Jun. 10, 2006

There is a Woman Standing on a Terrace

by Eleanor Lerman

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Poem: "There is a Woman Standing on a Terrace" by Eleanor Lerman from Our Post-Soviet History Unfolds. © Sarabande Books. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

There is a Woman Standing on a Terrace

There is a woman standing on a terrace. She is
wearing a silk sheath—green I think; as pale as
tea. She is holding a drink so icy that it tastes
like mercury. The Pleiades are overhead and she
is gazing eastward, toward the South China Sea.

How do you know? Because this is after
After all your work is done, after the passing of
so many, the travel that took you nowhere.
After you married and divorced, after your children
defied you, which meant that you had done your job.

Now you are so old that you are free to hope.
Nothing needs to be considered except the root
of your desire, which has become that
crystal sliver of pain that all the doctors told you
was a chronic headache but you suspect might be
the original nerve still pulsing, the ache
that has been with you, always.

So eat breakfast. Pack lightly. Then start your journey
to the deep water city, to the hotel on a hill above Repulse Bay.
What does it matter that you were "never meant to be here?"
What does it matter that when you speak to her she
will answer in French? You will be able to understand her

if you want to and she will know who you are.
Bring her a drink that tastes of melon. And as the sky
hangs out its starry animals—a fish, a bear,
a canny dog—tell her how long it took to form
these constellations. That human beings have named them.
That anything is possible and you, you are the proof.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of fiction writer James Salter, (books by this author), born James Horowitz in New York City (1925). His novels include The Hunters (1956) and The Arm of Flesh (1961). He tried writing Hollywood screenplays in the 1960s, but he didn't like it and went back to writing novels. He said, "A film writer is very much like a party girl. While you're good-looking and still unlined, the possibilities seem endless. But your appeal doesn't last long and you're quickly discarded."

It's the birthday of children's author and illustrator Maurice Sendak, (books by this author), born in Brooklyn, New York (1928). He's best known as the author of the children's classic Where the Wild Things Are (1964).

It's the birthday of playwright Terence Rattigan, (books by this author), born in London (1911). He's the author of many plays, including French Without Tears (1936), Flare Path (1942), and The Winslow Boy (1946).

It's the birthday of novelist Saul Bellow, (books by this author), born in Lachine, Quebec, Canada (1915). He published fiction for more than fifty years, producing more than thirty books. His novels include The Adventures of Augie March (1954), Humboldt's Gift (1975), and Mr. Sammler's Planet (1970).

His first two novels, Dangling Man (1944) and The Victim (1947), sold fewer than 5,000 copies combined. He spent most of 1948 in France with his wife, hoping to gather material for a novel. But he grew depressed after a few months: His novel was going nowhere, he wasn't getting along with the French, and the weather was dreary. He decided to start writing a new novel, about a young man's adventures in Chicago just before the Great Depression. That novel became The Adventures of Augie March, and it was his first big success. The British writer Martin Amis called it "the Great American Novel" for its "fantastic inclusiveness, its pluralism, its qualmless promiscuity. ... Everything is in here."

Last year, The Library of America published Bellow's first three novels in a volume called Novels, 1944-53, making him the first living author to be published by The Library of America.

Bellow said, "There is only one way to defeat the enemy, and that is to write as well as one can. The best argument is an undeniably good book."

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




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