Dec. 23, 2008

Waking from Sleep

by Robert Bly

Inside the veins there are navies setting forth,
Tiny explosions at the waterlines,
And seagulls weaving in the wind of the salty blood.

It is the morning. The country has slept the whole winter.
Window seats were covered with fur skins, the yard was full
Of stiff dogs, and hands that clumsily held heavy books.

Now we wake, and rise from bed, and eat breakfast!
Shouts rise from the harbor of the blood,
Mist, and masts rising, the knock of wooden tackle in the sunlight.

Now we sing, and do tiny dances on the kitchen floor.
Our whole body is like a harbor at dawn;
We know that our master has left us for the day.

"Waking from Sleep" by Robert Bly, from Silence in the Snowy Fields. © Wesleyan University Press, 1962. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's Christmas week, a week much celebrated in literature.

O. Henry's short story "The Gift of the Magi" is still well known. It was published in 1906, and he wrote it while sitting in a booth at the front of Pete's Tavern in New York City. It's the story of a young couple, Jim and Della, who are very much in love and very poor. They can barely afford Christmas gifts. But Jim wants to buy Della tortoise shell combs for her long, beautiful hair. And Della wants to buy Jim a fob chain for his one prized possession, his pocket watch. Jim sells his pocket watch to buy the combs for Della's hair, which she no longer has because she sold her hair to buy the fob chain. And of course, Jim no longer has the pocket watch.

"A Christmas Memory" is a short story by Truman Capote published in December 1956 in Mademoiselle magazine. It's narrated by a little boy named Buddy. His best friend is a distant cousin, an old woman. Each year they save up money for the holiday season so they can buy ingredients to make fruitcakes, and "A Christmas Memory" tells the story of one of these Christmases, in which they make more than 31 fruitcakes for friends. And by "friends," they mean any people whom they like, including a travelling knife grinder, a bus driver who waves at them every day, some Baptist missionaries who lectured in their town, and President Roosevelt. For Christmas, Buddy and his friend unknowingly make each other the same gift: a kite.

And today is the birthday of author Norman Maclean, (books by this author) born in Clarinda, Iowa (1902). He grew up in Montana. He taught English at the University of Chicago for many years, and built a cabin in Montana, near the Big Blackfoot River, and he spent every summer there.

After he retired from teaching, at the age of 70, he wrote his famous autobiographical novella, A River Runs Through It, which was published in 1976 by the University of Chicago Press. It was the first work of fiction the press ever published, and it was a huge best-seller, and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

It begins: "In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing. We lived at the junction of great trout rivers in western Montana, and our father was a Presbyterian minister and a fly fisherman who tied his own flies and taught others. He told us about Christ's disciples being fishermen, and we were left to assume, as my brother and I did, that all first-class fishermen on the Sea of Galilee were fly fishermen and that John, the favorite, was a dry-fly fisherman."

It's the birthday of the poet Robert Bly, (books by this author) born in Madison, Minnesota, in 1926. He said, "I think a poem is a dream, a dream which you are willing to share with the community. It happens a writer often doesn't understand a poem until some months after he's written it."

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




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