Dec. 17, 2008


by John L. Stanizzi

     for Carol

I had seen them in the tree,
and heard they mate for life,
so I hung a bird feeder
and waited.
By the third day,
sparrows and purple finches
hovered and jockeyed
like a swarm of bees
fighting over one flower.
So I hung another feeder,
but the squabbling continued
and the seed spilled
like a shower
of tiny meteors
onto the ground
where starlings
had congregated,
and blue jays,
annoyed at the world,
disrupted everyone
except the mourning doves,
who ambled around
like plump old women
poking for the firmest
head of lettuce.

Then early one evening
they came,
the only ones—
she stood
on the periphery
of the small galaxy of seed;
he hopped
among the nuggets,
calmly chose
one seed at a time,
carried it to her,
placed it in her beak;
she, head tilted,
accepted it.
Then they fluffed,
hopped together,
did it all over again.

And filled with love,
I phoned to tell you,
over and over,
about each time
he celebrated
being there,
all alone,
with her.

"Cardinals" by John L. Stanizzi, from Ecstacy Among Ghosts. © Antrim House, 2008. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of New York Times political columnist William Safire, (books by this author) born in New York City (1929). He once wrote a list called "William Safire's Rules for Writers." The rules included: "Remember to never split an infinitive," "The passive voice should never be used," and, "Last, but not least, avoid clichés like the plague."

William Safire said, "Never assume the obvious is true."

It's the birthday of Ford Madox Ford, (books by this author) born in Surrey, England (1873). His books were critically acclaimed, he was part of the literary elite of his time, and he was a prolific author — he wrote almost 30 novels. But despite all this, Ford is not widely read, and many of his books are out of print today.

Ford had blond hair, a mustache, and bad teeth. He was overweight, and he smoked Gauloises cigarettes. And he had a series of scandalous relationships — he was in "major" romantic relationships with at least 20 women during his life. He had an affair with his wife's sister, and soon after that, had a nervous breakdown. Even after his marriage ended, he never obtained a legal divorce.

Ford was a mentor to Joseph Conrad, and they collaborated on two books, The Inheritors (1901) and Romance (1903). Ford founded The Transatlantic Review, and hired Ernest Hemingway as its deputy editor. Toward the end of his life, Ford was "writer-in-residence" at Olivet College in Michigan, in a small town 30 miles south of Lansing. Ford had never graduated from college, but Olivet College awarded him an honorary doctorate, and Ford wrote up grandiose, exaggerated autobiographical notes for the certificate.

As writer-in-residence, he was provided with an office in the basement of the library, and from there he worked on his ambitious survey of world literature, entitled The March of Literature: From Confucius' Day to Our Own (1939). It was almost 850 pages long, and it covered Aristotle, Dante, Chaucer, Donne, Whitman, Dickens, Balzac, and many, many more authors.

Toward the end of his life, Ford often referred to himself as "an old man mad about writing."

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




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