Feb. 19, 2008

Where Else Can You Go

by Jim Daniels

to get those wonderful T-shirts
with the pocket for your smokes
the pocket for your smokes?

In all colors all sizes
blue and dark blue and light blue
and black   and brown   green and red
light brown   dark red    all colors.

Where else can you go
for the blue light   the blue light
     the blue light specials?

You know what I'm talking about
that place    that savings place
you've been there
wandering the aisles dazed.
You have to be in the right mood
to go in. you have to be slow
and happy   and sad.

I am buying T-shirts and basketball shoes
I am buying a Hula Hoop and a can of oil
I am buying a travel alarm and an eraser
in the shape of Mr. T's head—
oh, Mr. T where are you now?

Good cheap stuff, don't you love it
cheeseballs and vitamins
a bag of cement   a light-up fish

a lightbulb with three speeds
a lightbulb that lasts forever.
It's cotton candy on my tongue—
it disappears   yet is so sweet
yet is so sickening.

Why did I come here, what did I really need?
I am lonely and it is raining.
I am tired of flossing.
I want to wander these cluttered aisles
till what brought me here
slides off into shoe boxes and dish drainers
into stale bags of caramel corn

and circus peanuts, into disposable lighters
and sugar-free gum. I want to be emptied
emptied of it all, I want to pass through
the checkout counter past the security guard
having mumbled all my sins to the plastic dolls.
I want to be purified by the smells of ammonia
and Colorforms, the taste of junk America
the sweet sweet blues—I hope I can afford it.

"Where Else Can You Go" by Jim Daniels from Blessing the House. © University of Pittsburgh Press, 1997. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of author Amy Tan, (books by this author) born in 1952, in Oakland, California. Tan is best known for her first novel, The Joy Luck Club. A first-generation daughter of Chinese immigrant parents, Tan spent much of her youth trying to deny her heritage. From third grade on, she was the only Chinese-American girl in her class. Tan once went a week sleeping with a close pin on her nose, trying to make it narrower and more like her classmates' noses. She was embarrassed by her mother's broken English and by her Chinese customs.

When Tan was 15, her father and older brother both died of brain tumors, within six months of each other. Her mother became convinced spirits were cursing the family, and she moved Tan and her younger brother to Switzerland. Tan continued to rebel against her mother, who wanted her to become a part-time concert pianist and a full-time brain surgeon. Instead, Tan became an English and linguistics major, and fell in love with an Italian. She and her mother didn't speak for six months.

Tan worked as a freelance business writer, working 90-hour weeks to keep up with demand. But she eventually realized she was addicted to work she didn't like. She went into counseling and began writing short stories.

When her mother went into the hospital in 1985, Tan promised herself that if her mother survived, she would take her to China and learn her mother's stories. It was a trip that would change Tan's perspective. She said later, "When my feet touched China, I became Chinese."

Tan's short stories became The Joy Luck Club (1989), a novel about four Chinese immigrant mothers and their relationships with their American-born daughters. It was an instant best seller and was made into a film. Tan has written five novels, all best sellers, including The Kitchen God's Wife (1991) and The Bonesetter's Daughter (2001). Her most recent novel is Saving Fish from Drowning (2005).

It's the birthday of songwriter Smokey Robinson, born William Robinson in Detroit, Michigan, 1940. His mother died when he was 10, around the same time he got his nickname, Smokey. His uncle took him to a cowboy matinee and gave William a cowboy name as a joke, "Smokey Joe."

Growing up in Detroit, Smokey was friends with Aretha Franklin and Diana Ross. While he was still in high school, he formed the singing group "The Miracles." Smokey wrote about love in Motown, hits like "My Girl," "The Way You Do the Things You Do," and "You've Really Got a Hold on Me." Fellow musician Bob Dylan called Smokey "America's greatest living poet."

It's the anniversary of the first state literature censorship board in the country. On this day, 55 years ago (1953), the Georgia Assembly unanimously voted to create the Georgia Literature Commission, a censorship board that would keep "obscene" literature out of the state. The commission defined obscenity as "literature offensive to chastity or modesty." Three men made up the commission; one of them, a Baptist minister. If these three men decided something was obscene, they had the power to prevent its sale and could also recommend criminal prosecution.

The commission took offense to J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye and Norman Mailer's The Naked and the Dead, among others, but the commission found its match when it ruled Alan Marshall's Sin Whisper obscene. Its war against the book marked the beginning of the end for the commission, as its decision was reversed by the U.S. Supreme Court. The board faded out of existence after 1973, a victim of budget cuts.

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
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