Sep. 27, 2006

Things Shouldn't Be So Hard

by Kay Ryan

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Poem: "Things Shouldn't Be So Hard" by Kay Ryan from The Niagara River. © Grove Press. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Things Shouldn't Be So Hard

A life should leave
deep tracks:
ruts where she
went out and back
to get the mail
or move the hose
around the yard;
where she used to
stand before the sink,
a worn-out place;
beneath her hand
the china knobs
rubbed down to
white pastilles;
the switch she
used to feel for
in the dark
almost erased.
Her things should
keep her marks.
The passage
of a life should show;
it should abrade.
And when life stops,
a certain space—
however small—
should be left scarred
by the grand and
damaging parade.
Things shouldn't
be so hard.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of hardboiled crime novelist Jim Thompson, (books by this author) born in Anadarko, Oklahoma. He's best known for his novel The Killer Inside Me (1952) about a friendly, beloved sheriff who is also a serial killer.

Thompson grew up in a town full of cattle thieves, gunfighters, and bank robbers. His family lived in an apartment above the county jail, where his father worked as the local sheriff. As a young man, Jim was fascinated by the ways people disguised who they really were. He noticed that his father always acted stupid around strangers. He was shocked when his father was later charged with embezzling thousands of dollars from the state government. When Jim got a job as a hotel bellboy to support his mother and sisters, he had to look nice and act polite and carry bags, but he also helped the hotel guests find illegal liquor, drugs, and prostitutes.

He tried for seven years to get a high school diploma, working all night and going to school all day, but he finally dropped out and wandered around Texas, living as a hobo and working in the oil fields. One of his hobo friends encouraged him to write about his experiences, so he did. A year later he saw the article published in Texas Monthly magazine, and the editor encouraged him to submit more.

Thompson went on to publish crime novels like The Killer Inside Me (1952) and After Dark, My Sweet (1955). When he died in 1977, most of his books were out of print, but he told his wife to keep his manuscripts. He said, "Just you wait, I'll become famous after I'm dead about 10 years." About 10 years later, in the mid-1980s, all of his crime novels were republished. They are now considered classics of the crime genre.

It's the birthday of lawyer and novelist Louis Auchincloss, (books by this author) born in Lawrence, New York (1917). He is known for writing about the New York City upper class in books like Portrait in Brownstone (1962), A World of Profit (1968), and Diary of a Yuppie (1987).

He grew up in one of the most prestigious families in New York City, and spent his childhood in private schools and private clubs, surrounded by debutants and servants. When his father took him to Wall Street to introduce him to the business world, he was horrified by what he called, "those dark narrow streets and those tall sooty towers." He wanted to be a writer, but when his first novel was rejected, he decided he wasn't cut out for the literary life and became a lawyer.

He finally published his first book, The Indifferent Children, in 1947. In 1951, Auchincloss quit his job as a lawyer because, he said, "[I wanted to] find out, once and for all, what I am." After three years of writing for a living, he found that he preferred the security of his job at the law firm. He worked as a lawyer, writing fiction in his spare time, from 1954 until his retirement from law in 1986. He has now published almost 30 books of fiction, most recently The Young Apollo and Other Stories (2006).

It's the birthday of the poet Kay Ryan, (books by this author) born in San Jose, California (1945). She grew up in a series of small towns along the California desert. Her father was always trying to come up with schemes to make the family money, selling Christmas trees and buying land mining operations. He died while reading a get-rich-quick book.

Kay Ryan decided to become a professional poet a few months before her 30 birthday, when she went on a cross-country bike trip. She was somewhere in the middle of Colorado when the rhythmic movement of pedaling her bike got her thinking about the rhythms of poetry, and she suddenly realized that she wanted to devote her life to poetry.

She's since published several books of poetry, including Dragon Acts to Dragon Ends (1983), Flamingo Watching (1994), and Say Uncle (2000).

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