Mar. 16, 2008


by Marge Piercy

The small birds leave cuneiform
messages on the snow: I have
been here, I am hungry, I
must eat. Where I dropped
seeds they scrape down
to pine needles and frozen sand.

Sometimes when snow flickers
past the windows, muffles trees
and bushes, buries the path,
the jays come knocking with their beaks
on my bedroom window:
to them I am made of seeds.

To the cats I am mother and lover,
lap and toy, cook and cleaner.
To the coyotes I am chaser and shouter.
To the crows, watcher, protector.
To the possums, the foxes, the skunks,
a shadow passing, a moment's wind.

I was bad watchful mommy to one man.
To another I was forgiving sister
whose hand poured out honey and aloe;
to that woman I was a gale whose lashing
waves threatened her foundation; to this
one, an oak to her flowering vine.

I have worn the faces, the masks
of hieroglyphs, gods and demons,
bat-faced ghosts, sibyls and thieves,
lover, loser, red rose and ragweed,
these are the tracks I have left
on the white crust of time.

"Tracks" by Marge Piercy from The Crooked Inheritance. © Alfred A. Knopf, 2006. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

On this day in 1850, Nathaniel Hawthorne published his seminal novel The Scarlet Letter (books by this author).

There is considerable debate as to whether the novel's protagonist, Hester Prynne, is based on an actual historical figure, but we know that Hawthorne was aware of the 1694 law enacted in Salem that mandated that a woman convicted of adultery must wear the letter "A" on her clothing. One reason for its incredible popularity is that The Scarlet Letter was one of the first American books to be mass-produced; most publishers hand-bound books and sold them in small batches. The novel's first printing of 2,500 copies sold out in 10 days.

It's the birthday of novelist Alice Hoffman, (books by this author) born in New York City (1952). She attended Adelphi University and Stanford University, where she published a short story in the magazine Fiction. The editor asked if she had written a novel; she lied and said she had, and then immediately felt guilty enough to write one. This became her first novel, Property Of (1973), which she wrote as a 21-year-old. Hoffman has published 17 more novels, including Practical Magic (1995), Here on Earth (1997), and her latest, The Third Angel (2008).

It's the birthday of novelist David Liss, (books by this author) born in Englewood, New Jersey (1966). Liss abandoned a dissertation on 18th-century British literature and culture in order to finish writing his first novel, A Conspiracy of Paper, a story set in none other than 18th-century Britain. Along with his next two novels, The Coffee Trader (2003) and A Spectacle of Corruption (2004), Liss has been credited with creating a new genre, the "historical financial thriller." His latest novel, The Ethical Assassin (2006), follows an itinerant encyclopedia salesman in Florida, a position Liss himself once held.

Today is the birthday of James Madison, the fourth president of the United States, born in Port Conway, Virginia (1751). Madison is considered the "Father of the Constitution," although he dismissed such a title, claiming that the document was "the work of many heads and many hands." Madison was elected president in 1808. He led the United States into the War of 1812, which was an unpopular decision; things got even worse for the president when the British burned down the Capitol and White House in 1814. However, a series of victories and then a peace treaty in 1815 convinced Americans that maybe the war had been successful after all, and Madison enjoyed immense popularity for his last two years in office.

Today is the birthday of poet and essayist Sully Prudhomme, (books by this author) born in Paris in 1839, who wrote under the somewhat lengthier penname René-François-Armand Prudhomme.

Prudhomme won the first Nobel Prize in literature in 1901 in a controversial decision. The relatively minor writer was selected above Émile Zola (who was nominated but not chosen) and Leo Tolstoy (who wasn't even nominated).

His books of poetry include Stances et poèmes (1865), La Justice (1878), and Le Bonheur (Happiness, 1888).

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




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