Tales (1934). Out of Africa came out in 1937.

Isak Dinesen said, "All sorrows can be borne, if you put them into a story."

It's the birthday of novelist and playwright Thornton Wilder, (books by this author) born in Madison, Wisconsin (1897). As a boy, he lived near a university theater where they performed Greek dramas, and his mother let him participate as a member of the chorus. He never forgot the experience, and decided then that he would try to write for the theater someday.

Wilder got a job at the University of Chicago and began to write a series of experimental one-act plays that used almost no scenery or props, and often included an all-knowing character called the Stage Manager. Then, in 1938, he produced the play for which he is best known, Our Town, about the New England village of Grover's Corners.

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