Aug. 5, 2008

The Latest Injury

by Sharon Olds

When my son comes home from the weekend trip where he
stood up into a piece of steel in the
ceiling of a car and cut open his head and
had the wound shaved and sprayed
and stitches taken, he comes up to me
grinning with pride and fear and slowly
bows his head, as if to the god of trauma,
and there it is, his scalp blue-grey as the
skin of a corpse, the surface cold and
gelatinous, the long split
straight as if deliberate, the
sutures on either side like terrible
marks of human will. I say
Amazing, I press his head to my stomach
gently, the naked skin on top
quivering like the skin on boiled milk and
bluish as the epidermis of a monkey
drawn out of his mother dead, the
faint growth of fine hair like a
promise. I rock his brain in my arms as I
once rocked his whole body,
delivered, and the wound area glows
grey and translucent as a fledgling's head when it
teeters on the edge of the nest, the cut a
midline down the skull, the flesh
jelly, the stitches black, the slit saying
taken, the thread saying given back.

"The Latest Injury" by Sharon Olds from The Gold Cell © Alfred A. Knopf, 1992. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of Guy de Maupassant, (books by this author) born in Normandy (1850), one of the great French short-story writers. He became an apprentice of Gustave Flaubert, who used to invite him to lunch on Sundays, lecture him on prose style, and correct his early work. Flaubert also introduced him to some of the leading writers of the time, like Émile Zola, Ivan Turgenev, and Henry James. Flaubert said, "He's my disciple and I love him like a son." Maupassant began publishing his first stories a few weeks before Flaubert's death. In just 10 years, between 1880 and 1890, he wrote most of the work for which he is remembered, including 300 stories and five novels.

It's the birthday of Wendell Berry, (books by this author) born in Port Royal, Kentucky (1934). He grew up on farmland that had belonged to his family since 1803. All his great-grandparents and grandparents had lived and farmed in the area. As a boy, he was taught by his grandfather how to work a farm with nothing but a plow and a team of mules, no mechanized sprinkler systems or tractors.

Berry had an uncle he described as "an inspired tinkerer with broken gadgetry and furniture ... and a teller of wonderful bedtime stories." His uncle kept a ramshackle cabin up in the woods, and Berry often went up there as a kid to get away from everything. It was in that cabin that he first read the work of Henry David Thoreau, and where he first fell in love with poetry.

He went to a military academy for high school and then on to college and to graduate school. He lived in California and Italy and New York City. But through all those years, he never stopped thinking about the place where he grew up, and he often went back to his uncle's old cabin. He finally decided to move back to the area permanently. Most of his city friends thought he was crazy, but he bought a small farm in his hometown, which still had a population of only a hundred or so people, and he began farming it the way his grandfather had taught him, without any machines.

He grew squash, corn, and tomatoes, and he got a flock of sheep, a milk cow, and some horses. And he wrote about his experiences as a farmer in more than 40 books of poetry, fiction, and essays. His collections of poetry include The Farm (1995) and A Timbered Choir (1998). But he's best known for his essays in books such as The Gift of Good Land (1981), What Are People For? (1990), and Life Is a Miracle: An Essay Against Modern Superstition (2000).

It's the birthday of film director John Huston, born in Nevada, Missouri (1906).

It's the birthday of poet and novelist Conrad Aiken, (books by this author) born in Savannah, Georgia (1889).

On this day in 1850, Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne met at a picnic with friends on Monument Mountain near Stockbridge, Massachusetts.

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




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