Sep. 15, 2006

Maine Landscape

by Joyce Greenberg Lott

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Poem: "Maine Landscape" by Joyce Greenberg Lott from Dear Mrs. Dalloway. © Finishing Line Press. Reprinted with permission (buy now)

Maine Landscape

A porch rail peels outside the window
where my husband sits painting a watercolor.
He's taken out our table and covered it
with his orange and yellow beach towel,
so I won't see paint when we eat together.

Two butterflies hover over the larkspur
he is putting into the foreground of his picture.
I watch them suck, each its own blossom,
and then dance in the air together.
"Look they're mating," I say out the window.
"How do you know?" he answers.

A single pine, with awkward limbs, stares back at me.
I look past its loneliness to yellow grass
(Hopper grass, my husband says) and then
to the sea. I'd swim to that island,
the one just beyond the sailboat, if I could.

But the wonder of this moment is
I don't want to do anything
or to have anyone do anything for me—
paint a porch rail, catch a butterfly, cut grass.
I just want to sit by the window and watch

the shadows my husband's arms make
on the orange and yellow towel
or look up at the cloud that floats like a white roof
or a soft steeple over the island,
beyond the sailboat.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of François VI, duke de La Rochefoucauld, (books by this author) born in Paris (1613), an author whose entire literary reputation is based on a single slim book that he published in 1665: Maxims. It's about 10,000 words long, and it consists of a series of individual, brief, witty statements about human nature.

La Rochefoucauld's maxims include, "Everybody complains of his memory, but nobody of his judgement," and "We all have strength enough to endure the troubles of others."

It's the birthday of humorist Robert Benchley, (books by this author) born in Worcester, Massachusetts (1889). Benchley tried to work as a journalist, but he had a terrible time because he hated intruding on people's privacy. So he got a job at Vanity Fair in 1919, and it was there that he met Dorothy Parker, who became his best friend. Benchley went on to become the drama critic for Life magazine and The New Yorker.

Robert Benchley said, "It took me fifteen years to discover that I had no talent for writing, but I couldn't give it up because by that time I was too famous."

It's the birthday of the mystery novelist and playwright Agatha Christie, (books by this author) born in Devon, England (1890). She never went to school or university, but her mother encouraged her to write from an early age. She wrote her first story one day when she was home sick with a cold. She kept writing for most of her adolescence, but she said, "[Back then I wrote] stories of unrelieved gloom, where most of the characters died."

During World War I, she was working as a Red Cross nurse, and she started reading detective novels because, she said, "I found they were excellent to take one's mind off one's worries." She grew frustrated with how easy it was to guess the murderer in most mysteries, and she decided to try to write her own. That book was The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920) about a series of murders at a Red Cross hospital.

Christie's first few books were moderately successful, and then her novel The Murder of Roger Ackroyd came out in 1926. That same year, Christie fled her own home after a fight with her husband, and she went missing for 10 days. There was a nationwide search, and the press covered the disappearance as though it were a mystery novel come to life, inventing scenarios and speculating on the possible murder suspects, until finally Christie turned up in a hotel, suffering from amnesia. During the period of her disappearance, the reprints of her earlier books sold out of stock and two newspapers began serializing her stories. She became a household name and a best-selling author for the rest of her life.

Christie averaged about two novels a year for most of her writing life. Her murderers were always members of the upper class, people who dressed well, spoke well, and had great manners, but who just happened to also be killers.

Her most famous character was the eccentric Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. He appeared in more than 30 books, but when she got tired of him she created a busybody named Miss Marple to solve her crimes.

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