Jul. 23, 2008

Moment Vanishing

by Elizabeth Spires

Now, in the quietude of evening, the dove comes.
It does not flash its feathers, does not
make a sound, but feeds on what the finches
leave behind. How little it needs.
A few hard seeds. A drop of water.

It is late summer. It is always
late summer here. The air is hot and dry.
Brown leaves lie like hands in the yard.
There is no place to turn. No place to stop.
We are hurried along, pushed farther into our lives.

Moments are vanishing all over the earth
as bombs explode, the victim is hooded,
great populations scatter on endless dust roads.
It is too much. We avert our eyes.
We wait like children for the coming of the dove.

And if I were allowed a question,
one question, of the evening dove
who asks for nothing, whose pleasure
is a few small seeds, whose heart I covet,
I would ask, O what will I become?

"Moment Vanishing" by Elizabeth Spires, from The Wave-Maker: Poems. © W.W. Norton & Company, 2008. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of crime novelist Raymond Chandler, (books by this author) born in Chicago, Illinois (1888). He's known for his novels about the private detective Philip Marlowe such as The Big Sleep (1939) and The Long Goodbye (1954). The author is probably best known for his metaphors. In one novel he wrote, "She smelled the way the Taj Mahal looked by moonlight." In another he wrote, "She gave me a smile I could feel in my hip pocket."

It's the birthday of Elspeth Huxley, (books by this author) born in London (1907). She wrote more than 30 books and is best known for The Flame Trees of Thika (1959), which chronicled fictionally her childhood among British settlers on her dad's coffee farm in Kenya. It was a huge best seller when it came out, and 20 years later was made into a television series in England and then shown on American public television.

When she was five years old, her family left England for Kenya in order to run a 500-acre coffee farm that her father had impetuously bought while sitting in a bar in Nairobi. She recalled that her father had a lot of failed business ideas, and said he was a "gentle, humorous, dreamy person whose dreams never came true."

In Kenya she sometimes was home-schooled and sometimes attended a European school in Nairobi. She said she had to "fall back on old copies of the field manuals of instruction on everything from lace-making to the erection of simple stills, and the volumes of a pocket encyclopedia in minute type." Her parents sent her to school in England for a while, but she was made to leave because the school found out that she was gambling on horses.

She discovered her talent for writing early and started earning money for it in her teens. The first article that she published was about a magic trick that she had invented. She also answered readers' questions in a regular polo column for The East African Monthly—and later confessed that she was largely ignorant about the sport. She'd published 65 articles in Kenyan newspapers before she was 18 and had spent that early income on books of magic tricks and modern poetry.

After college, she went to work for a British publicity department, and there she met and married her boss, Gervas Huxley, cousin to the author of Brave New World. He became head of the propaganda department for a tea company, and the newlyweds traveled all over the globe trying to convince people to drink tea.

Her first book was a work of nonfiction that was both a story of the life of Lord Delamere and a history of colonizing Kenya. The book, White Man's Country: Lord Delamere and the Making of Kenya, came out in 1935.

She and her husband eventually returned to England and settled on a dairy farm. She set up an organization to help publish books written by Africans. She wrote her last book, a biography of naturalist Peter Scott, when she was 83 years old.

It's the birthday of Vikram Chandra, (books by this author) born in New Delhi (1961). His early works, the novel Red Earth and Pouring Rain (1995) and the short-story collection Love and Longing in Bombay (1997)—both of which he published in his 30s—earned him a spot in the New Yorker photograph of "India's leading novelists." His most recent book is the novel Sacred Games (2006). He teaches creative writing at Berkeley.

It's the birthday of John Treadwell Nichols, (books by this author) born in Berkeley, California (1940). He worked as a blues singer in New York, a dishwasher in Connecticut, and a firefighter in Arizona. He traveled through Central America and moved to New Mexico, and he decided to write a political novel about the lives of Latin American people. He worked on seven novels, but never published any of them.

Finally, he said, "I blammed out The Milagro Beanfield War in a last-ditch effort to save what was by then an almost non-existent literary career." The Milagro Beanfield War (1974). It was a great success, and Robert Redford made it into a movie.

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